Cooke vows to change ways
Penguins general manager Ray Shero made it clear Friday that left wing Matt Cooke will remain with the team next season.
Cooke made it clear he is a new man and will become a new player.
A week away from the team — which Cooke requested when his 17-game suspension for elbowing New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was announced — was apparently an eye-opening experience for the NHL's reigning poster child for dirty play.
Although Cooke did not offer specifics regarding his time away from the team, he requested help of some nature.
"It's something I did on my own," said Cooke, who talked publicly for the first time since March 21. "After it happened, I asked Ray and ownership if I could leave for a little while. They were OK with it. Everyone has times in their lives when you need help or you need to talk to somebody. I've had the chance to work with some people. I spent a week specifically dealing with those things."
Cooke, who has two years remaining on his contract, vows that his days of being suspended are over.
"The proof of everything will come," Cooke said. "I can sit here and say I'm going to change. When you see me next year, that's when the proof will come."
Speculation in the aftermath of Cooke's suspension strongly hinted that the Penguins, who have spearheaded a movement to eliminate hits to the head from the NHL, would consider trading him this summer.
Shero squashed such talk.
"There is every indication he will be back with us," Shero said. "He's taken steps after the suspension to improve himself as a person and as a player."
Cooke mentioned that he has spent significant time with coach Dan Bylsma this season, better educating himself about the NHL's precise rules on illegal hits. Even when discussing these conversations with his coach, however, Cooke's thoughts turned to his time away from the Penguins.
"Unfortunately, I made a mistake," Cooke said. "But since then, I worked on some things I needed help with. I've had a chance to deal with some great people outside of hockey, and I will continue to do so."
Had the Penguins not blown a 3-1 series lead against the Lightning, Cooke would have been eligible to play in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Cooke said watching the Penguins "battle without me hurt a lot."
The Penguins' penalty killing and inability to generate a consistent forecheck against the Lightning spoke volumes of Cooke's importance. During the postseason Cooke's teammates acknowledged badly missing his presence.
"I appreciate that they see the worth in my value," Cooke said. "My teammates have been amazing. But it's still hard to take a positive out of something that I caused."
The Penguins are banking on a new and improved Cooke next season.
"When we missed (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin in the playoffs," Shero said, "We also missed Matt Cooke."
A look at how the Penguins fared with and without top penalty killer Matt Cooke in the lineup:
With Cooke: 67 games, 241 killed penalties/271 total penalties (88.9 percent)
Without Cooke: 22 games, 61 killed penalties/82 total penalties (74.3 percent)