By Tim Benz
Late in the regular season Matt Cooke was scoring big goals against Carolina, Philadelphia, and Toronto. Then in the post season he scored four more.
Suddenly Cooke was adding a timely goal scoring touch to his resume which already included penalty killer, big hitter, and crap-stirrer. It also looked like he was pricing his way out of Pittsburgh.
The 31-year old winger was about to become a free agent, and some were predicting he could get as much as 3-million dollars per season on the open market. Instead, he stayed in the ‘Burgh for three years at a cap hit of only $1.8 million by signing a new contract Tuesday.
“There’s a benefit to playing in Pittsburgh,” said Cooke on my 105.9 the X morning radio show. “It’s a winning scenario. Their core guys are locked up long term. That’s a set up for long term success.”
Cooke also said he decided to stay in part because of the chemistry he has created with center Jordan Staal.
“When the third center to go over the boards is Jordan Staal, that’s a pretty easing feeling. I’ve spent a lot of time with Jordan both penalty killing and even strength. And it’s a fun thing, an exciting thing to know that he is even going to get better.”
Hopefully for that line with those two players and Tyler Kennedy, Staal will be at full speed when training camp opens. He just had a second surgery on the foot which was injured during the playoff loss to Montreal. He’s currently wearing a walking boot.
“I know what the doctors wanted to do was go in a make sure whatever they did didn’t stretch or pull. I hope he has a full recovery.”
Penguin fans hope Cooke’s gritty style of play doesn’t change now that he has the security of a multi-year deal. Too often Pittsburgh has become a haven for “sandpaper” players who get caught up in skill they don’t have while playing and practicing with superstar teammates. Cooke says that won’t happen with him, even though he is coming off a career high 15 goal season.
“The physical part of my game is something I’ve done since I was a kid. It’s fun. I like to set a tone, a tempo for the team.”
Cooke’s significant discount could help the Penguins retain Sergei Gonchar under the salary cap, or cobble together enough money to scoop up a free agent off another team’s roster.
“It’s beneficial for the team. It gives us some certainty going into July 1 in planning our roster. It fit’s a hole on the roster that we were looking to retain,” said General Manger Ray Shero on 105.9 the X with me as well. “The money may be more out there come July 1. But give the credit to Matt Cooke for seeing that Pittsburgh is a good place for him. He’s a leader on our team.”
It’s cliché to say that qualities such as grit, and hustle, and leadership, and penalty killing are priceless. It’s also untrue. Everything has a price in the cap era.
Similarly, for the player, the price to stay with a winner eventually exists too. But at $5.4 million dollars over three years, that price is just about right to keep ties between Matt Cooke and the Pittsburgh Penguins. This was a good signing and a good move by both parties.