Around the NHL: 8/25/11

The season is inching closer and, on Monday, we’re going to start our player profiles to start the season. Here’s what next week’s schedule will look like:

Aug. 29: Player Profile: Mikko Koivu

Aug. 30: Around the NHL

Player Profile: Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Aug. 31: Prospect Profile: Matt Hackett

Player Profile: Dany Heatley

Sept. 1:  Off

Sept. 2: Around the State of Hockey

Player Profile: Cal Clutterbuck

So that’s what we’re looking at, pending any more trades or any big news or anything, so keep tuned in, because we’ve got some great stuff on the way.

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Crosby Meets with Specialists
The big news coming is that Sidney Crosby has met with some leading specialists around the country and has said that he will make a full recovery.

Could everyone please just calm down? He'll be back!

The operative word there is will.

It’s nothing to panic about, it’s not a huge cause for concern, but he’s just not there yet.

Now, Pens fans really need to back away from the ledge with this one for a couple reasons, not the least of which is the fact that there is no return date set, only when he’s symptom free.

What’s important in that, though is that they’re actually mentioning the words return date. That means that Crosby’s career isn’t over. He’s not done. He’s just on the shelf. The Pens obviously don’t want him to turn into another Eric Lindros. They don’t want him to come back before he’s ready, nor should he.

The other reason why Pens fans shouldn’t have cause for concern is very simple. They still have Evgeni Malkin.

Think about it. This is a guy who, a few years ago people were debating about whether or not he was the best player in the NHL.

All indications are pointing to the fact that he’s going to be healthy to start the season and there isn’t anything that should give any Pens fans cause for concern.

Even without Crosby, the Pens will still be good. They’ll still have one of the elite offenses in the league, they’ll still have one of the elite defensive units in the league and they’ll still have Marc-Andre Fleury in net (take that however you want).

What I’m trying to say is that this team isn’t a one-trick pony. They’re not built so that the loss of a superstar player is insurmountable.

Are they going to be as good as they would be with Sid? No. Is it going to be clear sailing without him? No. But even if he doesn’t play at all this season, I don’t think it’s out of the question that the Pens could still be the class of the Atlantic, if not the Eastern Conference.

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Matt Cooke a Changed Man?
So, I guess we’re on a bit of a Pens theme today, but I just couldn’t pass this one by.

Anyone who knows me or who has followed this website for any period of time knows that I’m not a fan of Matt Cooke. I wasn’t when he was in Vancouver, I wasn’t when he was in Washington and I’m not now.

I don’t like the way he plays the game and I don’t like the level of respect (or lack thereof) that he has for his fellow players.

That’s not to say, though, that I think he’s a horrible human being off the ice.

If there was anything that HBO 24/7 showed, it was that Cooke actually seems like a decent guy, despite the way he plays.

Indeed, Puck Daddy even highlighted that Cooke’s season was marred with

personal turmoil that saw his wife undergo four surgeries. Nearly losing a loved one takes a toll on you, no matter who you are and my heart truly does go out to Cooke and his family and it’s truly a great thing that his wife has recovered.

To Cooke’s credit, too, he’s not using that turmoil as an excuse for his actions but, rather, as an excuse to change.

Cooke seems to have realized that the way that he plays (or, hopefully, played) the game was indefensible and just plain wrong and, for what it’s worth, I truly hope that he has. I just have a hard time believing it.

He’s always played the game right on the edge of legality and, it seemed, rarely tried very hard to stay on that edge, often crossing over to plain dangerous

You'd be surprised how hard it is to find pictures of Cooke that don't make him look like a maniac.

hits and I have a hard time believing that he’s going to be able to rein that part of himself in for a full season.

The nature of his game is and always has been that he’s a pest – he’s the guy that gets under your team’s skin – and the way that he did that most effectively was by toeing that line.

Now, I have absolutely no doubt that he’s going to try to curb that part of his game. In fact, I’m positive that he is. He sought counseling during his leave of absence from the team and that, coupled with his wife’s health troubles last season, seems to have given him a new lease on life (in terms of his career). He’s saying all the right things and he’s acting the right way.

But the question I have is, will he be as effective of a pest when he’s not sneaking over that line every so often?

Players like Cal Clutterbuck and Milan Lucic have managed to become pretty dang good agitators in the NHL without really crossing the line into illegality. Even Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows managed to do it last season (despite the bite) to the benefit of the Canucks.

But can Cooke be effective if he reins in his game? Can he still play that role that he has played so well for 12 NHL seasons and can he still do it effectively?

Maybe. But, the bigger question in my mind is what happens if he can’t?

He’s not a 20-plus goal scorer, though he does have some finesse in those hands. He’s not an elite offensive player, nor is he a terribly elite defensive player (though he has excelled in that role at times in his career). His bread-and-butter is getting under players’ skins and throwing them off their game.

But if he’s not toeing that line, will he be effective? And if he’s not, will he be able to adjust his game so he can be, or will he simply regress to his old self?

All of that remains to be seen.

Despite my doubts, I truly hope that we see a brand new Matt Cooke next season. He proved, last season, that the Pens are a better team with him than without him and they could definitely use him around for a full season.

I just hope he’s serious about this change, because it will be better for him, better for the Pens and better for the league if he is.

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Check back later tonight to see some of my thoughts on the demo version of NHL 12. So long!

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