Pens Preview: Matt Cooke

11 07 2011

As mentioned before, I am a tremendous fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and of hockey in general. I want to take some time to look at the major players for the Penguins as we get into the thick of the off-season in anticipation of the coming new year. I plan on taking a somewhat in-depth look at the player’s statistics and measure them against various benchmarks. Hopefully I can keep this interesting for everyone.

I wasn’t entirely sure which player to start with when I had originally thought of doing this. I had it narrowed down to a few players, but couldn’t easily decide who should be the first player. I even posed the question to a number of others and there was little agreement there, too. The only player to consistently get “well, that would be a good starting point” type responses is none other than the infamous Matt Cooke. Thus, I give you the Avoid the Clap breakdown and future of Matt Cooke.

Matt Cooke 2010-2011 general stat line:

67 GP, 12G, 18A, 30P, +14, 129PIM, 0PP, 3SH, 2GWG, 95S, 12.6S%

If the above statline looks odd or you have no idea what the numbers and letters me, I’ll break it down for you (and these can be applied to all players from here on out – use this post as a reference if you forget).

GP = games played, G = goals, A = assists, P = points, +/- = rating assigned to a player (+ indicated player was on ice when a goal was scored FOR his team, – indicated he was on ice for a goal against), PIM = penalty minutes (minor penalties assessed 2 minutes, majors, such as fighting, are assessed 5 minute penalties, and game misconducts are assessed 10 minutes), PP = power play goals, SH = Short-Handed goals, S = shots taken, S% = Shooting percentage (success rate of goal scoring vs number of shots taken).

Cooke had an interesting year, to say the least. Cooke effectively put up .45P per game. For a 3rd line player, I’ll take half a point per game production. Hell, guys like Crosby, a rare, generational talent, hover around 1P/per game, which is mind blowing.

Before I fully get into Cooke’s point production and offensive/defensive upside, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: suspensions.

Cooke has a history of playing the game with an edge. I, personally, like what Cooke brings to the rink each night. I like that he’ll knock players on their wallets. I like that he will agitate the oppositions stars and get under the skin of skill guys.  A good, competitive hockey club needs a guy or two like Cooke who can be a complete pest and then crush your soul with a beautiful goal or two. Cooke, however, goes across the line a little too often and puts the team at a gross disadvantage by taking unnecessary penalties and/or being suspended for his play and borderline-to-grossly-illegal hits.

We can think back to his hit on Marc Savard as the beginning of the end for Cooke ever being given the benefit of the doubt.

While the end result is ugly, the hit was legal at the time. I disagree with Cooke for making the hit, as nothing good can come from hitting a guy the way he did, but I also can’t argue or make a case he should have been suspended because he did not break any rules. This hit, however, has given the NHL the carte blanche to allow moral outrage to reign over player’s discipline (more on this later). The outrage over the hit went to plaid and everyone lost their damn minds. Scott Laughlin on the Power Play on NHL Network/XM Home Ice had such a magnificent blood lust over Cooke that even I was amazed, and I’ve often said I wished the world would end. Mike Johnson had to talk him down a few times. Laughlin tried to make the case that Cooke should be suspended even though the hit was within the rules and no penalty could be assessed because Savard was injured on the play. Johnson explained to him that it’s no different than some person being arrested while walking down the street even though the person committed no crime. The bloodlust subsided a little after that, but the undying, raging boner that people had for Cooke never died.

Sadly, this was not the last time Cooke’s name would be in the headlines. Here was Cooke’s final act of the season, as he was levied an incredibly heavy suspension for this hit on New York Ranger Ryan McDonagh:

Clearly, this was an illegal hit to the head. I have no problem with Cooke being disciplined for this hit. Moreover, I have a big problem with Cooke making a hit like that in the first place. There was no need or reason to bring the elbow up and deliver such a hit. If he keeps the elbow down and makes a clean hit it’s a great play by a two-way forward. Instead he picks the elbow up and puts his team at a disadvantage for 5 minutes, gets ejected from the game, and then is punished severely. When the game is tied 1-1 in the 3rd period, you DO NOT make a play like this, especially against a division opponent, even more so when the team has been depleted by injuries the way the Pens had been at this point in the season. This was a selfish and truly idiotic play on Cooke’s behalf.

