June 28 2012 04:38PM
Photo by Sean Russell, via Wikimedia Commons
We’ve considered the weak free agent market for defensemen a few times now. Teams looking for a defenseman under the age of 30 who played 20+ minutes per game last season now have exactly three choices: Ryan Suter, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle. That’s the entire list.
The worse news is that there’s absolutely no shortage of teams looking for help on the back end.
June 28 2012 02:33PM
Unlike a lot of assistant/associate coach promotions, we’ve had a chance to see what a Ralph Krueger run bench looks like. During his time filling in for Tom Renney, how did he arrange his forward lines and how did he use them?
June 28 2012 08:13AM
We've all heard, and some have experienced, the saying, "Hell hath no worry like a woman scorned." I've done many dumb things in my life, but thankfully I've never had to endure the wrath of a scorned woman. Women have a long memory and I'm sure those who are scorned need to be taken seriously, but after speaking with George Laraques yesterday the fury of "Enforcer with something to prove," might be akin to that of the scorned ladies.
I've known Laraque for over ten years, and he's usually pretty laid back. We haven't always seen eye-to-eye, but I've always respected him and his role of a tough guy. It is the hardest job in pro sports. It is easy for guys to sit in the stands or at home on the couch and claim they would fight for a living, but the reality is 99% of you couldn't handle it.
The last time I spoke with Georges was in January when he was in town for a charity Ringette game. He said life was good. His kids were keeping him busy, he was heavily involved in charitable events and he mentioned that he physically he hadn't felt better. He joked that maybe he was feeling too good, he weighed around 280, but his back wasn't bothering him anymore so life was good.
In the past few weeks I'd read a few comments that Laraque was considering a comeback. I was stunned. I never thought he'd want to play again. He was the toughest guy in the league for a long time, but he never liked fighting. It was his job, but unlike some tough guys, he never loved it.
Yesterday I had Laraque on my show, and he didn't mince his words when he spoke with Robin Brownlee and I.
JG: There’s been some talk of a comeback for you. Is that serious, have you had any contact with any teams?
GL: Yes actually, it’s really serious. After two years, my back is 100%. My herniated disk got absorbed and now I feel healthy. So I started training with a personal trainer for months before I actually told my agent that I wanted to try one more time, and ever since I told him everything’s been good. I’m back to the same weight that I was playing in Montreal, I’m back to 255 and I’m going to go down to 245. I’ve been running and training with a power skating coach again.
But to be back at what I’m doing, and what I told my agent was that obviously I’m not stupid enough to think that and someone is going to offer me a contract. I’m asking them for a tryout. I just want to get a tryout after free agency, after July 1st. I know that a lot of teams are looking to see what other teams are going to do, where the guys are going to go. And then depending on the teams, how big they get and what they’re going to do, I might get a chance to get a tryout in those areas.
I told him to tell the team that I’m willing to play for minimum salary and that I don’t care what my role will be; whether I’m playing every two games, every three games or whatever. I’m just trying to get a chance to finish my career on my own terms, not the way that my career ended in Montreal.
In Montreal I wasn’t healthy and when you get released it’s not always fun so that’s why I told him (agent) I was really serious and see what’s going to be there. And so teams are waiting until July 1st (to talk to me) because obviously the guys that are playing in the league will have a priority.
When I get an invitation (to camp) it’s up to me that when I get a chance to play exhibition games, to grab every single guy in front of me and beat the shit out of them. That’s what I have to do to show everybody I haven’t lost anything. Show everybody that all of the tough guys in the league that make 8 and 900 000, that I can do a better job than them at the minimum salary. And hopefully I can get a team interested and after that if I do get a chance, I’m not going to miss it.
JG: That’s interesting coming from you because you never liked the fighting aspect. Obviously that was what you were good at, but this would seem like you’d be going back to being the young guy and having to prove yourself all over again. Is that how you see it?
