After 15 years in the NHL, there’s a part of Matt Cooke’s game that he’d like to lose: his reputation for the rough stuff.
With five suspensions levied by the league and other acts criticized over the course of his career, the left wing still has work to do with the image makeover. But the Minnesota Wild’s view of Cooke when the market opened was that he is a reliable penalty killer, shot blocker and third line scorer.
So Cooke signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract with Minnesota on Friday, the last and most startling move made by the Wild on a busy first day of free agency. They also traded forward Devin Setoguchi, let forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Matt Cullen sign with other teams, signed defenseman Keith Ballard and re-signed defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
Cooke has long been one of the most-loathed opposing players among Wild fans, dating to his aggressive performance against them in the 2003 playoffs when he was with Vancouver. Cooke also found trouble for various hits in recent seasons with Pittsburgh.
“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,” Cooke said on a conference call with reporters soon after his deal was done.
In 2011, Cooke received what amounted to a 17-game suspension for elbowing Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the head. Cooke was banned for the remainder of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs that spring. Sobered by the punishment, Cooke said he needed to change the way he plays.
“I’ve watched him play for many years. There’s no question when he came in the league he was an agitating player,” Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said, adding: “With the new rules in our game, I think Matt has learned to not take every hit. You see him now passing up on some hits. He angles a lot. He’s always in good position defensively and yet he still has that physical presence.”
Cooke will make $1.5 million this season, $3 million in 2014-15 and $3 million in 2015-16.
He has a plus-53 goal-differential 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.
NEW YORK — The Rangers have agreed to terms with restricted free-agent defenseman Ryan McDonagh on a six-year, $28.2 million contract.
The new deal will carry an annual salary-cap hit of $4.7 million for New York, which is close to the financial ceiling with players still left to re-sign, such as forwards Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin.
McDonagh had four goals and 15 assists in 46 games last season and ranked second on the team with 78 blocked shots, third in average ice time at over 24 minutes per game, and fourth with a plus-13 rating.
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — New York Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin has accepted the team’s one-year, two-way qualifying offer.
The 23-year-old Poulin, who would earn $1.3 million in the deal, played in five games last season with the Islanders after being recalled from Bridgeport of the AHL on Feb. 23. He went 1-3 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .893 save percentage.