All of that being said, I still believe, as the rest of the season proved, that Cooke’s subsequent suspension was a gross abuse of “making up for the Savard hit” and getting some revenge on Cooke. Cooke was suspended for the remainder of the regular season AND the first round of playoffs, which happened to go seven games. Going by the metric the NHL uses, 1 playoff game = 2 regular season games, so that was a 14 game suspension, plus the ten regular season games, giving a total of a 24-game suspension. For the sake of comparison, Matt Martin of the New York Islanders was only assessed a 4-game suspension for this attack on the Penguins’ Max Talbot (sucker punch and attack on a defenseless player from behind – the same type of play that had nearly killed Steve Moore when Todd Bertuzzi leveled a similar hit)

Likewise, Trevor Gillies, in the same game, was assessed a 9-game suspension for a hit as bad as Cooke’s on McDonagh. Gillies charged Eric Tangradi, leveled him in the head with an elbow, and then proceeded to punch him while he was clearly injured and doubled over. Gillies took him to the ice and then mocked him as he lay on the ice recovering from what ended up being a major concussion. Gillies is a professional goon with no redeeming qualities. Martin had been assessed a suspension for a hit on Phoenix’s Vernon Fiddler earlier in the season.  The repeat offender rule comes into play and both were slapped on the wrist for actions that would be considered felonious assault outside of the hockey rink. Matt Cooke was suspended for the equivalent of 24 games because of being a “repeat offender” (and there’s no denying he is a repeat offender, though the legitimacy of some of the suspensions is debatable), but guys like Martin and Gillies, in premeditated intent to injure, were slapped on the wrist.

Ugh.  Just ugh all around.

The bullseye is on Cooke’s back, deserved or not. There is no benefit of the doubt for a guy like him. He has pledged, at the strong urging of Penguins’ General Manager Ray Shero, to change the way he plays. Cooke has pledged to play smarter and not cross that line. I hope he is being truthful. When he plays with an edge, but within the rules, he is an excellent player and his stats bear that out.

In 67 games this season, Cooke was able to net 12 goals and assist on 18 others, giving 30 points on the year. When one looks deeper into the stats, it is even more impressive. He doesn’t have one or two games that skew those numbers. He was a consistent and constant presence on the ice, both offensively and defensively.

In the 67 games played, Cooke had ZERO multi-goal games, which means he scored in 12 separate games, and only had 5 multi-point games (only 2 games were a goal and assist, all other multi-point games were 2 assists), with none being greater than 2 points. In 67 games, Cooke appeared on the score sheet in 27 of them. Fantastic presence and production from a 3rd line player. Also within the stats, of his 12 goals, 3 of them came short-handed (or when the team was killing a penalty and playing with 1 fewer players). 1/4 of his goal output came on the PK. 3 of his assists also came on the PK, indicating that he helped set up 3 other goals by players while a man short. 6 of his total 30 points came while being a man down. Truly an astounding statline.

Cooke’s goals came against the following opponents (team abbreviations used for sake of my sanity; categorized by month):

October: PHI, TBL

November: DAL, NYR

December: BUF, PHX, FLA, ATL (now WPG)

January: DET

February: BUF, CHI

March: OTT.

Using the same system, his offensive output came against the following:

October: MTL, TOR, PHI, TBL

November: DAL, BOS, ATL (WPG), NYR, VAN

December: TOR, BUF, PHX, FLA, OTT, ATL (WPG)

January: TBL, BOS, DET

February: BUF, CHI, SJS, CHI

March: BOS, EDM, OTT

When he plays smart, Cooke has a lot more skill than people give him credit.

