Today Matt Cooke was formally introduced to the media at the Xcel Energy Center, and while many players get the red carpet treatment he was put on the defense immediately. With five suspensions given by the league and other aggressive plays criticized over the course of his 15 year career, the left wing still has a lot of work to do with his image makeover.
But when Cooke came available on the market the Wild’s view of him wasn’t of a rough player, it was that he is a reliable penalty killer, shot blocker and third-line scorer. And with that on their mind the Wild signed him to a $7.5 million dollar contract.
Cooke has long been one of the most hated opposing players among Wild fans, going as far back to his aggressive performance against the Wild in the 2003 playoffs when he was with Vancouver. Cooke also found trouble for various hits in recent seasons with Pittsburgh.
So it came as a surprise to many fans when the Wild signed him. But Cooke wants to assure the fans and critics alike that he has changed his overly aggressive ways and is a new man. “I’m sure there’s a lot of fans there who maybe aren’t fond of me and they remember when I played for Vancouver, but hopefully I can change their opinions rather quickly once I get there.”
While people are quick to focus on his aggressive playing style, his numbers are just what the Wild are looking for. He has a plus-53 rating for his career. He hasn’t missed a game in either of the last two seasons. In 2011-12, his 38 points on 19 goals and 19 assists were the second most of his career. And his penalty minutes are way down.
He may be turning the volume down on his playing style but he’s still a physical player, bringing the kind of grit the Wild wanted for their third line after trading Cal Clutterbuck. But, Cooke insisted, that grit isn’t dirty.
“There’s still times that you can go out and get a hit and get big hits that are clean, and they’re part of the game. It was the other ones that I wanted to get rid of,” Cooke said. “I still averaged over two hits a game this past season, and that’s something I want to keep in my game.”
And the Wild are very happy to have that.
Chuck Fletcher General Manager of the Wild said, “I just think Matt is, to be honest with you, an ideal third-line left winger. For our team right now, we’re in the process of learning how to win, of how to become a better team. Players like Matt bring different dimensions. But he has become a really good two-way hockey player.”