Friday, September 23, 2005

Back from Another Break

I've been away for the last week and it seems I've missed a few things. First, for those of you who have inquired, I will be finishing off the "Job Hunting" series with a look at the forwards sometime this weekend. Now on to the news from Canuckland...

Cooke Re-signs

The big news of the past week was the re-signing of forward Matt Cooke. Cooke signed a 3 year $4.6 million deal, which averages out to about $1.5m & change per season. While this team is better with Cooke in the lineup than without, I believe $1.5m is an over-payment for what Cooke brings to the table.

Some of that over-payment is justified, as the Canucks are buying out a year of unrestricted free agency, but I do not think Matt Cooke is worth(to the Canucks) $1.5m in a salary cap world. So you're probably asking, "then what is Cooke worth?" While it's hard to put an exact dollar number on what a player is worth, you can compare him to what a "replacement level" player is worth - $450K. Cooke is now making one million dollars more than what a player such as Tyler Bouck would make. Is the difference between Cooke and Bouck worth $1m? How does that difference compare with the difference between the current defense core and one with an additional $1m of salary?

Let's have a look at Cooke's assets...

  1. Speed. Cooke's biggest asset is easily his speed. Without his exceptional skating ability he would be an average nhl'er at best. His speed is what allows him to do the things that make him an "elite third liner."
  2. Penalty Killing/Checking. One of those things is his exceptional penalty killing skills. There is no question that Cooke has developed into a very good penalty killer and his presence on the PK is an asset to the Canucks. Along with his PK skills he is also very good in a checking line role.
  3. Scoring Ability. While Cooke has never had a great opportunity at the offensive side of the game, he has demonstrated some offensive skills and given the right opportunity he could one day be a 20-goal scorer.
  4. Physical Play/Agitator. Cooke has always been known as an agitator and someone who likes to throw the body around. While this is usually an asset, his unwillingness to drop the gloves has become a bit of an issue with some of his teammates as they are left to deal with the consequences of Cooke's "agitation."

So those are the assets Matt Cooke adds to the lineup. Are they worth $1.5m? I don't think so and here's why...

First, while Cooke is a great third line player he is not a 2nd line player and he should not be payed like one.

Second, what Cooke adds to the lineup can be replaced from within. In fact it already has been. Speed? You've got that covered with the addition of Richard Park. Penalty Killing/Checking? Again you have Park, Ruutu can take on a larger PK role and Trevor Linden will have less offensive ice time and can focus more on the PK. Scoring? That's covered with the addition of Carter. Physical Play/Agitator? Between Bouck, Ruutu and the rest of the 4th liners Cooke's contribution would not be significantly missed.

So if Cooke can be replaced from within what's an appropriate salary? Considering the salary structure of the team and Cooke's situation, I believe that Cooke should probably be payed in the range of $1-1.25m per season and I'm sure Dave Nonis would agree.

However, unlike posting a blog, Dave Nonis has to deal with the real world. In the real world you can't arbitrarily pay someone what you want. Dave Nonis had a few considerations in dealing with Matt Cooke...

  1. How much am I willing to overpay for the services of Matt Cooke?
  2. Should I buy out some of Cooke's free agent years?
  3. What would the team look like without Cooke in the lineup?
  4. Could the money be better spent in another area?

I'm speculating on the first two, but I believe Nonis knew he was going to overpay and as such he decided that he was going to get one free agent year. I don't have a problem with this reasoning.

Where I disagree with Nonis is on points 3 and 4. Normally I would be all for this signing even with the over-payment, however this is a team with giant holes on the blueline. Even $250k would be a help on the blueline, $1.5m would be a huge boost. Throw in the asset(s) which Cooke could return in a trade and what you have is an opportunity to significantly upgrade the defense while not losing too much up front. Considering the state of the blueline I'd take the loss up front if it meant solidifying the defense.

Now after all that rambling you're probably thinking that I'm pissed at this deal. I'm not, really. I like Cooke and believe locking him up for three years is a good idea, even if he is making $500k more than I would like. However my main concern with this team is the defense and spending $1.5m on a third line forward is a luxury the Canucks cannot afford.

The bottom line is that the defense is weak and the forward group would be just fine without Cooke.

Other Notes

The Canucks lost their first exhibition game of the year. The WCE makes their debut tonight against the Sharks at GM Place.

And finally the Canucks have reduced their training camp roster by 10. No surprises there, as none were candidates to make the NHL roster.

Part 3 of "Job Hunting" will be up sometime this weekend.

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