Other than Buffalo, there doesn’t appear to be a team that Cooke clearly played well against. He matched up well against a variety of teams and chipped in with timely offense. Likewise, games in which he appeared on the score sheet, the Pens record was 16-9. Timely scoring is a key to victory, and that is something that Cooke clearly provides the team.

Defensively, too, Cooke has been a stalwart. A prime example of what it means to be a two-way player, Cooke once again finished his season with a net positive +/- rating. He finished with a +14 rating, indicating that he was on the ice for 14 more goals for the Pens than against. I will admit, sometimes +/- can be a misleading stat, but it’s hard to deny that a +14 is impressive as a third line player whose responsibility is to give the main offense a rest, bang bodies, and score a timely goal or two to break the opponent’s will.

What will next season have in store for Matt Cooke? Well, it’s hard to say. He is a fantastically consistent player. The majority of his professional years have hovered around 30-35 points, which a few aberrations here and there. Had he stayed out of trouble he was potentially headed for a career year in production. He has also typically been in the 10-15% range on shot percentage, indicating he is not wasting his opportunities to score goals. He has 301 career points, but also 988 career penalty minutes. I can promise you he will eclipse the 1000 mark on penalty minutes, but I would say it is near impossible for him to eclipse the 350 point mark.

Based on previous seasons and what I can expect the Pens’ line-up to look like heading into next year, my projection (and this is based on trends and speculation, nothing scientific) for Cooke:

73 games played, 18 goals, 23 assists, 41P, 88 penalty minutes, 1 SHG, 0PPG, 2 GWG, 108S, 16.7%

If Cooke truly is a reformed man, and I hope he is, I think you will see a big upswing in offensive output. If Cooke goes back to playing the way he did this past year, you can expect him to be suspended a lot and/or scratched nightly. This year has the potential to be huge for Cooke. He can either right the ship and play with the skill we know he has, or he can continue down the road of making stupid plays and put the team in danger. It will be interesting to see which path he chooses. I, personally, think he will play with skill and curb his over-the-line play substantially.

Let’s go Pens.


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55 responses

11 07 2011
Michelle

While I am not a hockey fan, I must say I admire the quality job you did on this post. I think you missed your calling in life by not being a sports writer (with the occasional baby animal piece on the side).

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

So, in other words, I missed my calling being a professional blogger. Wooo.

11 07 2011
I. Cruxen

Really good read, Walt. It’s amazing how important Cooke is for us in the penalty kill. I will disagree with you in one point though, I believe he will have more SHGs than you think, 3 at least. :o)

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I hope he is able to score 3 SHG, I’m just not willing to bank on it. That said, I’d love for him to put up HUGE SH numbers because it means he’s not the guy in the box, and that is equally important.

11 07 2011
I. Cruxen

Thumbs up.

11 07 2011
I. Cruxen

Oh, they transformed the emoticon, it was just a smile…

11 07 2011
Trey

This was awesome! I can’t wait to read more.

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Thanks! I am looking forward to working on these more as the season draws nigh. I am thinking Malkin may be the next target, but I’m still undecided.

11 07 2011
Griggsy

Great job with this, sir…

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

As always, it is appreciated. Hopefully I can keep up posting things of value and merit.

11 07 2011
...petrsmailbox

thumbcity. cooke can be a gamechanger, no way the pens win the cup in 09 without him. bylsma just needs to slip him half a xanax between periods or something

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I wouldn’t say “gamechanger,” as that has a little connotation of being one who can take over a game or break it wide open when needed. Guys like Sid and Geno are gamechangers on offense. A guy like Michalek or Martin or Orpik could be a defensive game changed – locking things down and providing stability and leadership.

Cooke is what I would call a backbreaker. He can just crush your spirit by getting your stars all worked up and then scoring some unreal goal to swing momentum or win the game. Good teams have a variety of role players. Great teams have a guy like Cooke, but a great team also keeps a guy like Cooke in check.