GL: You’re 100% right. I would feel like the young guy that has to prove himself. I never liked fighting, I still don’t, but now it’s different. Now I’m motivated. Now I feel that I have something to prove. Now I know that I would have to fight to get that chance to make that team. And now it’s totally different because now when I look at the guy in front of me instead of smiling and laughing like I always fought, and I’ve rarely fought with any anger, now I would be mad.
I would fight mad because I would look at a guy that would try to stop my dreams, to stop the chance that I have to make it one more time. So it would be totally different and with motivation like that, I wouldn’t want to be the guy in front of me during that time because it would be really dangerous.
Nothing is more dangerous than a guy that is motivated and that has a goal and that’s truly what I would do. If I do get a chance as I told you before, I’m not going to miss it. I’m not going to just go with the flow because if I go with the flow nothing is going to happen. I have to provoke things.
If it means that I have to do something, get suspended or whatever… I’m not in the same mindset that I was when I was playing. So we’ll see what will happen. If I get that chance it will be good. If I don’t then things didn’t change anyways. So I have nothing to lose. I played 13 years in the league, I feel really fortunate to play in the greatest league in the world and now I’m trying one more time at it and we’ll see what’s going to happen.
RB: The one thing that people criticized you for was being too nice a guy, going by the code, being too honourable almost, not being that mean S.O.B. that would just grab someone and as you said just beat the crap out of them. When I talk to fans in Edmonton about you maybe coming back that’s the criticism they’ve raised. They know you’re tough, they know you’re respected, but where you good enough at just being that bully. Would Edmonton automatically be on your short list if they extended an invitation to you?
GL: Ya obviously if Edmonton asked me, I would go there in a heartbeat. I would be happy to because my kids are there, I still live there, I have the house down there so it would be really good. But in terms of what you’re saying and you’re 100% true, people criticised that fact that I was too nice. I fought over 130 times in 13 years but I was too nice.
From 2000-2010 most of the guys would say that I was the toughest guy in the league but that I was too nice. I was fighting for a living, but I was too nice. So for me that’s a contradiction because I was fighting but I was too nice. So really, was I too nice because maybe I didn’t want to kill somebody? Maybe when I was fighting I didn’t damage them in the way that for the rest of their life they would be affected by it.
To me it’s important to fight with a code obviously because if something happens to someone, if I put somebody in a coma, I have to deal with it. Me and no one else. The way that I look at it is if I was too nice, or if I wasn’t enough of a bully, how would the team play against us, were they respecting us? Well I think that there was a difference in Edmonton when I was there and when I wasn’t there.
After I wasn’t there people would say we don’t need a tough guy, we don’t need a tough guy. But then when I was gone, Boogaard was the most valuable player in Minnesota because he would take the head of everyone in Edmonton and then people started to get plagued by injury, and everybody started getting hurt. And then people realised after that they needed a tough guy and then they tried to find one.
They know that the role is very important, but whether I was too nice or not, every team that I played on always got respected. They never got pushed around and people, even though they thought that I was too nice, they never thought that ‘Oh Georges is so nice I’m going to run around and he’s not going to go after me.’
But I’m a tough guy and even if no one did anything I would still go and fight them anyway. So whether people thought that I would go at it or that I was too nice the results were there. But now it’s different, because I’m coming back and I have something to prove. I know that going with the flow and being so nice and stuff like that is not going to do anything.
My mindset it this, I’m not just showcasing myself for the team that will give me a tryout, because they may not necessarily give me a contract, so during the exhibition games I have to make noise so that all of the 29 other teams will see what I’m capable of. And if they release me, maybe after they just use me to fill in the roster in training camp well then maybe I can get a chance to play somewhere else.
JG: Could you intimidate without just fighting? Because there is only a handful or two of guys that would even be willing to drop the gloves with you.
GL: That’s obviously one of the things that would have to happen; I’d need to provoke things. Towards the end (of career), Pittsburgh and Montreal had guys like Talbot, Lapierre, who would irritate the hell out of everyone on the other team and they would have the green light to do whatever they wanted because I was there. I could fit in as a fourth line energy guy. I don’t know in Edmonton who would be the energy for the fourth line, but you get a banger that people hate to play against and would want to take their head off.
