Sens writers, management incorrectly label Matt Cooke the villain

By now you've undoubtedly seen the footage of Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson suffering a terrifying laceration to his left Achillies tendon. If not, well, that's what we're here for:

He suffered the injury battling for puck possession along the boards with Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke. Yes, that Matt Cooke, former bad boy extraordinaire and bane of the NHL's existence.

Karlsson, unfortunately, will need surgery to repair the tendon and will be out indefinitely, according to the Senators official Twitter. So when you see a player get hurt, you immediately think "oh, that Cooke will never learn, will he?" Well, not if you have a fully-functioning brain, you don't. Unfortunately, many Ottawa fans, writers, players and even those in management do not enjoy such a luxury. 

Immediately, outrage ensued over Cooke's prior history, an extensive history he's worked long and hard to put behind him. Certainly this must be the latest dirty play in a string of instances involving the Pittsburgh winger.

Moments after Karlsson was helped to the locker room, Ottawa Sun reporter Don Brennan decided it was time to question Cooke's intent, poking at his prior offenses.

Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray, never one to shield his feelings on a controversial matter, chimed in abruptly as well.

"It's Matt Cooke, what should I say?" Murray said. "Watch the replay."

Nobody is disputing that Matt Cooke has had a string of run-ins with the NHL's department of player safety, including a vicious hit that essentially ended Marc Savard's career. But to ignore Cooke's valiant attempts to reinvent the way he played the game through the 2011-12 season is foolish.

Last season, Cooke amassed 44 penalty minutes in 82 games played after three straight years above the century mark. He adapted, and became a much more efficient forward than he had in years past, posting his second highest point total in his career.

It's understandable that the Senators would express frustration with losing arguably their brightest star, not long after Jason Spezza, their number-one center, was lost to a herniated disc. It's unfortunate not only for Ottawa, but for the league as a whole, who will lose one of their most exciting players for an extended period of time. But for a play with little-to-know malicious intent, the Sens sure are acting as if Cooke committed quite the transgression.

Compare this clip with the one above. Notice a sizable difference? You should. The plain fact is that after years of playing the game the wrong way, Matt Cooke has righted his own ship. He learned the hard way–harder than most, in fact–but he's paid for his infractions and became a better player because of them. Isn't that the entire point of any judicial system?

To continue to paint Cooke with the same broad strokes as many did years ago is to act as if the NHL's efforts at cleaning up our game has been for naught.