12 07 2011
...PetrsMailbox

I see what you mean, but I think our differences are semantic. Cooke can break a game open whether offensively, defensively, or physically, just not as often as some $8.7 million names.. I think penguin fans especially know that role-players can change games, series, and championships.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Yep. Pretty much just a matter of semantics. Isn’t that how it always goes? Cooke can break a game open for the bad, too. Just look at his last game last year vs NYR. 1-1 tie in the 3rd and he takes a 5 minute major..and then Nisky gets whistled for a high stick. Game fell apart.

12 07 2011
...PetrsMailbox

I think I remember being physically sick during that game. Both because the way we lost and because of that hit. That was the low point of the season IMO

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I am so glad I was not watching the 3rd period. I was listening in the car in a parking lot. Vomit city.

11 07 2011
Jessica Rex

it’s this stuff that people don’t see about Cooke. all they talk about is how bad of a person he is. yeah, he has his moments, but he really is a skilled player. if he does clean up his play, but still goes out there and annoys the hell out of other guys, then he’ll do great.
i think it’s more of his emotions when he gets out there, he’s not like Gillies with the intent to injure. well, i at least hope Cooke doesn’t go out there with the intent to injure. but if he can keep his emotions in check, then he’ll clean up his play.
let’s hope he has those stats at the end of the season. if he does, i think more people will realize that he isn’t a goon, he’s an agitator with some pretty good hockey smarts.

i look forward to the next post.

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Yeah, pretty much. The bigger issue, as you pointed out, is his need to control his emotions. I can sympathize with that. Part of being a professional, too, is being able to control said emotions. I take him, Shero, and Bylsma at their respective words and that he is going to be a different player. It’s time to make good on the promise or find himself on the wrong end of the suspension stick.

11 07 2011
Shaina Z

Love this. Absolutely love it. From the depth you went into looking at his stats to saying it how it is as relating to how long his suspension was compared to others, it’s a fantastic read. I’ll be looking forward to looks at other Pens players. Keep up the great work Walt!

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Thank you! I hope the others are at least half as in-depth and interesting. Cooke just called to me as the best introductory piece.

11 07 2011
Shaina Z

It’s a great place to start. Not a place most people would think to start, but now that it’s written you wouldn’t ever consider starting somewhere else.

11 07 2011
11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Wouldn’t have it any other way.

11 07 2011
Kimber Carnahan

This is really good! Gotta love Cooke.

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Thanks! I definitely like what Cookie brings to the rink each night. Just wish he’d play more with his skill and less with his (insane) emotions. I expect to get flamed full-on when I get around to Fleury (even though it will be a very positive piece, given his stats from basically mid-November onward).

12 07 2011
Kimber Carnahan

Agree about the emotions thing. And ahh, please, please, please be kind to my Marc Andre.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Oh, I will. I’ll get a few jabs in at him, or more appropriately the MAF Defense Force, but the man did exactly what I (and many others) wanted – he shut us the Hell up. He played like a boss and kept the team in games, unlike the previous year, where he cost them countless games by playing sloppy and having awful mechanics (as I always said to you and some others – I know bad goaltending because I was a terrible goaltender).

11 07 2011
jsfitz

Came in here to re-post my statement on tPB: “if you’re lurkin’ or come across this while Ctrl+F-searching for ‘f–k’ ‘the world’ or ‘Hate’, just want to say your articles are kickin’ a–, taking names, and kickin’ the a–es of those names. Keep it up, sir.”

And I found out you’ve been stirring things up with the peasants over there? Not surprised. Not surprised in the least, and couldn’t be prouder.

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I’m glad to see that I’ve left an impression on people (good, bad, or otherwise). Appreciate the feedback, too, on the article. Hopefully I can keep it up. I’ve got a special guest spot already lined up. I’m pretty excited about it.

