The NHL suspended Matt Cooke for seven games on Wednesday night, the deeply unsurprising result of his kneeing incident with Tyson Barrie on Monday night.
Citing several factors, the most important of which was the “distance traveled leading with his knee” as well as Cooke’s history of suspensions, Cooke will have another chapter in his “bad boy” diary, after two years of cleaning up his act. Department of player safety video here.
No matter what you think about the intent, legality and severity of the play, this outcome was inevitable, given the injury to Barrie and the nature of Cooke’s past. With their main agitator (if you’re a Wild fan) or goon (if you are an Avalanche fan) out for however long this series lasts, and either the first 3-4 games of the second round or the first 3-5 games of next season, the question becomes one of who the Wild may turn to in his absence.
Assuming everyone who played in game three will return, which is a fair assumption, given that both Fontaine and Heatley played well enough to keep their spots, lets take a look at the options for his replacement:
The Favorite: Kyle Brodziak
Brodziak felt the squeeze before game three, sidelined in favor of Dany Heatley or Justin Fontaine, depending on whom you ask. He could easily slide into Cooke’s position without disrupting too much of the roster. He’s not as physical, but he’s not a wallflower either, and he’s less likely to go over the line. Speed-wise, it’s pretty much a wash, and Brodziak next to Haula would give the Wild two options for faceoffs against Colorado’s MacKinnon line.
Next on the List: Stephane Veilleux
Veilleux is a pain to play against when he’s at his cannonball best, which makes him a bit Cooke-esque, but he isn’t as effective a forechecker, and he certainly doesn’t have any skill that will change a game. Furthermore, it’s hard to see him getting third line minutes, so further line shuffling would be necessary. Still, he’s there, he’s a similar player, so he’s an option.
Oh Yeah, That Guy: Mike Rupp
As Cooke exits through the door of shame, Mike Rupp re-enters the fray, with his four game suspension for trucking T.J. Oshie officially ending when Mikael Granlund Bobby Orred it to end game 3. Rupp is certainly a physical option, but he’s played one game since early February, and we all know how that ended. A long shot, but crazier things have happened.
The Seventh Defense Option: Jonathan Blum
Blum would provide another good skater in the lineup, and, as Colorado learned in game 3, going down to five defensemen can be problematic. This would of course mean skating one of the Wild defensemen as a forward. The likely candidates would be either Blum himself or Nate Prosser.
The Call-Ups (Experienced Division): Jake Dowell, Carson McMillan
The Wild recalled 8 players when Iowa’s season ended, to provide the extra bodies necessary to have a proper Stanley Cup Celebration (that’s why teams do this, right? Whatever). Five of those players were forwards, with Dowell and McMillan the only two who have ever appeared in an NHL game. McMillan would fall under the category of “super long shot” due to the fact that his NHL resume consists of 16 games, but don’t count out Dowell. He’s a physical presence who has experience, including two playoff games for the Blackhawks in 2011.
The Call-Ups (Non-Experienced Division): Raphael Bussieres, Zack Phillips, Tyler Graovac
Only if nine players are felled by nine different catastrophes, Springfield Nuclear Power Plant-style.
We’ll see whom Yeo picks tomorrow.