LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE: THE PROTECTION RACKET

Robin Brownlee
October 01 2010 04:13PM

While I don't pine for or expect to see a new millennium version of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers at Rexall Place this season, I'm one of those dinosaurs who believes toughness takes a backseat only to talent when it comes to building a successful hockey team.

The Edmonton Oilers will have plenty of the latter, even if it's still plenty wet behind the ears, in Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, to complement Sam Gagner, Gilbert Brule, Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner this season.

And they've loaded up, in a rather timely manner in my estimation, in the former with tough guys Steve MacIntyre and Zack Stortini, along with hard-nosed Jim Vandermeer, underrated Jason Strudwick and, maybe, willing and raw Theo Peckham.

I believe the first group and the second is a combination that's going to surprise a lot of teams this season. It's a combination I'm looking forward to seeing against the Calgary Flames tonight. Want to play hockey? Fine. If not . . .

THE RIGHT MIX

How much toughness, if any, a team needs makes for great debate and it's an argument that'll go on as long as fighting is allowed in the game. How many roster spots, if any, should a team commit to toughness? Why hold back a talented prospect to dress a hammer who plays four minutes a night and isn't needed in half the games? On and on . . .

In the end, though, it doesn't really matter what you or I think when the puck drops. What counts is what the people playing the game, Hall and Hemsky, Eberle and Paajarvi, think. I can tell you without any reservation, Hemsky is just as delighted about the infusion of toughness as he is to see the addition of offensively gifted players like Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle.

Likewise, there's no question MacIntyre and the rest of the bent-nosed bunch coach Tom Renney has put together to contest his 23-man roster know why they're taking up space in the dressing room. Take a run at Hall or even flap your gums at the kid? Pay the price. Toss Hemsky into the boards from behind (hello Robyn Regehr)? Say hello to my little friend. Face-wash Paajarvi? Here, take this and that, too.

DOING IT RIGHT

I'm not advocating meaningless thuggery or staged showdowns -- although I won't turn away in disgust if MacIntyre and Raitis Ivanans decide to throw down for no good reason tonight -- I'm talking about employing toughness effectively.

"Obviously, you've got to go out there and set the precedent that, you know, we're not going to be taken lightly and people are going to be accountable," MacIntyre said.

"It doesn't matter who you're playing. If it's time to do something, you do it," said Vandermeer, who had a memorable tilt with MacIntyre during the 2008 pre-season as a member of the Flames after he punched out Marc Pouliot.

"There are certain guys in the line-up to keep other teams honest. If somebody is going to take liberties, it doesn't matter who it is, on the team, they're going to know not to do it."

The key, at least from where I sit, is these "certain guys," with the exception of MacIntyre, are players who'd have legitimate shots at making this roster on other merits. They can play some.

Stortini fits a fourth-line role. Vandermeer can play in a team's third-pairing. Strudwick is a utility guy. Peckham is contesting a third-pairing role. MacIntyre? I'll give you that one. He's here because he's six-foot-five and 250 pounds of face-breaker and doesn't need a written invitation to get the job done.

LET THEM PLAY

If teams want to play it straight, fine. If they don't, that's when MacIntyre and the rest come into play.

Three years down the road, when Hall, 18, Paajarvi, 19, and the rest of the young players in Oilers the line-up have established themselves as NHL regulars and have matured physically, maybe the needs will change. As always, it's a moving target based on personnel.

For now, though, it's in the Oilers best interests to keep opposing ruffians in check, to let Hall and Paajarvi know they can go out and play and nobody is going to screw around without having to answer for it. They need to know somebody has their backs. While that's not everybody's way of building a team, it's the way I've always believed it should be done.

More important, at least to Hall, Paajarvi and the rest, it's the way Renney intends to go.

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 sizedoesmatter
October 02 2010, 07:17AM
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somone said middle wieghts who can punch and score the odd goal were a dime a dozen,well here,s .83 cents get us one...please

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#52 Rob...
October 02 2010, 07:41AM
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@dawgbone

You are absolutely right, but only until the Oilers lose the whole 'class-act' routine. Regehr will back off the first time MacIntyre retaliates by picking a fight with Iginla. The way you deal with semi-goons going after your talent is not by attacking the goons, but by attacking their talent.

