How Good Is Matt Cooke In Shorthanded Situations & Will He Improve The Minnesota Wild’s Penalty Kill?


Sep 17, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke (24) skates on the ice during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Xcel Energy Center. The Jackets won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Matt Cooke’s most touted skills has been his effectiveness as a penalty-killer. I have decided to do some in-depth analysis of his career and see how good he really is at it.

Matt Cooke was acquired by Chuck Fletcher and the Wild brass for his grit and physical play as well as his underrated offensive ability. He was seen as a big upgrade on the recently traded Cal Clutterbuck. A big part of his skill set that made him very desirable for the Wild is his reputation as one of the league’s best penalty-killing forwards. With Clutterbuck and Cullen departing, the Wild needed guys who could play a big role shorthanded, and Cooke was an ideal candidate to become a leader in that regard.

Back in August, Andrew Berkshire, of the Montreal Canadiens blog, “Eyes On The Prize“, wrote a great article on the blog in which he analysed, the Canadiends new signing, much-hyped penalty-killer, Douglas Murray’s effectiveness in shorthanded situations throughout his career. The results showed that Murray would most likely have no positive effect on the Canadiens penalty kill this year and that the reputation he has as a great penalty-killer is undeserved. I decided that it would be interesting to undertake a similar study in regard to Matt Cooke to see if his reputation as “one of the premier penalty killers in the league” is warranted. Berkshire prefaces his study by saying:

"It’s pretty tough to figure out how well a player performs in shorthanded situations. It’s a small sample size overall, and the thing that sticks most in your mind is always going to be goals. There’s also the idea of what’s more important; flatout preventing opportunities against, or is creating offense while a man down just as important? What we can do, though, is exhaustively look at both the percentage of goals, shots,Fenwick and Corsi events, that go positively for a penalty killer, and we can isolate events against that player’s team while they’re on the ice."

 2012-2013 | One Year Sample

-I set the criteria as forwards who played at least 50 4v5 minutes last season, which left 142 forwards.

  •  _F%    =   Overall _ For Percentage With Cooke On The Ice
  • _A20  =   _ Against Per 20 Minutes With Cooke On The Ice
  •     *         =   Tied

Percentage Of Positive Events While Shorthanded (4v5)

You can see from these numbers that Cooke was near the bottom of the group in all metrics. This is a small sample due to the shortened season, and it doesn’t say as much about Cooke as it could have been a case of the Penguins having a weak overall penalty kill this year.

2010-2013 | Three Year Sample

-I set the criteria as forwards who played at least 200 minutes 4v5 minutes last season, which left 144 forwards.

Percentage Of Positive Events While Shorthanded (4v5)

This sample is slightly bigger and gives perspective on the recent part of Cooke’s career. You can see that the Penguins had a high GF% with Cooke on the ice, suggesting good shorthanded offence. The key stats for me are the FA20 and CA20, in which Cooke ranks just outside the top-25 in both. He doesn’t stand out in any other metrics. These stats are okay, but certainly don’t suggest that he brings any elite penalty-killing ability to the table.

2007-2013 | Six Year Sample

-I set the criteria as forwards who played at least 400 minutes 4v5 minutes since 2007, which left 147 forwards.


Percentage Of Positive Events While Shorthanded (4v5)

This sample covers 6 years of Cooke’s career; from his last couple of seasons in Vancouver, through his short stint with the Washington Capitals and his entire Penguins career. This should give the most concrete data regarding his shorthanded abilities as this large sample size and the various teams he played on minimise the potential for the numbers to be skewed by playing on weak penalty killing units.

The numbers suggest that Cooke didn’t particularly excel in any metrics, except for FA20, in which he is just outside the top-10. Conversely, he is 26th in CA20, 60th in GA20 and 31st in SA20. This means that, when Cooke was on the ice in shorthanded situations, his teams didn’t give-up a large amount of shot attempts but a high percentage of the attempts they did give-up were goals or shots on goal and not missed shots, and they also clearly blocked a high amount of shots.


-To see if his teams’ overall penalty-killing ability could have affected his numbers, I looked at how each of them performed in terms of PK% with Cooke in the roster:

The two years that stand out as particularly bad are his short rental contract period with the Caps, and his last year with the Penguins. The Canucks were middle of the pack in his last year there, and the Penguins were an elite penalty-killing team during his first 4 years. This makes me wonder, considering his fairly unamazing underlying numbers, if the Penguins overall ability gained Cooke his great penalty-killing reputation, rather than his own contributions. It sure seems that way.


To further explore Cooke’s importance as a penalty-killer, I decided to examine the 4v5 statistics for the four Penguins forwards who led the team in shorthanded TOI each year since 2009-2010, the year Cooke arrived. Remember, the Penguins penalty-kill was elite for each of these seasons up until 2012-13. I have given each player a final score based on their statistical performance in the other 4 categories (1st in category=4 points, 4th in category=1 point, etc).


-Here are the results for 2008-09:

For 2008-09, Cooke’s 1st season, he was clearly an important player for the Penguins on the PK. He tied for the best statistics, by my rating system, with Jordan Staal and the team finished in the top-10 league-wide in terms of PK%.


-Here are the results for 2009-10:

The following year, Dupuis took over as the key piece on the PK, with Staal adding strong support. Cooke finished 3rd by my rankings. Once again, the Penguins had a top-10 overall PK.


-Here are the results for 2010-11:

In this season, the Penguins had their best team performance on the PK, finishing #1 in the league in PK%. Strangely, Matt Cooke was the least effective of their 4 regular penalty-killing forwards. Pascal Dupuis was impressive once again, and so was Maxime Talbot.


-Here are the results for 2011-12:

Another great year for the Pittsburgh Penguins shorthanded, finishing 3rd in the league in PK%. Pascal Dupuis was their best penalty-killer for the 3rd straight year. Cooke performed slightly better, tying Jordan Staal for 2nd best by my rankings.


-Here are the results for 2012-13:

Last season, the Penguins really struggled on the kill, finishing 25th in the league. Brandon Sutter replaced Staal and did very well, finishing as the best from the group. Dupuis was good again, finishing 2nd. Cooke finished 4th, putting-up pretty poor numbers.

The impression I get from all of this data is that Cooke is a decent penalty-killer, but certainly not elite. I think he was very good a few years ago when he was a bit younger, but his recent years don’t inspire me with a whole pile of confidence. It’s telling that his numbers improve as the sample size gets larger and his Vancouver days are included.

He hasn’t even been the best penalty-killer on the Penguins for quite some time, let alone one of the best in the league. I’m not saying he’s going to be a liability or anything, but there is nothing in these numbers that screams “one of the premier penalty-killing forwards in the NHL”.

I know there’s an argument that penalty-killing is an odd skill to try and analyse using statistics and that the “intangibles” need to be taken into account, but the way I see it, if a guy is known for being an excellent penalty-killer, then, over a large sample, his numbers should reflect that and show that he makes it harder for the opposition to get shot attempts and score goals on the powerplay, because, after all, that is the whole point of being a good penalty-killer.

The Penguins PK certainly got really good after Cooke arrived, but it appears that, while he contributed, it was more a “right place, right time” scenario, and they had a bunch of forwards putting-up great shorthanded numbers. Last year’s poor performance from the overall unit, and Cooke especially, is worrying.

The Wild’s PK is a concern this year, and Cooke needs to bring his best to the table if it is to stay afloat. I expect him to be the main forward along with Brodziak at 4v5. I will be watching closely this season to see how he performs in shorthanded situations, and I will review his new set of numbers come the end of the year.


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-For more on Matt Cooke and the Wild penalty-kill:

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Penalty Kill Analysis