Matt Cooke underwent 'counseling' during his suspension in an effort to more or less re-learn the game and the art of hitting, according to an article in this weekend's Post-Gazette. Maybe it's just me, but I have an issue with the term 'counseling' being associated with an athlete when it doesn't relate to drugs or alcohol, but is there a better term? Rehab isn't exactly fitting either, so I guess 'counseling' will have to do. While I'm confident Cooke more or less just underwent the hockey equivalent of defensive driving, there's no denying the fact that, unless he's traded prior to the 2011-12 season, he's going to stick our like a sore thumb on the ice for the Pens next year. The powers that be will circle overhead with a watchful eye just waiting to drop the hammer again. It's up to Cooke and Cooke alone to not let that happen.
Cooke is under contract through 2012-13, but perhaps the more pressing question at this point is, How beneficial will he be to the Pens until his contract is up? I can't see many teams interested in trading for him, and a number may also be disinterested in having him even included in some kind of package deal too.
Does this mean the Penguins are "stuck" with him? Maybe. Cooke has a lot to prove when he gets back on the ice next season. Not only does he have to exhibit good behavior, but he also has to find a way to show that his aggressive style was not the only aspect of his game that should warrant attention.
For the third season in a row, Cooke has surpassed the 30-point mark as a member of the Penguins. That's a serviceable contribution from a guy who makes a living on the third line, give or take the occasional Dan Bylsma line shuffle here or there. In all likelihood he could've finished closer to 35 or 40 points instead of his 30 had he not missed significant time as a result of suspensions. But that's neither here nor there at this point.
Much to Cooke's credit, he doesn't seem all that concerned about losing an edge to his game. He really has no choice but embrace the disciplinary actions of this past season and somehow show that it has turned him into a better player.
"I'm not going to put a tutu on and dance around out there, but there are a lot of situations that can go bad in a hurry. Those are the areas and times that more caution has to be taken. I'm fully prepared and I've already gone to pretty good lengths to change. I will continue to do so and prove that it's possible."
When the pucks drops in October, Pens fans obviously have a number of reasons to be excited. Potentially offseason moves aside, the obvious highlight is the hope that both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will return to the ice in peak condition, ready to put this past season behind en route to another Stanley Cup run. In a way this can also benefit Cooke and allow his transition back into the game to not be entirely under the spotlight and the subject of ridicule.
But hey, as many have been apt to say around these parts in game threads and the like, haters gonna hate.