Getting tough: do the Oil need an enforcer?

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.

  • Dyckster

    “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.”

    Lot’s of merit in what you said Jason. But with respect to the above excerpt, could Brule possibly fit that description? (More the second sentance than the first)

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    If Boogard doesn’t re-sign in the divison, I’d assume McGratton(who should be on that top ten list) is gone from Calgary. If this happens I don’t see any need for that true heavyweight, I barely see it right now but the deparature of those two would add to me not wanting a heavyweight.

    We need team toughness rather then individual toughness. Adding guys that aren’t afraid to get dirty but that can still play a role will get us further then going after a one dimensonal goon.

  • A third line energy guy like Lapierre or Ott would go a long ways on our squad. While George at the right price might be OK, I think the team toughness thing that has been preached around these parts for like 3 seasons would be better served with a guy with a big yap & the balls to fight once in a while.

  • Pajamah

    Agreed. If McGratton and Boogard leave the NW, there’s no need for a 5-6 min/ game fighter.

    I’d try an get John Scott or D.J.King like was brought up in an earlier thread. Scott can play decent minutes on D, and can deter idiots

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Honestly Stortini has shown at times he can be a pain in the butt. I wonder if he ever becomes that pain in the butt on a daily basis?

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I strongly believe that a True Heavyweight is needed full time in Oil Country.

    Im not breaking down every stat…But I believe there is no coincidence that the year before Big Mac hit the ice for us, Sourray, Moreau, Horc all got injured…some fighting related, like Souray fighting Byron Ritchie. Bic Mac roles in, and Sourray, plays an entire season, and No major injuries to our big guns. Bic Mac leaves and all of a sudden Sourray is fighting again, and is re injured. Hemsky is on IR, and a host of other team injuries.

    Even We as OilerNation we were very excited and Proud that we now could now ice a True Heavy to stand up to the Boogyman, Perros, Hordichuck, just to name three idiots thats who ran all over us in the years past. Not to mention Regher was very quiet and no threat with the thought of answering Big Mac’s call. And if we feel that way, Im sure the young, small Oilers teammates felt the same way.

    Yes the point will be made that true playoff teams dont need a Heavyweight, but we are not yet there, and why do so many other teams seem to see value in their services???

    I like Storts, Peckham, JFJ, but they dont scare anyone and offer no threat to the other team.

    We had a good scrapper and Great team guy in Big Mac who never complained about Ice time, shifts, or healthy scratches. he knew his role, and executed it to a tee.

    I’ll pass on Big George, but we NEED and WANT a True Heavyweight to proudly defend the Oilers name!

  • Eddie Shore

    People love to throw John Scott’s name out there because he is big and loves to fight but how many of you have seen him play? He needs alot of work. Only way we take him on is if we give up on the Strudwick expirement, in my opinion.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Scott would be a good replacement for Strudwick, not sure anyone thinks that Scott would come in and solve our defensive problems but if he was that alternate d-man he could be the right choice.

      • Eddie Shore

        If Quinn wouldn’t play an “enforcer” at forward who is a marginal hockey player at best, I doubt he’d play a defencemen who is a marginal hockey player at this point in his career. That’s my point. I hope I didn’t make that sentence too confusing..

  • Cowbell_Feva


    You’ve hit the nail squarely on the head! I was misrepresented into being a Laraque-lover in Brownlee’s article, when all I was doing was saying he was more effective than Stortini.

    I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but you mentioned “lack of foot speed” and in the dictionary there is a picture of Zach next to it.

    Team toughness is where they’re lacking, and I would love to see Steve Ott or Zonopka in their line-up (I believe Zonopka is a decent face-off guy as well??)

    Here’s to hopin’

  • Klima's Bucket

    Belak signed an extension in Nashville. He’s out of the question.

    My vote goes for John Scott as a 7th Defenseman. Play him in games where Boogard is going to run around.

    Aaron Asham would be a nice pickup. I believe he too is an UFA.

    My next Vote is Big Mac Attack. He knows the team, knows the city and knows his role. He also can lay the body. Anybody remember this hit?

  • Jason Gregor

    The biggest and baddest gun in the west is nothing but a paperweight if there is no ammo in it. George needs to play with the cards he was dealt and his reluctance to engage the opposition at key times reminds me of Louie Debrusk. Who was another reluctant heavyweight who double-clutched and hesitated his way to a career that didn’t matter then and doesn’t matter now. George wanted to be a scorer and that was never going to be his game. Have a nice retirement George but in my view your ship has sailed.

  • JJmorrocco

    I do recall one year when Georges fought during a game our winning percentage was much higher than if he didn’t. It seemed similar when we had Steve Mac at the beginning of last year.

    Not saying we need the dedicated goon, and it will win a cup, but it might win us a few more games in a bad year.

    Its no different than when you played street hockey and your big borther showed up on your time, you always played that much bigger.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Thats a great point. Having a deterent might help these guys increase the level of grit knowing they have some backup. Its tough to want to play that style knowing the closest thing to tough on your team is Mike Comrie.

  • Jason Gregor

    Off topic Gregor but have you heard anything about contracts for Gagner, Cogs, Brule? I understand that MPS and Lander should be done this week is that correct as well?

    • Jason Gregor

      MPS should have one within a few weeks. Haven’t heard much on the other three, but I also haven’t asked. I don’t see them being an issue.

