Getting tough: do the Oil need an enforcer?

Jason Gregor
May 25 2010 03:11PM

Montreal Canadiens v Atlanta Thrashers

Do the Oilers really need a legitimate tough guy? It wouldn’t hurt, but from where I sit it a tough guy won’t make them that much better. I love fighting, and I hope it is always a part of the game, but having the toughest guy in the league only helps you if he can play more than five minutes a night.

If you ranked the top heavyweights, just on fighting, most would have these guys in the top ten: (No particular order).

Derek Boogaard, Colton Orr, George Parros, Wade Belak, Eric Godard, Raitis Ivanans, David Koci, DJ King, Matt Carkner and George Laraque.

Carkner is the rarity, because he plays defence. He plays the most minutes, averaging more than 16:30 a night, so you can make the argument he is the most valuable out of the heavyweights, because he plays so much. He had 24 fights last year, 4th most in the NHL, behind Ian Laperierre (25), Brandon Prust (25) and Zenon Konopka (33).

Light and fight

I didn’t list Konopka in the top-ten, because he is undersized at only 6’0”, 210 pounds, and he is in the category of fighters that I think is the most valuable: The light-heavyweights/middleweights.

This category is where Steve Tambellini should be looking to add toughness to his team.

Zonopka, Laperierre, Prust, Daniel Carcillo, Steve Ott, Cody Mclead, and Jared Boll are the types of guys Tambellini needs to find.

Those guys not only fight, and are willing to fight heavyweights now and then, but they can contribute with more than just their fists. They are aggressive on the forecheck, they hit constantly and they can bring more consistent energy to the game. They have the ability to change the momentum of the game more often than a heavyweight who only plays six or seven minutes, and doesn’t have the foot speed to hit guys frequently.

Konopka not only fought a lot, but he was disciplined for a guy who plays physical. He only took 20 minor penalties, compared to 33 fighting majors. Konopka is an UFA, but I don’t see anyway newly named GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t re-sign him. Yzerman realizes the importance of having a tough guy who can contribute, having had Bob Probert play beside him for many years.

Konopka doesn’t come close to Probert in skill or overall toughness, but you can’t underestimate his value to the Lightning. I know his +/- wasn’t great, -11, but when you are on the 25th place team rarely do you have a great +/- ranking.

In Brownlee’s article Laraque mentions Jacques Martins doesn’t like tough guys. That is a fair comment from George, but I wonder if Martin had a guy like Laperierre or Mcleod, how much would he play them? Does Martin not like tough guys, or does he not like one-dimensional tough guys? I’d say more the latter.

One dimensional not needed

For years I’ve heard from many media guys and posters that the Oilers need a true heavyweight, but I don’t see anything that shows me why. There isn’t as much intimidation in the game now like there was in the 1980s when Dave Semenko, Marty McSorley, Kevin McClelland, Don Jackson and others patrolled the ice for Wayne Gretzky. McSorley, McClelland and Jackson played decent minutes over their careers, and weren’t just there to ride shotgun.

The Oilers have lots of holes they need to fill, and their depth chart has lots of potential top-six forwards in the system. Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Taylor or Tyler, Sam Gagner, Toni Rajala, Philippe Cornet, but the cupboard is bare when you look for energetic and physical players.

Right now the Oilers have J.F Jacques, Zack Stortini, Ryan Stone and Ryan Jones who fall into the category of energetic bottom six forwards. The problem is Jacques has health questions and Stone doesn’t have an NHL goal. Stortini knows his role and is effective, but the Oilers need more than just one guy who can play a robust style. I don’t see anyone in the system that can play that way. Colin McDonald and Ryan O’Marra are the only possibilities and neither plays with a lot of edge right now.

To compound the matter, the Oilers don’t have anyone in their top-six who plays that way. Dustin Penner should be capable of using his size more, and hopefully we see more of that next year, but the lack of size in the top-six makes it more imperative that Tambellini gets some in his bottom six. Robust wingers, who can fore check, play hard every shift, are willing to be physical and even drop the gloves now and then is what Tambellini should have at the top of his wish list.

The problem is those types of players are as rare as a 40-goal scorers. The Oilers will need to draft some guys with that pedigree this summer, because the UFA list isn’t that long.

