Do we celebrate the Leafs’ scumbags?

Mike Brown
(Photo credit: Canadian Press)

Photo: Canadian Press

Matt Cooke says he’s a changed man and doesn’t want to hurt another player with an illegal hit. I believe him.

In fact, I doubt he’s ever gone into a season with the intention of ending as many careers as possible or anything foolish like that. Though, because of his recent past he’s become well-known as the dirtiest player in the NHL – until he punches a full 82 game season without incident, it’ll stay that way. Makes sense.

The recent news about Cooke’s “changed ways” stirred up a lot of conversation around the blogosphere and Twitter. Some seemed happy about Cooke trying to make a change, others crucified them for “supporting that monster.”

One argument I’ve heard from Penguins fans who continue to say they’re a fan of Cooke, is that it’s as simple as this: “Cooke is a Penguin, I’m a fan of the Penguins, I’ll support Matt Cooke. You would do the same if he played with your favorite team.”

I thought about this for a while, and came to the conclusion that “yeah, I guess I probably would.”

If Cooke was traded to the Leafs tomorrow, I’d likely just try to focus on what I believed he could contribute to the team winning – Cooke is, after all, a pretty decent hockey player behind all the dirt. Of course many things would be written about whether he was a risk for racking up penalties or suspensions, and that would be completely warranted. But I don’t think I would be disgusted with the Leafs for bringing him in, and I certainly wouldn’t waste my time boo’ing or trashing the guy at every opportunity.

A lot of what Cooke has done recently is stupid, I can’t argue that. But there are tons of players capable of inflicting the same types damage league-wide. The Leafs have one in their own locker room – forward Mike Brown.

Brown is a genuine enforcer, isn’t all that great at hockey, can skate pretty well for a duster, and likes to throw head shots. I’ve seen them with my own eyes.

Last season Brown threw a dangerous head hit at Ed Jovanovski in a mid-season game against the Coyotes, laying Jovo out flailing on the ice. He was handed a three game suspension after the fact, despite no penalty call on the actual play. You can view video of the hit right here.

Later in the season, Brown threw another head shot at Hawks defenceman Duncan Keith, an NHL all-star in every sense of the word (video here). This time it was an elbow, much like the one Cooke delivered to Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers, bringing about his most recent suspension.

Brown wasn’t suspended for the hit on Keith, but given the new NHL rules of escalating punishment for a repeat offender, he probably should have received anywhere from 4-6 games.

Do I dislike Mike Brown for all of this? No. Right now he’s a Leaf, and I’m a fan of the team. However, for a guy who’s only 26 (seven years younger than Cooke), I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rack up a rotten reputation if he’s consistently in the lineup for the forseeable future. Will it ever come to that? Probably not. I doubt Brown can hold down a job in the NHL for nearly as long as Cooke has, he simply isn’t as good at playing the game.

However, I can see the risk of having Brown in the lineup, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him seriously injure another player if he keeps targeting the head. But right now I’m not really against him being a Leaf, and I’ll probably continue to stand by without too much complaint while he’s in blue and white.

I’m totally aware that Brown’s resume isn’t as littered with head shots and suspensions to the extent that Cooke’s surely has, but he’s a lot younger. There’s plenty of time for him to end a few careers if he can stick around, which again is unlikely.

So the next time you hear a Penguins fan going on about how Cooke brings an element to their lineup that helps the team win, you probably shouldn’t be so quick to jump in and criticize if you’re going to turn around and believe the Leafs are 100% clean. They aren’t.

Just because Matt Cooke is a bit of a more high profile scumbag than the rest, doesn’t make much of a difference. There are scumbags all throughout the league, even in your favorite lineup.

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