For as long as there is ice hockey in this world, there will be players who teeter on the line of what is considered OK and what is considered dirty. That is a simple fact of life that every hockey fan, reporter, player and coach understands.
However, no matter the situation, no matter the player and no matter the planet, there is simply no way to excuse Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard by saying that Cooke was simply doing his job as a guy who "plays on the edge."
That is, however, exactly what The Hockey News is trying to say.
"It is very sad to see Marc Savard struggling with concussions," the magazine's Twitter account said, likely written by columnist Adam Proteau. "But don't forget that, in a sense, Matt Cooke has been victimized, too. Like [Todd] Bertuzzi, Cooke is a product of the hockey culture who 'plays on the edge,' which means he was allowed/encouraged to go over that edge. And just like Bertuzzi, Cooke will have to wear his actions and their consequences for the rest of his days. That's no small punishment."
The statement, in a word, is a joke.
In another word, it's an outrage.
For starters, comparing Cooke to Bertuzzi makes sense, but not in the way THN would like it to. Yes, there are hockey players who take some liberties, and yes, their job is to "agitate" or "get under the opponent's skin," but in no way is there any reason to sucker punch a man from behind. That's what Bertuzzi did to Steve Moore, and that's why he's since been turned into a villain.
Likewise, there was no need for what Cooke did to Savard. The puck was gone and the player wasn't looking, but Cooke felt like lighting him up anyway. He felt like injuring a man who didn't even know an opposing player was near him.
Watch the video. Watch the hit. Try not to cringe. Then try to fathom how anyone could look at No. 24 in black and see him as a victim.
When challenged on this position, THN stuck to its guns.
"I'm not excusing Cooke's behavior. But black-and-white notions of good and evil just don't match up to the reality of the game," Proteau wrote. "Scapegoating is fun! .. but over-the-line hits won't vanish when Cooke and Bertuzzi are gone. … The game's culture allows him to be a dirty player."
Proteau, like anyone else in the world, is entitled to his opinion — this one just so happens to be a terrible one.
Matt Cooke is skating free. He's playing every night. He's starring in 24/7. He's living his life however he wants. The biggest "punishment" he faced after laying the dirty hit on Savard was an eight-second scrap with Shawn Thornton before his legs gave out on him and he flopped to the ice.
What a martyr that Matt Cooke is.
Meanwhile, Marc Savard is in Ontario contemplating his future — both on and off the ice. He's stuck with the decision of whether he wants to return to the game he loves or step away from the game prematurely. He's the one who's been suffering for nearly a full year because of the needless, senseless actions of Matt Cooke. He's the one forced to make decisions he never wanted to make, and it's all thanks to the actions of Cooke.
Frankly, to mention Cooke as victim just one day after we all learned that Savard returned home to recover from his latest concussion is a complete disgrace — to hockey, to fans, but most of all, to Savard.