Pittsburgh Penguins: Love Him or Hate Him; Matt Cooke Can Flat out Play

Andy Campbell @@andycampbell16Correspondent IOctober 13, 2011

Matt Cooke and the Pittsburgh Penguins are off to a hot start in 2011-12.
Matt Cooke and the Pittsburgh Penguins are off to a hot start in 2011-12.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Rarely does anybody talk about the positives of a player like Matt Cooke.  Since he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2008-2009 season, Cooke has been suspended multiple times for speculative play. Because of this, his value as a fine two-way hockey player goes overlooked.  While I certainly do not advocate for his behavior, Matt Cooke serves a vital role as a member of the Penguins.  

So far this season, Cooke has scored three goals in his first four games and has been one of, if not the biggest reason, why the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins are off to a hot start.  Cooke is a solid situational player, plays on the second or third line, and is a consistent penalty killer.  If Cooke were ever available there would be quite a few teams in line to take a flier on him.

Brendan Shanahan has been appointed the new sheriff in town for the NHL.  He should be applauded for how he has handled headshots and dirty play thus far.  Unfortunately for Cooke, this perhaps puts him more under the microscope than he was before (if that’s possible).  As a repeat offender, he has little wiggle room with the NHL’s big brass, and if and when he does have another incident, there is no telling as to the length of his penalty.  Depending on the severity of the infraction, his removal from the NHL is not out of the realm of possibility. Realistically, if it happens again, do not be surprised if his penalty warrants a suspension of at least 20 or more games. That’s how serious Shanahan seems to be and rightly so. 

So more or less, people in the game of hockey should be pleading with Matt Cooke to keep it clean. The consequences for him and the Pens could be drastic, but there is more to it than that. If Cooke cannot keep his wits about him, he will rob himself, the Pens and true hockey fans of a gritty, hard-nosed, talented hockey player.

Players such as Matt Cooke are not exactly a dime a dozen. He is a defensive minded player. He knows his in-zone responsibilities. His back-checking is done with purpose and he does not gravitate towards the puck carrier. 

In an era with so many dangling wannabes and perimeter players, Cooke will drive to the net and create traffic. He has a hammer of a shot that is also accurate. He is well-liked in the locker room by his teammates. Cooke’s abilities are certainly reason enough for Mario Lemieux and company to continue to have faith and support him as the asset he is. Though not as flashy or naturally talented as a Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, one cannot argue against Cooke’s value to his team.  

Matt Cooke will always be a player under watch in the NHL. That much he has brought on himself. For the general safety of other players in the league, it is essential that Cooke mitigate his bone-headed, knee-jerk reactions. Cooke has served time for his previous indiscretions and it is not the responsibility of Cooke or the Penguins’ management to determine whether or not the punishments dolled out were just.  It is Cooke’s responsibility to learn from his mistakes and clean up his act. 

Most NHL fans will continue to have a problem seeing Cooke on the ice night in and night out. Some opposing coaches and general mangers will feel the same way. The fact of the matter is, Cooke can flat out play and any of those that hate him would not mind having him on their roster. 

The Penguins are hot as they host on the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, and Matt Cooke has been the key ingredient.  

Thanks for reading.