Tough guy wanted: apply within

Whatcha gonna do about it? While that’s a standard bully-boy schoolyard taunt—I know because I handed over my share of lunch money near the monkey bars before a growth spurt kicked in—it’s also a legit question to ask the Edmonton Oilers going into this season.

Specifically, how and when will Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini address the need for a tough guy—a need glaring enough the team put $6 million over four years on the table in a bid to get Georges Laraque back before he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Joe Fan wants to know. Likewise, after spending some time shooting the breeze with him in the rink this morning, I can assure you Ales Hemsky, the Oilers most offensively gifted and often-abused forward, has more than a passing interest in the answer as well.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


  • Is willing but much-maligned Zack Stortini enough of a deterrent to prevent ruffians from taking liberties with Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson if he can get some back-up from newly acquired Jason Strudwick or veterans Steve Staios and Ethan Moreau?
  • Would a tag-team of Stortini, who dropped the gloves 23 times last season, and J.F. Jacques do the trick if Jacques can overcome wrist and back injuries and finally deliver the physical and fistic contributions expected of him?
  • Is there an NHL-calibre enforcer in the bent-nosed bunch of minor-leaguers the Oilers have invited to camp who’d be ready and willing to throw down for 500-large on 30 or 40 nights this season?

A hammer for Hemmer

“Zack will do the job. He’ll fight anybody,” shrugs Hemsky, who is in town and skating in preparation for camp. “I still think we need somebody to get more respect, you know? But that’s not my job, so…”

Hemsky, 25, who ends up blowing snot bubbles more often than any skilled player should have to because he never backs down and doesn’t avoid traffic, didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t have to.

After repeated muggings by Calgary’s Robyn Regehr, who knocks Hemsky around like he owes him money, Minnesota’s Derek Boogaard and the like, it’s become obvious since Laraque left the Oilers don’t stack up when things get goofy in a Western Conference that’ll be loaded with toughness and tough guys in 2008–09.

“We have team toughness,” offered Hemsky, not sounding altogether convincing after leading the Oilers with 71 points in 74 games last season despite getting run, mauled and harassed too often.
“We have guys who will step up and fight for other guys, but I don’t think we need Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios and those guys fighting. We’ll see what happens in camp.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Contenders

Yes we will, but while invitations to the fistic foursome of Hans Benson, Sean McMorrow, Guillaume Lefebvre and former Vancouver Giant light-heavyweight Garet Hunt will make for flying saliva, it’s a long shot any of them turn out to be more than minor league muscle.

If appearance counted, the tattooed Benson would have a shot. Having seen him this morning, I can tell you he’s got bad-ass covered. Benson is listed at six-feet and 253 pounds, and he’s all of that. Still, even with 59 games with Peoria in the AHL over the past two seasons on his resume, I don’t see it.

Maybe it’ll be Lefebvre, who is the best skater of the bunch and played 38 NHL games with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before joining the St. Jean Chiefs in the Gong Show that is the Quebec Senior League.

Keeping tabs

If there isn’t a nasty SOB at camp who can guarantee Hemsky will spend less time on his ass and more time tormenting opposing goaltenders, rest assured the Oilers will look outside for help.

“We’ll certainly be watching once camp starts,” said assistant GM Kevin Prendergast. “If one of the guys we’ve invited impresses us and shows he can play, there’s an NHL contract there.

“We’ll bide our time at this point. We’ll see what we’ve got and assess. If the need is there, we’ll look at it.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.

  • doritogrande

    I think Erik Cole should be more than able to handle the middle-weight cheap shot artists that usually attack Hemsky. I'm talking the Reghers, Burrows', Glencross' and their ilk.

    We may run into some problems with the likes of Boogard again, but if JFJ is healthy and finally adjusts to a bottom-6 role I think we may have exactly what we need. He's got some pretty impressive fights on his youtube resume.

  • olderthendirt

    It was noticable that once Zach was given the green light to fight, the other teams took fewer liberties. I hate the thought of a Boogard type, 3 minutes tops and a waste of space skill wise. Given the team time this fall, if they cann't handle to rough and the tough they can always find a goon.

