October 01 2008 06:08PM
Did I fall down the stairs and hit my head or has Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish done a philosophical flip-flop when it comes to the value of employing an enforcer?
That's a rhetorical question because everything I've seen and heard in the last three months tells me I haven't and he has. What I don't know is why, although I have a hunch that's probably not a revelation to those who've been paying attention since Daryl Katz took ownership of the team. More on that later.
Exhibit A in MacTavish's significant change of position skated, in a manner of speaking, with the Oilers for the first time this morning. That would be 6’6”, 265-lb Steve MacIntyre, who was plucked from the Florida Panthers via the waiver wire Tuesday.
MacIntyre, a 28-year-old career minor leaguer who has yet to play an NHL game in seven seasons as a pro, is a man with proven fists and minimal hockey skills. He's the dictionary definition of an enforcer, a hammer, a tough guy, a goon, a beat cop. Pick your term.
You talkin’ to me?
Just over 24 months after MacTavish let Georges Laraque walk as an unrestricted free agent by giving the thumbs-down to his request for a no-trade clause and declaring that "team toughness" would compensate for the loss of the reigning NHL heavyweight champ, in walks MacIntyre.
It's about time.
"We've got a smaller team. Our skill-level is quite small," MacTavish said after morning practice. "We have to be in the position to play the game without the opposition taking liberties."
Sounds reasonable to me. You'd have to be exceedingly dim not to have noticed that Ales Hemsky spends too much time getting mugged and not enough time tormenting goaltenders because shut-down specialists like Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell or meatheads like Derek Boogaard knock him senseless every chance they get. And they've had a lot of chances without fear of retaliation these past two seasons.
The other issue has been injuries—the Oilers have set team records in back-to-back seasons for man games lost to injury. A lot of those injuries had nothing to do with a lack of toughness, but some did—most notably, shoulder injuries to Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray. Better to have somebody like MacIntyre around to clean up the mess when Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano or Robert Nilsson get steamrolled.
The tougher the better
I said it and wrote it before and I'll say it and write it again—having a tough guy on the roster is a good investment, even if it's one that's used only 30–40 nights a season.
And don't bother with the "You can't waste a roster spot on a guy who can only play five minutes a night" argument. Yes, you can. Doing so is a lot more manageable than trying to fill a roster spot for 50 games because Hemsky or Gagner or Cogliano has been concussed courtesy of another Regehr hit from behind.
Likewise, if you're going to go down that road, go all the way—get the biggest, meanest, baddest hammer you can find, even if he doesn't have a clue what to do with his gloves on. In that regard, MacIntyre fills the bill.
"It's not rocket science. I'm not coming here to score goals," smiled MacIntyre, who skated on a line with Rob Schremp and Gilbert Brule in his first twirl with the Oilers.
"We've got a smaller team. I just have to go out and do my job and see what happens."
Big boss man
MacTavish might be stubborn, but he's not stupid. I don't have any doubt that in re-assessing his roster he came to the conclusion he had to re-think his position of two summers ago.
That said, I can't help but think that MacTavish may have had some help in taking a second look from the executive suite, namely Katz. Now, I don't know that Katz, ahem, suggested MacT think things through again, but I wouldn't bet a dime against it.
Had Katz had his way, Laraque would be back in Oilers silks today with a four-year contract worth $6 million in his pocket. What? You think it was MacTavish's idea to bring Georges back?
Whatever motivated MacTavish to take a second look matters little. The Oilers will roll into Calgary Friday with MacIntyre in the line-up. Ass will be kicked and it'll be a busy night for the big slugger from Saskatchewan.
The first of many.