Matt Cooke's decade-long reputation as the dirtiest player in hockey will not go away overnight, but the reality is that despite all the jokes, he really has changed his game so far this year. He might not be Lady Byng material, but the facts are really hard to argue with:
- 14 penalty minutes in 46 games (vs. 129 in 67 games last year)
- 20th on the Penguins (among players who have played in at least 20 games) in penalties taken per 60 minutes with 0.4
- Third on the team in penalties drawn per 60 with 1.5. Yes, that means he's drawn more penalties than he's taken this season.
- Still has 82 hits on the season, about 1.8 per game (vs. 2.86 per game last season)
His hit totals are down a bit, but not to the point where he's completely limiting that very valuable physical aspect of his game, and his penalty minutes are so far down that you can only come to the conclusion that he's made a conscious change in his game. Unfortunately, that's not enough to make everybody realize.
Darren Dreger of TSN tweets Friday morning:
As typically happens when Dreger or Bob McKenzie tweets something, people took it as gospel, including other influential members of the hockey media:
And that's just the thing. He didn't "go back to being himself." He didn't really do much of anything. Let's go to the video, via Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters. Seth Rorabaugh's alias is Zapruder, by the way.
Another angle here (ignore the idiotic commentary, which fully illustrates how hatred for a guy can completely alter how one views a play):
Matt Cooke didn't slew foot Brad Richards. He might have tripped him. Cooke's going in for the puck, and Richards turns his body to protect the puck, which also opens the back of his leg up to the oncoming Cooke. It's really that simple. It's not a slew foot. Probably not even a trip.
Not saying that Cooke deserves the benefit of the doubt or anything, because he certainly does not. His reputation precedes him and he has a lot of work to do before winning the hearts of anybody. He has legitimately tried (and has succeeded) at changing his game this season, though, and doesn't really deserve to get dragged through the mud again for nothing.