  • Tim S.

    I think I am clearly in the minority on this but I would love for the Oilers to bring in some animal, who cares if he can skate. A guy that will play 30 games a year, because he is suspended the rest.

    Having said that I really think having a guy like JFJ earn a spot on the team will go along way.

  • McClelland for HC

    I'm agreeing with "Doogie2K" on the issue. Maybe it's not as much dropping the mitts with guys like Regehr and the like as it is the willingness for certain individuals (and the coaching staff) to respond in kind. If this means running Regehr or "the Dion" (for example) through the boards or then so be it.

    I don't think other teams will be necessarily be intimidated by having the heavyweight champ riding the end of the Oilers' bench. We had the guy here and people moaned about how he wasn't doing the job. If you've got the best fighter, it doesn't necessarily mean you have the best enforcer.

    I'll acknowledge that a guy that could dress 40 games strictly to drop the mitts is probably required, but to me it's also important to have some guys who are prepared to be downright nasty. If the Oilers are going to address the issue properly, it needs to be addressed on both fronts.

  • RobinB

    McClelland: Couldn't agree more on all the points you mentioned.
    The nasty factor should be better this season with the addition of Strudwick and if Souray and Moreau can stay healthy. Plus, Stortini has a full season under his belt and is coming on. Still, there are nights, maybe 30 or 40 of them, when you want the biggest, meanest gun in the fight.

  • Kevin

    I'm thinking that they are going to give the present team 30 games to evaluate the toughness issue. If K-Lowe and Stevie-T see it still being an issue, help will be on the way. We have an abundance of prospects we can trade for help.

  • Gord

    I'm not so sure we need a heavy weight. The last few games we played against the Wild, Boogaard was watching from above, mainly because he was such a liability out there due to the Oilers team speed. Also, do we want to waste a roster spot for someone who will only play 2-3 minutes a game? I think if we can get 3 or 4 light heavyweights who can actually play hockey at the NHL level we would be much better off. Seems to me we are almost there.

  • Rick

    doritogrande Says:
    I think Erik Cole should be more than able to handle the middle-weight cheap shot artists that usually attack Hemsky. I’m talking the Reghers, Burrows’, Glencross’ and their ilk.

    I don't get where Cole has gotten this reputation of a guy that will scrap. No doubt the guy is a physical force in terms of how he plays but he only has 5 fights under belt….in 7 years.


    I wouldn't mind seeing a meathead riding shot gun for the Oilers this year but the biggest question has to be, who's roster spot does he take?

    I don't see room outside of Strudwick's spot and it's not in the Oilers M.O. to sign a guy like that only to try and send him down to the farm.

  • Dean

    "I’m not so sure we need a heavy weight. The last few games we played against the Wild, Boogaard was watching from above, mainly because he was such a liability out there due to the Oilers team speed. Also, do we want to waste a roster spot for someone who will only play 2-3 minutes a game? I think if we can get 3 or 4 light heavyweights who can actually play hockey at the NHL level we would be much better off. Seems to me we are almost there."

    Sorry but the Boogy man was hurt most of the last half of the season with a bad back, that's why he wasn't playing. We need someone to deal with Minny and Calgary or we are in trouble.


  • milli

    I'm totally with Tim, I'd love to have a monster on the bench. Let Moreua, Cole, Staios and Souray play tough, fight once in a while, but have a monster to answer the Boogieman, and to fucking cripple regher if he try's any bullshit. We have way too much skill not to protect them. But big george? He ain't the answer, he wants to be a 20 goal man????? how about a 40 fight man? Like my buddy grapes says " when crushers become rushers, soon they become ushers"

  • Rick

    Robin: I seem to recall on Stauffer's show there was a mention of Andre Roy being interested in signing with the Oilers before he finally hooked up with the Flames.

    If the Oilers are as interested in looking at a tough guy as you're suggesting in this story, why didn't they grab Roy when they had the chance? Any inside poop on that one?