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#53 Robin Brownlee
October 02 2010, 08:21AM
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@Wanyes bastard child

He didn't miss it. He's here to be the contrarian and the voice of reason. His theory on any given subject trumps all else and he'll write 100 paragraphs at any given time to back it up. That much, you can look up. With After The Green Light pretty much tits up, we're being treated to the routine here.

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#54 dawgbone
October 02 2010, 08:29AM
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Rob... wrote:

You are absolutely right, but only until the Oilers lose the whole 'class-act' routine. Regehr will back off the first time MacIntyre retaliates by picking a fight with Iginla. The way you deal with semi-goons going after your talent is not by attacking the goons, but by attacking their talent.

No he won't. If Smac tries to pick a fight with Iginla, Iggy will suck him into a penalty.

Regehr plays the way he does because that's his style of game. The only thing that's going to change it is if that style of play starts hurting his team because he's taking penalties.

This guy has been playing hockey for how long now? How many goons have tried to intimidate his teams in the past? How has it changed his game?

I have nothing wrong with toughness. Guys who can fight and play the game are great to have. Guys who can hit and play the game are great to have. Guys who can't play the game are just wasted roster spots.

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#55 Chris.
October 02 2010, 08:36AM
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dawgbone wrote:

No he won't. If Smac tries to pick a fight with Iginla, Iggy will suck him into a penalty.

Regehr plays the way he does because that's his style of game. The only thing that's going to change it is if that style of play starts hurting his team because he's taking penalties.

This guy has been playing hockey for how long now? How many goons have tried to intimidate his teams in the past? How has it changed his game?

I have nothing wrong with toughness. Guys who can fight and play the game are great to have. Guys who can hit and play the game are great to have. Guys who can't play the game are just wasted roster spots.

Maybe you and Quinn can have a Tea Party... and the two of you can discuss how smart it was to give MacIntyre's roster spot to another fourth liner who can "play the game"... and how that decision totally elevated the overall quality of the roster and team play all last season...

Renny likes having a true heavy weight in the lineup... and that is part of the reason he's the new head coach.

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#56 Robin Brownlee
October 02 2010, 08:47AM
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@Death Metal Nightmare

You've been pissing and moaning (like it's somehow personal) about wasting roster space on tough guys forever, particularly when it comes to MacIntyre, so I'll give you marks for consistency if nothing else.

I don't care about making you see things my way, but you should be smart enough to know you can't draw a conclusion based on the result of one pre-season game. I know you see last night's result as fitting nicely with where you come down on things, but you're reaching to the point of embarrassing yourself with your latest reference to MacIntyre ruining the flow of the game.

This team is a work in progress on all fronts, including the effective use of toughness to complement the kids. That will remain so until the Oilers can find two or three 30-40 goal-scorers who are also tough as hell (like Iginla) and a pair of defenceman who can play 25 minutes a night, put up 35-45 points and are mean motherf*ckers. You don't just snap your fingers and make it so.

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#57 Wedge
October 02 2010, 09:04AM
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Iginla got revved up after after stirring it up with Vandameer. We needed somone to punch him out and no-one stepped up. Once Iginla gets mad, he unfortunately turns into a monster. Its like we have small guys and big guys - no one to match Iginlas toughness on the 1st or 2nd line. I wish Horcoff had a meaner streak. Big Mac or Stortini can't do anything from the bench.

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#59 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 02 2010, 09:40AM
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Sammy D wrote:

tonight was a microcosm of what Oilers fans can expect to see this year - flashes of brilliance, rookie mistakes, missed assignments, and a loss. It was still fun to watch, but this is a rebuilding year - please remember that

Exactly!

We are getting what the vast majority of us wanted this year people!!

No bitching allowed after losses!

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#60 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 02 2010, 09:43AM
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Reagan wrote:

It think they were more wrried about being outplayed and late hits then staying in the game after the second period. Calgary did not give up the whole game. For seconds there I saw the same players have flash backs of last year. Impressive that all of the new guys didn't seem to give up. The vets gave up. Well here's hoping that the oilers actually consider dressing 3 bonafide starting lines next game.

The vets gave up? Theirs only 3-4 vets on the whole team?

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#61 Ryan14
October 02 2010, 09:46AM
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i hope Mac takes the McSorley theory of being a tough guy.

If someone hits one of our skill guys, you don't go aftr the other teams tough guy, you go after the other teams skill players.

Will Regehr be as willing to take a run at Hemksy in the corner when prior to the game, Mac skates up to Regehr, points at Backlund and says: "You touch one of our kids and I'll f**k this little piss head up." I would say no.

