Thursday, February 14, 2013
Karlsson injury hurts more than just Sens
By Pierre LeBrun
The loss isn't just that of the Ottawa Senators and their fans, but for the entire game of hockey.
Erik Karlsson is one of the true pearls of this sport. He’s the No. 1 reason most of us turn on Ottawa games. His magical hands and awe-inspiring brand of hockey bring people out of their seats.
So when the reigning Norris trophy winner went down with a cut Achilles tendon Wednesday night, it was a horrible sight on so many levels.
Horrible for a Senators team already missing star center Jason Spezza and now likely facing a season going down the drain without its top two skaters.
Horrible for fans of the game who are deprived of watching the NHL's most exciting defenseman.
And most of all, horrible for Karlsson, who suffers through the trauma and pain of it all.
That said, Brendan Shanahan and the NHL's player safety department got it right when they determined Matt Cooke should not face discipline for his skate cutting Karlsson.
It was a freak play, with a horrific result. But having watched the replay a dozen times, I can't see how it was malicious or done with intent.
Nor could any of the hockey people I spoke with Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
"I feel horrible for Erik Karlsson, I feel bad for Ottawa," Penguins general manager Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Thursday. "It’s a bad feeling. But I can't rationalize where that was a dirty play or anything with intent. Our fan base knows how it feels to lose a star player. It's emotional. I know how it feels like. It's just very unfortunate. I would not be defending Matt Cooke if I thought it was a dirty hockey play."
Perhaps those words would ring hollow from other GMs because their duty is to defend their players, but not Shero. For starters, he condemned Cooke after the winger was suspended in March 2011 for a hit to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
"The suspension is warranted because that's exactly the kind of hit we're trying to get out of the game," Shero said then in a statement. "Head shots have no place in hockey. We've told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message."
Secondly, when Shero says he knows how the Senators feel, he's not kidding. There's the David Steckel hit that temporarily derailed the career of Sidney Crosby. But if you want a better comparison, how about P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens colliding with former Penguin Jordan Staal in the 2010 playoffs, a hit that resulted in a severed tendon for the star center?
But you see, the only reason we have a controversy here is because it involves Cooke, whose rap sheet of suspendable offenses makes him one of the most disliked players in the league.
Senators GM Bryan Murray was calmer the day after the incident, but his true feelings were obvious when asked about the NHL not suspending Cooke.
"As I told Brendan [Shanahan], it's not my job to make that judgment," Murray told ESPN.com on Thursday afternoon. "I'm disappointed that Erik got hurt, I'm disappointed for him and our team. It's dreadful. I was upset at the time; it's Matt Cooke, and there is some history there. It's one of the best players in the league getting hurt. But I can't do anybody else's job but my own. And it's of no value one way or another to the Ottawa Senators if Matt Cooke is suspended or not. We don't get our player back."
I feel for the veteran GM of the Senators, but I just can't look at that replay and find intent.
I thought former NHLer Aaron Ward did a great job on TSN in Canada on Wednesday night showing clips of mundane plays from the Dallas-Calgary game in which players lifted their skates trying to pin opposing players to the boards. It happens all the time, just not with the horrific result that it did with Cooke and Karlsson.
And while I'm never going to convince anybody that Cooke is a new player, I still need to point out that he hasn't been suspended since that March 2011 incident with McDonagh. He has tried to change his ways. The Penguins told him he had to or else he wouldn't have a place on the team.
Nothing changes what matters most in this story, that we've lost one of the game's top players for the rest of the season. It's a crying shame.
But throwing the book at Cooke would not have been the right call.