And when they are playing with a guy like me you can imagine what he would get away with. Imagine what he would do to antagonize the other team more knowing that I was present. This time the guys that I would play with I would tell them to run around and chirp whoever you want and no one’s going to touch you tonight.
If I get a chance teams well see that whoever they put me out with they will all have the same attitude; to feel confident that they are safe being the antagonizers.
And that way I could get people to notice that I haven’t really lost the touch. Remember, I’ve only been gone for two years, and when you’ve been gone for two years and you come back there is something called muscle memory and some things that you never forget and you don’t lose.
It’s not like I’m 45 years old, and been out of the game for ten years. I’ve been out for two years and for those two years I was analysing hockey, I was watching the game. I know the guys that are there, I know the training, and I know what I have to do to get back in shape. I’m crossing my fingers and going to see what will happen.
RB: When you were making your name in the league, you were the young guy coming up and the skilled guys on the team were older than you. Now In Edmonton the skilled guys are the young kids. Do you see a need for a guy in your role in Edmonton?
GL: You know, Edmonton needs it more than anyone else and they don’t have anybody. Last year they were playing this role with Hordichuk, with Ben Eager and not that I have anything against those players, they are really good role players but if you can get a guy, say for example that can do the job and doesn’t take two roster spots, a guy that isn’t on always on the 20-man roster, maybe it is better.
Teams have 23 players and so you get a few players that might only play against tough teams or whatever, but you need a guy in the lineup that scares people, that intimidates teams and I don’t think that those two guys necessarily do.
Because you have such a young team, you need somebody to protect the core and you need a role player like me. I won’t take somebody’s roster spot because you are an extra, and everything you do is extra. It’s almost like a bonus. I’d be there to complement those guys, to get them to play bigger, play more freely and not be afraid of being run around.
Look at the years that the Oilers had all of their success with Dave Semenko. I know that he could play and that he was a good player but the role hasn’t changed. LA does it for one, they have Westgarth, and even though he didn’t play in the Stanley Cup Finals the reason why all of those guys were able to play in the playoffs and they were healthy was because he was protecting them all year.
The guys on the team know he had a role in helping them win the cup. It was the same as when Dave Brown did it, even though he didn’t play a game in the playoffs, we all remember when Mark Messier gave him the cup and his teammates knew he played a part in getting them to the playoffs.
The tough guy has an important role to play in the regular season games. He has to ensure that when playoff time comes all of those guys (skilled players) are healthy and they are not hampered by injury due to other teams taking advantage of them. They can play the game without having to worry about anything and that is what my role will be; to make sure that the young Oilers team, if they make the playoffs, that the guys are healthy because they didn’t get banged around all season long.
I doubt we'll see smiling Georges when he returns. He sounds like a man with something to prove and he's hoping for an opportunity. I'm certain numerous teams will offer him an invite to training camp. In the preseason you are required to dress ten "veterans" every night, and like Laraque said maybe they will just use him to fill up one of those spots so regular veterans won't have to play.
If Laraque is willing to intimidate with his gloves on and off I'm sure he'll garner some interest, especially from teams in the tougher Eastern Conference.
If he does get a shot, I wouldn't want to be the young fighter who has to line up against him in his first preseason game, because it sounds like he has two years of "scorned" frustration he wants to release.
June 27 2012 01:43PM
After a lengthy two month process the Oilers officially announced that Ralph Krueger would be the 11th head coach in Oiler history. Krueger has over 20 years of coaching experience, but he's a rookie NHL head coach. Will that matter? Time will tell, but the young Oiler players are fans of Krueger.
I don't mind the hire, in fact it is first time I've seen Steve Tambellini make a bold move. Tambellini needs this hire to work out if he wants to remain GM in Edmonton, so I applaud him for going against conventional wisdom, hire a former NHL coach, and giving Krueger his first stint as an NHL bench boss.
June 27 2012 12:20PM
Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has taken care of several significant housekeeping items already this off-season, but what he does between now and the start of training camp, starting with free agency July 1, will be what defines his body of work this summer.