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#62 Mitch
October 02 2010, 09:49AM
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@Robin Brownlee

I'm a little concerned with a couple players on the oilers blueline, mainly Smid and Gilbert they look to really be fighting the puck, I understand with Smid coming off a major surgery. I won't talk about Souray he has gotten what he deserves. There's going to be some huge growing pains, hopefully good lessons are being taught well the loses take place, and the new young guys take a positive experience from this no matter what the outcome is.

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#64 RossCreekNation
October 02 2010, 10:39AM
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@Robin Brownlee

According to Mike Russo, the Canucks have put Shane O'Brien & Darcy Hordichuk on waivers.

O'Brien has 1 yr @ $1.6M. Wouldn't he be considered an upgrade on Peckham? Would you expect Tambellini to pick him up?

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#65 Reagan
October 02 2010, 11:12AM
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@OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

There were 7 in the line-up last night. Not 3-4. They gave up playing in the third. Hemsky, Horcoff, Khabi, Stortini, Smid, Whitney and Gilbert. Watching the D crater in their own end was pathetic. I'm not sure what game you were watching...?

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#66 David S
October 02 2010, 11:27AM
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Here's the radio version of Smac's fight last night (via Tencer). Sounds like a Rocky movie. Our new guy sure calls 'em.

http://twaud.io/Np4

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#67 Quicksilver ballet
October 02 2010, 11:41AM
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Darcy Hordichuck is enticing, especially at 775.000, i'd even extend him. He may have to come at the expense of Stortini or unfortunately Smac again.

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#70 Digger
October 02 2010, 12:31PM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Darcy Hordichuck is enticing, especially at 775.000, i'd even extend him. He may have to come at the expense of Stortini or unfortunately Smac again.

There's a lot of pretty knowledgeable Canucks fans in my office who I know will be dancing for joy today with the news of Hordichuk going on waivers. They think he's totally useless, a talentless goon that only seems to fight the other team's tough guys and takes numerous stupid penalties.

Personally, I'd stick with what we already have if Hordichuk was the alternative.

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#71 Wanyes bastard child
October 02 2010, 12:42PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Oh I know, it was just late last night for me and I didn't feel like going into a tirade when I figured your post answered him quite nicely.

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#72 Quicksilver ballet
October 02 2010, 01:27PM
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I thought Darcy was a better skater allowing him to be inserted on the second or third line occasionally, provide his linemates with a little extra room out there. If he's going to take weekly bad penaties like Moreau did then you guys are probably right.

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#73 Cowbell_Feva
October 02 2010, 03:04PM
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I agree 100% with Brownlee's take on needing toughness in the line-up. Seeing as the Oil have such nancy's upfront the necessity of a bona fida heavy-weight only magnifies this.

On another note. Is it just me or is Taylor Hall in over his head? I know he's a young kid, but he has already been run over at least twice, and seems tentative because of it? His speed is NHL level and then some, however his hands seem a touch behind. Eberle and Magnus on the other hand are legitimate.

I truely feel that Horcoff is the bottle neck in the line of Eb's/Horc/Hall. He still looks as bad as he did last year, which is a terrible sign for the copper n' blue. His speed and cardio are good (if not great) but his hockey sense & skillset is still that of a 3rd line grinder- which is truely what he is! Get him off the PP! Eberle's back will be sore from carrying the line if these tandems continue. Keep your head up Taylor!

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#74 Robin Brownlee
October 02 2010, 06:55PM
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RossCreek: No, I don't think the Oilers should have any interest in O'Brien. He's over-priced for what he brings and when it comes to adding the element of toughness, I consider him a bit of a phoney -- he really picks his spots.

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#75 Adam D
October 02 2010, 09:58PM
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Heavyweight fighters do not contribute to wins. In terms of GF/GA, they are a waste of a roster spot and a waste of money.

However, one side of the argument that doesn't get much discussion, as far as I can see, is that if having someone like Big Mac on the roster keeps the players happy, maybe that's worth the 14F spot. If it makes them A) calmer in a game-time situation, B) happier with the coach and management for "taking care of them", and C) more positive towards the team in general come FA time, then sure, keep Stevie Wonder around.

