Some thoughts after the Penguins’ 2-1 victory Sunday afternoon over the Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center:
= “MONEY” MATT COOKE
Not sure how many readers caught this in Sunday’s Trib; to recap, these are my suggested moves that GM RAY SHERO make to help improve the Penguins:
No. 1: Call Jim Rutherford: “So, Jim, remember Mark Recchi and 2006? Yeah, let’s chat about Ray Whitney.”
No. 2: Dangle Kris Letang: I wouldn’t trade him, but I’d sure let teams know I’d listen to offers.
No. 3: Re-sign Matt Cooke: He’d be cheaper to snag now than in late June, and the No. 3 line is worth keeping together.
No. 4: Promote Luca Caputi: Let him play on as a top-line winger now for potential payoff later, perhaps in the playoffs.
OK, so many readers might take issues with all of these moves, but I challenge somebody to make a compelling reason against re-signing LW MATT COOKE. I say there isn’t one.
Talks with Cooke are not on-going, and I suspect he’ll be allowed to test free agency (unrestricted) on July 1. He’ll want a multi-year deal, probably three years, and the Penguins have awarded few deals of that length to role players – the exception being LW/RW PASCAL DUPUIS, who snagged a three-year deal in July 2008.
The trade off for a third year on Cooke would probably be a cap hit at or near his current one, which is $1.2 million. Some folks, including Shero, might find that cost too steep to keep a third-line winger; but I’d argue it is fair for Cooke, who has progressed under HC DAN BYLSMA into a trusted penalty killer and flashed a decent goal-scoring touch.
Cooke is within two goals of his total from last season, and he’s trending toward 17, which would be a career-best total.
More important is his positive influence on C JORDAN STAAL, who has developed a nasty edge to his game that has served him well in a well-rounded fourth NHL season. Shero told me a few months back that Staal’s edge could be somewhat attributed to Cooke, who plays with a style that drives opponents crazy – not unlike former PENGUINS LW JARKKO RUUTU; but unlike Ruutu, Cooke scores some goals.
Still, his value is a much for what he does to opponents – take them off their game, specifically – while not scoring. Witness what FLYERS LW ARRON ASHAM said of Cooke after Sunday’s game, in which, during the third period, Asham challenged Cooke to a fight to no avail.
“He’s a gutless guy,” Asham said. “I have no respect for him.
“He does his job well. He’s an agitator. He’s garbage. I’ve got no respect for him.
“He yaps. He’s a dirty player. You thought he’d have some class. … I hate him.”
A Trib Total Media story on Monday will cover the reason behind those words, but I cannot stress enough that – agree or disagree with Cooke’s unwillingness to drop with Asham – there is evidence in his post-game thoughts that he was not entirely focused on hockey as a 1-1 game wound down. In my years of covering athletes, the ones that openly talk about hatred on a personal level, the ones who call guys names – well, these are the ones that aren’t entirely focused on what’s important.
Cooke is focused on what’s important: winning. His game helps the Penguins win. If that means giving him a third year, I say Shero should consider it. After all, forwards such as RW BILL GUERIN and LW RUSLAN FEDOTENKO are also potential UFAs, and I’m not sure it’s wise to look for three top-nine wingers over one summer.
Cooke would do a deal now. The Penguins should consider one.
= SAY IT, SIR
Bylsma, on the early intensity Sunday despite a 12:30 p.m. start for NBC coverage:
“Being a Philly-Penguin game I’m not surprised it had the intensity, even being an early start. I know our guys talked… ‘If you can’t get up for a 12 p.m. game then pretend it’s 7; because this is Philly and it’s going to be intense.’”
Total penalties: 23. Actually, for Flyers-Penguins, that seems timid.
= BROTHERLY BEATDOWNS
The Penguins’ win completed a 3-0-0 run at Philadelphia this season. They are 10-7-1 at Philadelphia since C SIDNEY CROSBY’s debut four years ago. That does not include a 3-2 record in the playoffs. Before Crosby arrived the Penguins had won 17 regular-season games at Philadelphia, and just three in the playoffs.
Perhaps one reason the Penguins win at Philadelphia is their captain’s refusal to allow his personal distaste for the way the Flyers – and their fans – attack him alter the respect he gives the team. His words after Sunday’s win:
“They’re really dangerous, especially up front. They’ve got a lot of guys that can score. Our focus, especially on the road, is to simplify things. We don’t want to turn the puck over. We keep it pretty simple when we’re here, and that in turns bring out some good hockey in us.”
The Flyers might draw Crosby and the Penguins for a third straight playoff season. A win by the Penguins would even a playoff history in the Commonwealth Cold War that the Flyers once led, 3-0.