Colby Armstrong, Steve Begin, Shawn Thornton, Scott Nichol, Adam Burish, Eric Nystrom, Adam Mair will be available come July 1st, if they don’t re-sign with their respective teams. These guys won’t be the centre pieces in the Oilers re-build, but this organization is in dire need of some players like them.

There are some other veterans who play that way, but I think they have passed their best before date. Scott Walker, Darcy Tucker and Jamal Mayers are also UFAs, but I don’t think they can help much at this point.

Drafting energy

High energy guys who can play are as rare as top-end scorers, but there are a few in this draft and I bet the Oilers will try and grab one or two in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. Brad Ross from the Winterhawks plays with lots of energy and has some decent skill. Connor Brickley played for Des Moines in the USHL and size, skill and energy. In the later rounds they might look at Jason Zucker. He isn’t very big, 5’10”, but he played with lots of energy in the USHL last year. Micheal Ferland from the Wheat Kings has lots of energy in his game. And Justin Shugg from the Memorial Cup champions, Windsor Spitfires, has lots of skill and for a small guy he plays with some grit.

If you want a heavy...

If you truly believe the Oilers need a top-end bomber there are some available. Derek Boogaard, John Scott, Raitis Ivanans, Wade Belak and Jody Shelley are all pending UFAs, and you won’t have to pay much to get them. Belak would be my first choice, because he is the best player of the five, and is great in the dressing room.

Raising money for MS research

I'm biking in the MS Bike Tour on June 12th and 13th and we are raising money for MS research. Today on my show, from 3 to 6 p.m MST, we will be auctioning off this signed and framed Brett Favre Jersey. This is the jersey he was wearing when he broke Dan Marino's record for most career TD passes.

A big thank you to Steve Barr at Rink of Dreams (780.990.1020) for donating this wonderful package.

If you want to bid on this and a threesome with Meg Morrison (golfing at Stony Plain Golf course) call the show at 1.800.243.1945 or 780.426.8326. Bidding ends at 5:58 p.m.

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Racki
May 26 2010, 09:21AM
Trash it!
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Isn't that what I said. The Oilers keep Stortini and add another robust guy, and maybe even get a gritty 4th line centre. Scott Nichol type of guy. Not him, but his style of play.

Isn't this what we were all saying last year? Get a gritty centerman who can win some draws and play a good brand of defense?

Hopefully Tambellini is listening this year, or he's at least realized that we don't have anyone in the lineup who should be filling that role.

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#52 common sense
May 26 2010, 10:54AM
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Racki wrote:

I don't totally agree. I think we just need our own guys that will take liberties ;) Jacques was great at that last year. He hit everyone and everything, and it didn't matter if you were looking at him, looking away from him, or what.. he hit you. It's unfortunate that a) he was hurt quite a bit and b) he was put on the top line for so long.

Really if he stays healthy next year, and we have Stortini for most of the year, I think we'll be fine. Those guys can handle anyone out there. Stortini won't scare anyone off, but I don't think the average hitter like Clutterbuck is intimidated into playing a soft game.

I say just fight fire with fire. If they're going to take shots out our stars, hit theirs back. Having MacIntyre fight Tough Guy X doesn't do much good... it's exciting, but that doesn't send any sort of message.

Don't wanna say told you so but teams like Minnie with big bogey are gonna lick their chops if they see an Oilers team that only have a guy named JF with a bad back and mid-wt Stortini to counter balance bogey. Bogey's gonna run roughshod over Hemmer and gang and he's gonna love playing against the Oilers.

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#53 Eddie Shore
May 26 2010, 11:31AM
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common sense wrote:

Don't wanna say told you so but teams like Minnie with big bogey are gonna lick their chops if they see an Oilers team that only have a guy named JF with a bad back and mid-wt Stortini to counter balance bogey. Bogey's gonna run roughshod over Hemmer and gang and he's gonna love playing against the Oilers.

Boogard can barely skate. The best way to counter-act Boogard is keep your head up and move your feet.

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#54 Harlie
May 26 2010, 01:05PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

$1600...courtesy of Stan Gallant...

WOW! Nice work for continuing to help charity!!

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