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#76 Adam D
October 02 2010, 10:01PM
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Also, for what I hope is the last time, Stortini is not just a goon. He is not interchangeable with Big Mac. Storts can play a regular shift, and the math has seen him good. Big Mac is essentially a heavy-weight boxer on skates, although I assume Muhammad Ali had better stickhandling.

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#77 Robin Brownlee
October 03 2010, 12:37AM
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@Adam D

It gets lots of discussion with me and that was the point of the item.

You can't attach a number to everything -- actually, you can, and some people do, but I've got reservations about that. When small, young or skilled players tell me having toughness in the line-up does the kinds of things you've mentioned, as Liam Reddox did after the Calgary game, I'm not going to run numbers past them to prove what they think isn't actually reflected in the results.

If Hall and Paajarvi and Hemsky and the rest tell me having tough players around works for them, I think my theories, and those of other people, take a backseat. A loss is always a loss in the standings, but getting knocked silly at the same time because the other team can do what it damn well pleases gets real old, real fast.

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#78 Bryzarro World
October 03 2010, 12:59AM
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David S wrote:

Just so you guys know, I've had the chance to meet Robin. He's a helluva nice guy and probably one of the most knowledgeable hockey personalities you'll ever have the good fortune to meet. He's forgotten more about the Oilers than just about everybody else in town knows.

He calls a spade a spade and doesn't suffer fools easily. Some people don't like that, while I find it refreshing. All on top of being a nationally recognized sports writer. If you see him around town, don't be afraid to go up and say hi. It'll be well worth your while. Hell, I'd have a beer with him anytime.

Have your knee pads on?

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#79 dawgbone
October 03 2010, 09:09AM
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Chris. wrote:

Maybe you and Quinn can have a Tea Party... and the two of you can discuss how smart it was to give MacIntyre's roster spot to another fourth liner who can "play the game"... and how that decision totally elevated the overall quality of the roster and team play all last season...

Renny likes having a true heavy weight in the lineup... and that is part of the reason he's the new head coach.

Who said it was given to someone who can play the game?

I think the biggest issue last year was there clearly wasn't enough playes who could play the game.

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#80 dawgbone
October 03 2010, 09:13AM
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Ryan14 wrote:

i hope Mac takes the McSorley theory of being a tough guy.

If someone hits one of our skill guys, you don't go aftr the other teams tough guy, you go after the other teams skill players.

Will Regehr be as willing to take a run at Hemksy in the corner when prior to the game, Mac skates up to Regehr, points at Backlund and says: "You touch one of our kids and I'll f**k this little piss head up." I would say no.

Honest question.

Do you think Steve MacIntyre will be the first person to try this against Regehr?

Has Regehr ever shown any hesitation to play the exact same way agaisnt any other team?

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#81 dawgbone
October 03 2010, 09:22AM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

From today's Sun:

"Cutting MacIntyre loose last year was one of Pat Quinn’s less popular decisions. Ask anybody on the room if they want him around and it’s unanimous — opponents treat the Oilers differently when they have a nuclear warhead in the lineup.

“He’s a sheriff out there,” said Liam Reddox. “He takes care of us all. Even if he’s not out there he’s yelling from the bench, letting guys know that there’s going to be some retribution. It’s definitely calming to have him around.”

Like I said, the toughness/heavyweight issue makes for great debate here, but there's no doubt where the people who have the greatest stake -- the players -- stand on the subject.

Retribution looked great that game.

That intimidating spear he used on Ian White put the Flames on notice I'll bet. I'm sure they learned their lesson about messing with the Oilers with the 5 minute PP they got out of it.

If it makes the Oiler players feel good that's wonderful. If it's not changing how other teams play against them though, how much is that good feeling worth?

The Flames are not scared of MacIntyre. That should be pretty obvious by now.

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#82 Robin Brownlee
October 03 2010, 09:35AM
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@dawgbone

Three straight posts? Sort of a last-word summation of the issue and where you stand (again). Thanks for that.

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#83 Chris.
October 03 2010, 02:32PM
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dawgbone wrote:

Who said it was given to someone who can play the game?

I think the biggest issue last year was there clearly wasn't enough playes who could play the game.

But at the time you were still in favor of Smac's demotion... ~That makes sense.~ Fast forward to this season: will having both Jones and Reddox in the lineup instead of MacIntyre vastly improve this roster?

It's clear you just have an axe to grind. Maybe you should be the guy retrieving the puck in behind the net with Matt Cooke running around.

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