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Pens should consider re-upping Cooke

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.

GOT THOUGHTS? Feedback is always welcome. Send emails to hockeyday@tribweb.com or rrossi@tribweb.com. Emails without writers’ full name and current hometown will not be read.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Comments

  1. Christopher says:

    Niclas wallin to pens?

  2. Mark says:

    Trade Letang and pens get Ryan witney and Niclas wallin

  3. Tim says:

    Don’t agree with with dangling Letang. I think you keep him. He’s tough, fast, great with the puck and is right handed. I’m sure I’m missing a few, but his upside is very high. I’m a big fan and I wouldn’t think of dealing him.

  4. John says:

    Trade Letang.
    He has been a defensive liability this season.

  5. Tim Check says:

    Sign Cooke and Letang to 3 year deals right now. Cooke’s a no brainer and Letang is 22 years old playing D for the Pens. He shoots right and his value right now is pretty low. Sign him to a 3 year deal and then wait. This guy is money, he’s just young.

  6. malkin in the middle says:

    the pens need a shut down defensemen……they need a hal gil pick up! the team has plenty of ray whitney type of players.for someone that covers the pens do you see the goals against? i like keeping the players you mentioned but i think your other point is way of base!

  7. Pam says:

    I agree with Tim. Letang has such an upside. Remember he is still young and his skill, speed, and offensive/defensive ability will keep improving especially as his confidence grows. He has shown me much since Gologoski has been in a slump. Letang has upped his game and shown what he can do for this team. He just needs to remember to shoot more!

  8. Ken says:

    Pens need to get rid of Jay McKee; he can’t handle the puck, passes to the opposing player in front of our goalie. Watch how many times he’s on the ice when we are scored against!

  9. Jane says:

    It’s not a good idea to trade Letang. He struggled for a bit a few weeks ago, but has gotten back to his game. He has tremendous upside – he is a fantastic skater, physical when he needs to be, efficient at the breakout, battles hard in the defensive zone and jumps into the play and keeps the puck alive in the offensive zone. You would expect to see more goals at this point, hopeuffly more will come. Don’t forget he also has 3 game winning shootout goals that aren’t included in the stats. Confidence seems to be his only liability, but when he is playing with confidence, the sky is the limit.

    Granted, he’s still a work in progress, but I don’t see how you let a player of his pedigree go. He’s only 22 and was an impact player in the Stanley Cup run.

  10. Kyle says:

    Ken,

    McKee is the top defenseman and fourth on the team in the +/- department and fourth in the league in blocked shots.

  11. Andrew says:

    Please don’t EVER even think about bringing Kevin Hatch-, er, I mean Ryan Whitney back again…even if it brings in a top-six winger. I really don’t understand how a guy who brings to the table what he brings (vision, stickhandling, a desire to play physically as evidenced in the playoffs), can be traded simply b/c his defensive skills aren’t that of a Gonchar’s. Seems to me he plays with more of and edge than Whitney, plays offense better than Whitney, and covers WAYYYYY more ice than Whitney….ever watched Letang go from behind the goal line on offense to behind the net on D? I’ve seen a hundred times and it’s impressive… Whitney could never make up for that….nor could a second-line winger.

  12. Ryan says:

    Ray Whitney and Andrew Alberts. Whitney helps out the struggling power play. Alberts is the new shutdown dman a la Hal Gill. He’s also a -1 on a bad Carolina team. He’d make a good D partner for a guy like Letang, or Goligiski.

    Got to agree with Rossi on Cooke. He would be a good resigning for another 2-3 years. After losing guys like Ruutu, Roberts, etc last year the Pens became a much less gritty team to play against. I don’t think Ray Shero will ever let that happen again.

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