Ottawa owner slams Pens' Cooke
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The complaints about Penguins left winger Matt Cooke rose another rung up the Ottawa Senators' ladder, as well as to another decibel level.
In an interview with the Ottawa Sun, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk bitterly complained about Cooke's collision Wednesday with Erik Karlsson, the Senators' star defenseman. Cooke's skate lacerated Karlsson's Achilles tendon, likely ending his season.
The NHL decided the collision was accidental and issued no punishment, but Melnyk felt differently.
“This guy should be kicked ... he doesn't belong in the league,” Melnyk said of Cooke. “He belongs somewhere where the goons play. Get him in the Central League. He can be a $60,000-a-year guy playing pickup hockey there.”
Melnyk similarly called for Penguins defenseman Kris Letang to be banned after a 2010 check injured the shoulder of Ottawa center Jason Spezza.
“He's got one purpose,” Melnyk continued about Cooke. “I remember when this happened with Spezza. I said, ‘If these are the rules, I just want to know.' We'll play with the same rules. Make sure you have one or two goons whose job is to do this either intentionally or unintentionally. I'm OK with it. Just tell me. I play by the rules. I'm just shocked an organization would do this.”
Melnyk also said, “I'm very upset. Actually, I'm more than upset. I'm outraged that, in this day and age, this continues. Whether it's accidental or not, that's not our job to judge. That's why the NHL is there to assess it.”
The outburst forced the Penguins to respond to the matter for a second consecutive day, as it was the main topic at the morning skate before Friday night's game against the Jets at the MTS Centre.
Coach Dan Bylsma reiterated his empathy for Ottawa — “I feel the pain of the Senators for losing a great player in the game” — but continued to defend Cooke.
“There are people making comments who haven't seen him play for the last two years,” Bylsma said when asked about Melnyk. “There's no question he's made an adjustment. You can see it in his game, in numerous hits that he's had this year, where he's adjusted. I don't think people really watch that closely. It's easier to jump on and talk about previous history.”
Cooke's response was similarly muted.
“I'm sorry Mr. Melnyk feels that way,” he said. “I understand the position he's in, and it's not easy.”
Cooke said he reached out to Karlsson through a text message but hadn't heard back as of Friday morning.
“Whether or not he responds to me, I understand,” Cooke said. “At the end of the day, it was a freak, unfortunate accident.”
Cooke was asked if he found it unfair to be labeled for his past.
“I've never thought it would stop or end over the course of my career. I'm trying to hide that persona, and I'm prepared to do it for the long haul. I was prepared for it from the media. … People are entitled to their own opinions, and they'll have their own, regardless of what I do.”