Free Agent Profile: Matt Cooke

This is the most Matt Cooke picture ever: 5 opponents, no backup, still going for it. - USA TODAY Sports

The next in our series of 2013 Pittsburgh Penguin free agents brings us to Matt Cooke. Friend, teammate, targeter, target-ee.

Basics

Player: Matt Cooke
Role: 3rd line winger, PK specialist, "pest"
2013 regular season Box car stats: 48 games played, 8 goals, 13 assists, 36 PIMs, -2
Playoff stats: 15 gp, 0g, 4a, 35PIMs, +1


Usage

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Along with his frequent center Brandon Sutter, Matt Cooke had the unenviable task of starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone, and frequently against the best players on the other team. As a not surprising result, he had negative shot-based advanced shots, as the situation would point to. Aside from that, Cooke had to do a lot of heavy lifting, and did a good job.

While he was on the ice at even-strength (in this tough starting/competition position), Pittsburgh scored 25 goals and gave up 26. Thanks to keeping that almost even, it opened up a lot for the Pens top guns to out-score the checkers of the other team and help the Pens to many wins in the regular season.

Interesting fact

After scoring two goals in the wild 7-6 OT win in Montreal on March 2nd, Matt Cooke went on to score only three more goals for the last 41 (reg season + playoff) games of the season.

Three Reasons to keep him:

  • 1)Gimmicks aside- Cooke is a strong 3rd line player. He's effective physically and has shown another season of being able to play the game largely by the rules. Cooke can eat the toughest of minutes at even-strength and keep it about even on the scoreboard, all you can ask for.
  • 2)Tough stuff- Cooke adds a lot of the sandpaper that a team composed of offensive players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin need. Cooke was 2nd among forwards in SH time, 4th in the regular season in hits (97), 1st in the playoffs in hits (63), 1st in blocked shots (41). In all the hard-nosed, black and blue categories Cooke showed up as expected.
  • 3)Better with than against- Lower line guys are largely replacable, but Matt Cooke is one of those handful of guys you want playing with you, rather than against you. He hits, he chirps after the whistle, he'll give out face-washes and run around. He's a pest, a jerk and a pain in the ass and it's better to have a guy like that rather than face him.

Three Reasons to not keep him:

  • 1)Circus- Matt Cooke is no stranger to controversy. He's been coached his whole career to "toe the line" and play physical and finish checks. But sometimes he crosses that line, and given his reputation and rap sheet, he's not going to get a break (and doesn't deserve one). Such could be the case with the hit on Adam McQuaid in the playoffs. Was it a penalty? Definitely. Is it a five minute major+ game misconduct for a player not named Matt Cooke? Probably not. If you bring Matt Cooke back, you have to live with things like that.
  • 2)Over-rated?- It's not necessarily his fault, but the pure stats show Cooke was on the ice for 18 PK goals against. Compare that to 12 GA for Sutter and Craig Adams and 9 by Pascal Dupuis. If you look at the TOI, Cooke was second among Pens forwards in total PK time. Adams played 22 more minutes, yet was on the ice for six less goals. Dupuis played 13 minutes less than Cooke, and saw half the goals go in the net.
  • 3)Terms of agreement-Cooke will be 35 before next season starts, and as we've seen, is prone to going long stretches without adding much offensively. Is he worth committing to for 2-3 years? Will he hold out, and possibly test the open market for more money or terms than Pittsburgh can comfortably fit him into the salary structure? Sometimes it's better to walk away from a player a year too early rather than a year too late, and in what is probably the last contract of Cooke's career, he'll be understandably looking to maximize it. For the Pens sake, they need to try an minimize it.

Verdict:

As always, with a veteran unrestricted free agent, it'll come down to what they're looking to do. If Cooke is dead-set on getting a long contract, or getting the most money possible per year (or both!) then he's probably not going to be coming back to the Penguins. But he has been a valuable player over the past five years, especially at some of the grimier areas of the game that Pittsburgh needs. And with Adams and Dupuis also looking at UFA, the team will have to consider how much turnover among theose type of guys that they want

Unlike some of the other FA's, I haven't gotten a good feel on Cooke. It wouldn't surprise me to see him stay, but it also wouldn't be a shock if he and the team decide to part ways. One thing is for sure- if he leaves the Pens will have a massive hole for a checking/defensive minded 3rd line winger who can hit, forecheck, kill penalties and chip in a little offensively. That's a tough skillset to effectively replace. The Pens may have hoped when they signed Tanner Glass that year that he could possibly slide into the role, but that's not going to happen, so the Pens may have to bite the bullet and try to bring Cooke back for one more year.

Your call

Vote in the poll below on the simple question of should the Pens re-sign Matt Cooke or should they let him go? What's your price point on him>? Add your comments below!

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