      The debate with Gagner will be what is he worth? Will he get $3million+/season? Is he worth that? I don’t think so, so we’ll see what Tambellini thinks. I think he’ll sign a one-year deal.

  • Hemmertime

    I hate the bastard, and he cant play hockey… but I wouldnt mind having Boogard around on our team to play against Calgary and revenge games against Minny.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    George of 10 years ago was an awesome addition to the team. He devastated anyone he fought and would contribute 20 points with very limited ice time. He also would frequenlty get the crowd going and sometimes change the pace of the game with a minute or so of keep away on the boards.

    He lost his ambition once he ‘had it made’, I wonder if he would come back with something to prove? I would not make it more than a one year deal.

  • Jason Gregor

    They don’t need to pick up an answer for Boogaard or anyone of that nature. I used to be a big proponent of the Heavyweight enforcers, but having seen MacIntyre lose his job in record time, I can’t see the need for one anymore. I would say that if the Oilers are going to pick up another guy who can throw hands, they should look for that on the blueline, as they need toughness there anyways. Someone who is a good defender that brings the fighting as a secondary (like Souray did).

    But they do have Smid and Peckham there. Smid isn’t a heavyweight, obviously, but he can answer the call with the lighter guys. Peckham also isn’t a heavyweight, but he’s fought some bigger guys. But I don’t think either of these guys are ready for big minutes yet (especially Peckham)

    I would really like to see the Oilers add a defensive defenceman anyways who can play top 4 minutes, so maybe picking up a guy who can also fight would kill two birds with one stone.

    Johnny Boychuk anyone? He’s UFA this year, from Edmonton, and has a long fight card from the AHL.. not sure how skilled he is at it though. But I’d much prefer the Oilers add toughness in the form of a guy who can PLAY too.

  • Patch

    Finding a heavy weight that can play is kind of like finding a rock that can float.
    Any organization that has smaller skilled players/targets ought to find someone to protect them because the NHL won’t.
    As I see it though, the intimidation factor (and that’s all it is) is nothing if the guy isn’t a nut bar. I’m talking lunatic. I don’t care if he can skate, I don’t care if he knows what a puck looks like, but he’s got to be nuts. The kind of guy that will track someone all the way back to the airport.
    Let’s get this straight. Our tough guy fighting the other tough guy because their guy smoked Eberle doesn’t fix Eberle’s shoulder. Maybe (and it’s still just a maybe) they think twice if theirs a guy on the Oiler bench that’s a leg breaker.

  • Anyone really think a guy like MacIntyre (or Boogaard or another heavyweight) really deters a guy like Lucic or Boll or Clutterbuck or other guys from hitting? I don’t really think so. These heavyweights are a bit of a sideshow. They fight their own. Very rarely do you see a heavyweight fight someone who isn’t a heavyweight or go outside of their realm.

    I think we just need some more guys who play like Jacques and Stone who are going to be actively hitting guys. Jacques gets burned a lot in Oil Country for being injury prone and having bad hands, but I like his style… he’ll hit everyone and everything, and we need a guy like that here (just not on our top line, Pat) much more than we need a full time enforcer. And quite frankly, he can chuck ’em with many of the lighter heavyweights anyways. We need a blueline version of that. Again, that might be Peckham, but I’d like to think we can find a guy who can play a solid defensive game.

    Oh, I’d also like to see this new tough guy have a nasty edge to him.. Pronger style. Play dirty, then back it up.

  • Gregor if you were a tbay blogger you would be wanting a guy like storts; a perfect compliment to konopka; a gordie howe hat trick first star in that tbay game. every one throws out names regardless; its about fitting pieces in a puzzle; you already have one piece in storts; now get the fit; konopka absolutely; belak no way, were does he fit along with;yet a burish,a king and even better a barch would be excelent pieces with storts;all fit the’s about complementing each other not a stand alone super heavyweight; asham, lapierre, carcillo, all compliment each other; they can play as a two combo or/and have even gone out as an entire line;and you know what you are going to get;you have storts, it’s about finishing the puzzle; because you know other teams wouldn’t mind having him to finish their puzzle. It’s always greener….

    • Jason Gregor

      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.

  • misfit

    Of that last group, I’d take Shelley. Like Belak, he’s great in the room, but he’s a LW, not a D (though Belak does play both F and D), and he’s from around here (I think he does his offseason training in Sherwood Park). He really seems like the kind of guy who’d love being an Oiler.

  • BigCap is dead-on. This team needs someone big who will stand up for its talent. Don’t get conned like KLO did and believe that in the “new NHL” it’s only about speed and talent. It’s still about size, intimidation and hitting. Sure it’s great having four solid lines but most teams have two great lines, a mediocre third line and a fill-in fourth line. We don’t absolutely need a fourth line to play significant minutes all the time.

    • 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.

      • Eddie Shore

        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.

  • I agree. Even Stortini is kind of in the heavyweight category because his footspeed definitely limits his ability to forecheck and hit. If you watch the games teams are able to neutralize Stortini’s effectiveness when they make a decent first pass up the boards. But faster guys like Boll, Laperriere, etc. are able to reach the defenceman quicker and lay in a hit that results in either the defenceman rushing the pass, or they can seperate him from the puck. Stortini really only becomes effective when the defenceman bumbles the puck a bit or has to fight it.

    I think the Oilers have to revamp their bottom 6 forwards as none of them really fit into the mould of aggressive/grinding/energy forwards.