11 07 2011
Adam12

Next post title: The Good, The Banned and The Ugly? Fits with the Eastwood. I’m out until your back in, brother.

11 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I don’t think I’ll be back at all. I think I’m getting the Rex treatment. Derek even chirped me on the Twitter. I am still lawl’ing. You’ve always got a place here, sir. Spread the word to the people who we got along along with. Email me at the blog’s email (avoidingtheclap@gmail.com) and we can find a better way of communicating since I refuse to put LiveFyre on here.

12 07 2011
Villan

Nice article Walt, you write like a boss! I look forward to the Geno article. Sucks about the whole tPB thing, love to stay in touch somehow.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Hey, people come in and fall out of our lives all the time. People worth the effort make a point of staying IN other’s lives. Just another chapter in the strange story that is life.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I did (finally) add a “Contact” page to the main bar under Walt Kowalski’s lovely mug. You can keep in touch through those means most easily.

12 07 2011
tomBJftw

I’m gonna miss you on c-blog after dark, but who the fuck cares. You have this blog. I’m gonna plug it everyday on c-blog.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I appreciate it getting plugged. Really, I do. My Cooke article has given me my most successful day yet. I have my fears and suspicions it will all be down hill from here.

12 07 2011
PensAreYourDaddy

Easy answer to that – boobs.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Desperate times may call for desperate measures.

Also – we are nearly at 100 comments so far on the blog. I literally couldn’t have done it without you guys.

12 07 2011
Canadianna

Wow Walt! An excellent post

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Thank you! I appreciate it. I am hopeful the rest can be even half as engaging and worthwhile.

This is also comment 100 on the blog. I am humbled.

12 07 2011
tomBJftw

arrival
post the simpsons al gore celebration walt. go ahead. you deserve it

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

12 07 2011
dappadman

Nice work Waltster. C-Blog is teeny bopper fest anyways. With you banned and me quitting the place will soon be only mouthbreathers and girls worshipping Bing’s nuts.

Keep up the good work. Nice to see some familiar “faces” commenting in here.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I think Adam12 has said he’s out until I get re-instated, and I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s plenty of room here and we don’t have to walk one eggshells around one psycho mod who thinks the internet is serious business.

12 07 2011
Adam12

Just to be clear; I am not returning there until you are re-instated.

But, it has nothing to do with the people on there, I genuinely like them all, including the psycho (lol) mod (who I also think does a great, unenviable job). I would consider her a friend and believe deep down you should too. But, that’s up to you.

I am not going back there because I support YOU, both personally and for what you bring to cblog. I’m not going to get into whether you are wrong or right because I don’t, and never will, know the whole story and don’t care to judge my friends anyway.

Your “un-banning” would signal to me the direction tPB was going in and also let me know that if I stumble – folks will let me stand back up. I really like all the young folks in the room and believe they do bring a unique perspective to the table. However, I’m not hanging out in a Tweeny chat room.

I stand with you.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

I appreciate it. Truly, I am honored.

I do not think I’ll be going back, even if they do life the ban. I have found a means of keeping in touch with the people I like (be it here, or on Twitter or Facebook or whatever) and leaving the fools behind. As I had said – my life is enough of a living travesty that I don’t have time or patience to suffer fools.

And no, I do not take friends lightly, many of the people there I would have a difficult time spitting on if they were on fire. I know it sounds cold and mean, but it also happens to be true. I don’t let many people into my life, and those I do I expect to stick around. Some may say I’m guarded, others will say I have a need to be lonely, and perhaps they are all correct. In the world of the internet, where one can control their listening and viewing and interactive environment, I will exercise that option to surround myself with people I actually want to engage with.

