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Cooke draws ire from all directions, even own team

Bill Guerin, Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Bill Guerin, center, celebrates with teammates Sidney Crosby, left, and Matt Cooke (24) after a first-period goal by Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


Matt Cooke is the hockey equivalent of a college friend who destroyed someone’s apartment during a weekend binge; sure, he’s supposed to be your friend/teammate but that doesn’t mean you can justify his regrettable actions. Mark Spector wrote this story, which echoes news that Bill Guerin made some critical comments of his fellow Penguin.

“Here’s what they didn’t say when they wrote up those new head shot rules. What they couldn’t say.

It was the collective whisper we heard there from a gathering of men who know the NHL game well, but could never come out and verbalize what they really think about a cheap shot artist like Matt Cooke.”

It’s already pretty extraordinary to receive public criticism from guys on opposing teams and former division rivals (like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who must have been at least a bit familiar with Cooke from his days with the Washington Capitals). But when someone on your own team expresses criticism - even an older player with less to lose and more to say like Guerin - that’s something.

(My bet is that teammates often feel queasy about these controversial hits but still admire/respect/need those scrappers enough to keep that to themselves.) Now, I hate to say this but until the league has the courage to do something legitimate about these hits, Cooke is an asset to a team like Pittsburgh. No one likes to admit it, but having scoundrels (players who pester and intimidate in equal measures such as Cooke and Steve Ott) often helps you win. I will be happy when the league changes Cooke from a “player you hate until he’s on your team” to a player who better change his ways if he wants to earn another year’s worth of NHL paychecks.

In the mean time, you can’t blame teams like Pittsburgh for outfitting their mostly talent-laden rosters with a few functional bad apples. I don’t like it and - apparently - his teammates don’t like it either, but the truth hurts. Just ask Marc Savard.