  • RobinB

    Rick: The Oilers are as interested in a tough guy as I've suggested, I can tell you that.
    I haven't asked specifically why there was no interest in Roy after Laraque signed with Montreal July 3, but there was certainly a window there because he didn't sign in Calgary until July 20.
    Clearly, there was something the Oilers saw, or didn't see, in him that prompted them to take a pass. What that is, I don't know.

  • Kevin

    Calgary may have gotten tougher but they went south in the talent area. I rather have a couple of guys willing to go (aka Bucky) than stock the team up with liabilities. If JFJ can get his head straight, he could fill the role for the time being.

  • oilerdiehard

    The thing about the comment since Laraque left.

    The last season BG was here Hemmer was run plenty. Not much was done about it.

    I recall us playing Calgary twice in the span of a week. Marchment ran Hemsky's knees at least 3 times over those games. Nothing happened to him.

    I recall Rob Blake about taking Hemmer's head off a few times with shots to the kisser with Ales going full speed. I remember one time Jovocop cross checking Hemsky (who was down on one knee) in face just after a whistle. I recall him getting run by Ruutu, Bryan Allen etc… etc…

    Each time nothing happened to those gentlemen. Laraque did a whole bunch of nothing. I think the players know full well that if you are not a full on top heavyweight contender and you directly challenge George. Then you have nothing to worry about. BG is not about to jump a Matt Cooke or rag doll a Denis Gauthier or Regehr. I even recall Boogard running us that season and then apparently getting tired of waiting on BG he challenged Laraque to fight. So no deterrent there.

    I feel that is one of those blown out of proportion myth's that things got much worse or worse at all since Laraque left. It is rarely the goons taking the cheap shots.

    Laraque was a good fighter but a poor enforcer. If you are going to get someone like that he has to have a mean streak and be willing to take things into his own hands.

  • RobinB

    Oilerdiehard: You're right about Georges being a better fighter than an enforcer. Liberties were taken while he was here, without question.

    The reason those liberies have been amplified since is because of injuries to guys like Souray and Moreau when they've taken it upon themselves to even scores.
    Regehr ran the snot out of Hemsky while Georges was here and then skated away laughing every time Georges tried to engage him knowing Georges wasn't the type to jump him and punch him unconscious. Not much deterrent.

    If I was calling the shots, the Oilers would get a guy who was mean as hell and knew the role. More than that, he'd be an eager, hungry young guy who'd be THRILLED to get the NHL minimum and wouldn't bitch about sitting out 45 games a season when he wasn't needed.
    My Hammer of choice would dummy anybody who even farted in the general direction of Hemsky and the other young, skilled players on the team.

  • milli

    I'm calling Kz and Klo to tell them you are now our new GM, expect the call tomorrow cause you hit it on the head. The reason everyone hates boogard isn't cause of his smooth skating or rocket of a shot, it's cause he's the diriest fuckin player around (and can back it up). We need a guy who can go, wants to go, don't care about anything else. You even look at out guy, he's killing yours. Give me 3 minutes a game, and he makes the most of it.

  • Levis

    Mr.oilerdiehard, not that this is overly relevant but i remeber the battle of Albertafew yrs back and BG ran that gauthier right the hell over haha it was actually from behind and BG got boardin and the boot, but i agree that was very common. Ive always, and still am not too pleased we let BG go but he, never was much of an enforcer, hed lay a licken on who ever he fought 95% but you certainly wouldnt see him grab rob blake and letem know you dont eff with the Hemmer, and that to damn bad we cant get someone that would do that. Those players are few, and far between. All i know is that Stort's aint goin to cutter, he fought maybe 15 times last year maybe more but he be lucky if he threw as many punches as afights he was in. Hell drop the gloves and hug anyone in the league but he isnt a good enough fighter to actually throw hands at half the guys he bear hugs, unfortunate i had high hopes for him. Hopefully McMorrs makes er would be entertaining anyways.