By Ken Reed

The NHL playoffs are underway. Which generally means there are fewer thugs roaming the ice because teams care more about playing skilled hockey players who can help them win playoff games than they do about putting goons on the ice to dish out the warped vigilante justice that the NHL’s been long known for.

The operative word here is generally.

The Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild were engaged in the middle of an intense playoff battle on Monday night. The 0-0 game, was featuring great skating, skilled work with the puck, and several amazing saves by teams’ goalies. Then notorious cheap shot artist Matt Cooke skated onto the ice with a clear intent to maim. Cooke skated directly for Avs defenseman Tyson Barrie. Barrie saw Cooke coming and tried to elude him. But Cooke wanted no part of that. Instead of skating by Barrie, he intentionally stuck out his knee toward him. The resulting knee-on-knee collision injured Barrie, possibly knocking him out for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Cooke? The NHL gave him a seven-game suspension, the sixth of his inglorious career.

“What he’s done to guys’ careers speaks for itself,” said the Avs’ Erik Johnson. “It’s disgusting, what he’s done in the past. He might have cleaned up his game lately, but to lead with a knee like that against a guy like Tyson, or whoever, it was sickening to see.”

Sickening indeed. And it’s why the NHL remains a niche sport. It’s unfortunate because the NHL has the potential to grow. The league’s playoffs might be the best of any pro sports league when it comes to pure sports excitement and intensity. But the NHL is going nowhere unless it cleans up the ugliness in its sport.

“Suspension? Not even the seven-game suspension of Cooke can knock sense into a league hopelessly stuck in the Neanderthal era,” wrote columnist Mark Kiszla.

There’s simply no place in a real sport for guys like Cooke who laugh at the notion of sportsmanship and fair play. The fact the Wild gave him a $7.5 million contract speaks to the depth of the NHL’s problem.

The NHL just doesn’t get it. And until they do, they’ll remain on the fringe of the sports world.

Kiszla nailed it when he concluded, “What the NHL needs to grow is a brain.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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