Matt Cooke And The Benefit Of The Doubt

July 4th of last year Chuck Fletcher created some fireworks, as he was able to sign both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter- two All-Star caliber players in their primes- to matching 13 year, 98 Million Dollar Deals.

It was shaping up this year to be far less dramatic- there were cap constraints that would temper any expectation of something grandiose. The priorities; getting a #1 Goalie like Jonathan Bernier re-signing Niklas Backstrom and getting a defenseman (which would end up to be Keith Ballard); were already taken care of, and Fletcher would likely let things play out over the Summer and scoop himself up a nice value when there was a certain element of panic in the market.

Then in one hot minute...

...Devin Setoguchi was traded to Winnipeg for a 2014 2nd Round Pick....


...And Minnesota signed Matt Cooke to a three-year, 7.5 Million Dollar Deal.
As much as Minnesota sports fans went on a crazy high 365 days earlier, the 2013 version took everyone to the very opposite end of the spectrum.

Fans, well, are in a state of disgust and revolt. (Even my 64 year old Dad called me up and simply said "WTF MATT COOKE?!?) Media types are lambasting the signing; denouncing the amount of baggage that comes with a dirty reputation- and even the accusation that this was indeed a desperation move.

Familiarity breeds contempt- and Wild fans are quite familiar with Matt Cooke. For seven years we watched as the shift disturber did everything in his power to goad opponents into penalties; hard hits, little slashes, nonstop jaw jacking, and even a spear on Matt Johnson- he was the chief villain on a rogues gallery of a franchise that Minnesota fans have come to despise, even though the offenders of years past have moved on only to be replaced by villains of anew.
He's become synonymous with essentially be the worst; blindsiding players (and effectively ending Marc Savard's career), late hits, instigating and not paying the penance, and the general skullduggery that would go into being a player that fans love to loathe, and a player other players hate to play against. His former GM, Ray Shero, once denounced a Cooke hit as "the type of player we're trying to remove from the game." Damn...

He plays on the edge, and seems to have reformed himself; I do think the Lady Byng nomination was somewhat of a practical joke, but the numbers oft-associated with Cooke- Penalty Minutes, Suspensions, and Fines- have stayed down, if not nonexistent. Like the sinner who found faith and a new path, it may appear that this next act in Cooke's career may just be a trend, and not a mirage.


So why not give him a chance? I know our longstanding contempt and disdain for Matt Cooke; I too grew tired with his antics and desperately wished someone in Iron Range Red would get him just once (mea culpa: I derived much satisfaction his unfortunate dance with Evander Kane or Dustin Brown steamrolling Cooke. Karma does indeed exist.) Chuck Fletcher's reasoning (or spin, you want to be skeptical) for signing Cooke is sound; our penalty kill was 19th in the League last year, he can match up against other top lines (which should be beneficial to the way Mike Yeo zone matches his lines), and he can produce at even strength. He has the speed to get in on the forecheck, and will provide some bite; Yeo wants to be a team that is hard to play against- so would you rather have Matt Cooke, or play against Matt Cooke?

Ultimately Matt Cooke's time in Minnesota has yet to be assessed; sure, the condemnation from the transgressions of seasons past will always follow him around but whose to say he won't bring merit to the team as a serviceable role player? What if he does exactly what he was brought in to do; be a fixture on the PK, produce at even strength, draw penalties, and bring a sandpaper element to a team that is consistently inconsistent in that regard? Don't we owe him a chance to prove his worth before we indict him, if many haven't already?

4 comments:

  1. From purely a hockey standpoint, getting rid of Seto & Clutter and signing Cooke and Ballard, should improve our puck possession game.


    Seto and Clutter are primarily dump and chase players who might get a quick hitting SOG. Conversely, Cooke will be able to carry the puck and he can help create the cycle down low. This will lead to more scoring opportunities for his linemates. Additionally, it will increase the amount of time opponents spend in their D zone, thus limiting their offensive chances.

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  2. Cooke deserves a go. CF's reasons for acquiring him are so true. Too bad he couldn't have found a "Matt Cooke" type player without it actually being Matte Cooke! Glad Seto is gone. He was a "maybe". You never knew which Seto was going to show up to play. The one who produces, or the more common putz. Clutter will be missed because he can hit and was quite likable, but I think Cooke will handle the PK role a lot better. Time will tell.

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  3. Nice piece. Cooke should fit in fine here. My initial reaction was OMG like everyone else but I don't think it took me more than an hour to go through all five stages of grief.

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  4. What has always disgusted me about the Masterson nod, if Cooke played in Masterson's day, he easily could've been the guy that killed him.

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