Frankly, I don’t know the whole story and I don’t really care. If they lift the ban, so be it. If they don’t, I’ve got my own little world here. I tried to be the last sane person there who actually brought some level of intelligent hockey talk to the table. A few others joined me, but not many. It pretty much devolved into a “one of us” mindset and there’s no use fighting the unstoppable force. I tried and I tried and they did away with me. That’s their prerogative, but every choice and action has consequences. This little stunt has caused a lot of people who were on the bubble about them to finally say “eff it” and no longer go there.

I don’t anticipate them unbanning me. The mindset there is “with us or against us” and basically, I’m not their type of clientele. I have strong opinions, often different from those in charge, and they don’t like and can’t handle when someone has a different outlook. They may all come barreling in here and give me a ton of crap. I know what I know and I talk to people who’ve dealt with them for even longer than I have. They collectively fit a stereotype for a reason.

I can appreciate you wishing to be the better person in this. I simply cannot.

I will ride with you until our final days, sir.

12 07 2011
matsif

fuckin immature kids ruining everything. and people wonder why I have very few friends that are my age.

I’ll keep the fire lit over there until either all of ST6 returns triumphantly or I am also exiled. so probably the latter. call it spying if you will.

engaging clandestine maneuvers, codename “clownfuckery”
whaleblower, out.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

You, too, matsif. I will ride with you until the end of days.

It’s like I said to Adam12 and Dapper Dan Man – I don’t want people to purposefully go and stir shit, but I am also not going to proactively stop them. They made their choice. It’s their blog. I can disagree with everything they think and say, it’s still their collective opinion for good, bad, or otherwise.

I, for one, love that you are going to keep the fire burning since you do not care all that much if they toss you, too.

Roger that, whaleblower. Salmonthumper approves. Authorization code “tunacar.” Operation “clownfuckery” is go. Repeat, “clownfuckery” is go.
Salmonthumper over and out.

12 07 2011
Chizmo

I agree with your take on Cooke. It was near impossible to defend him to other Pens fans following the hit on McDonagh. Many took the mindset of the masses with the “Shero needs to axe him/How can they be against headshots and for Cooke?”. Hopefully now that the mob mentality has had time to subside, people will give him a chance at least until he makes another mistake.

I personally like Matt Cooke as a person (from what I’ve heard) and a player, but PLEASE MATT DON’T DO ANYTHING ELSE DUMB! No doubt he is a great asset to the team and fits right into Bylsma’s system.

Hope to see a new preview up soon.

12 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Yep. People completely lost their damn minds with Cooke after the McDonaugh hit. He was either the antichrist or a hero. There was no in-between.

My brother has argued with me at length about Cooke and why he’s going to be a goner this season because, as he put it, “He’s become the poster boy for all villains” in the NHL and will get singled out for every single play that’s even close to dirty. He’s short-sighted enough to believe that no team is going to risk picking him up off waivers because of being a penalty and suspension machine. I agree that Cooke is going to be under the microscope, but I disagree that teams would pass on picking him up off waivers. They’d kill to have him just to be a pest and go out and give Crosby or Malkin the Savard treatment. Hell, the Islanders would pick him up and pair him Martin and Gillies just because they could.

Ugh. I don’t even want to think about Cooke, clean or dirty, playing against the Pens right now.

I agree on him personally. I believe he’s a good man and a loving father. I try to separate the person from the job as best as I can and Cooke is a guy who needs to be viewed with that crowbar separation. If you cannot see the player differently from the guy at home it will be difficult to assess him as a player and say when he does something stupid or when he does something great.

Hopefully will get the next preview up late this week or early next week. I’ve got a few other items lined up. We’ve still got a lot of off-season to work with.

13 07 2011
TheCynic

Love me some Matt Cooke. I’ve been lurking your blog since its inception, just decided to comment. Keep up the good fight.

13 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

Well, now that you’ve bust your commenting cherry, I hope we can expect to see you around more often.

13 07 2011
BrettLive

This was better than anything I’ve read on hockey-related blogs all month. Thumbs up.

13 07 2011
Walt Flanagan

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