Patrick Kaleta says he's been trying to change his game in a story on the Buffalo Sabres' official website. While he's appealing his 10-game suspension for his high hit on Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Kaleta says he wants to try to better himself.
“There's not much info I can give right now, but it gives me time to try to better my game, try to better myself and along the way, maybe help out some of the younger guys with some of the things I'm watching and seeing,” Kaleta told Sabres.com.
“I've been changing my game over the past little while. Everyone who's watched the Sabres and has paid close attention has seen it,” he said. “Like I said, I just need to keep continuing to get better and do what's best for the team and try to be a positive influence on what's going on here.”
Kaleta may hope to follow in the footsteps of Matt Cooke, the current Minnesota Wild forward who developed a reputation as a dirty player over the years, but has since cleaned up his act. In fact, Kaleta, who has been suspended or fined four times in the last six years, says Cooke has already reached out to him.
More from Sabres.com:
“We're sort of in the same boat there so he kind of understands where I'm coming from and what I have to do to stay in the League and what I have to do to help out the team,” Kaleta said. "It was cool in that aspect and I respect everything he said and hopefully I can use what he said and help myself and my game out.”
Cooke has shown that sometimes the only way to get a guy to change is through repeated and severe punishment, at least in part. Kaleta, as he said is in the same boat. Until he shows any meaningful improvement, most NHL fans and players on opposing teams are likely to remain skeptical.
Even though Cooke has managed to cut down his penalty minutes and avoid suspensions, he still has hints of his reputation coloring the public's opinion.
Kaleta admitted he doesn't have many friends on opposing teams, and that comes with the territory with his style of play. Every team needs a few guys that can play with toughness and grit, but the questionable hits not only can hurt opposing players, but as is the case now, Kaleta's team as well.
There seems to be a lot of folks who think Kaleta should be run out of the league, and there might even be a few opposing players who think the same, but Cooke has shown that people can change.
Though Kaleta is trying to put his best foot forward with this interview, until he shows it on the ice, no one will believe he can be a more respectful player. The NHL shouldn't relent on its 10-game ban, a suspension levied as much on reputation as on the actual infraction. Cooke never changed in the face of hockey's players policing players frontier-justice system, but he started coming around after those long suspensions.
This is the system the NHL has and they have to see if it can work in bringing real change to player behavior. For Kaleta and the rest of the league, it has to.