I’ve long suspected Georges Laraque was too decent a person for his true calling in life to be a hockey tough guy, and with the news that he’s been named deputy leader of the Green Party, apparently I had good reason to feel that way all these years.
With everything I saw and heard from Laraque in the many years I spent covering the Edmonton Oilers, a tenure that included sitting in the seat in front of him on the bus for his entire time here — most of those talks will have to stay on the bus — I’m not surprised at the news this week.
While a lot of people, notably Craig MacTavish, argued that Laraque was too often distracted by his charity work in Edmonton and sidelines like appearances on local radio shows to pay proper attention to the vocation of bending noses, I considered hockey to be a hobby with him, albeit one that paid very handsomely. Now, he’s on to the next thing.
A BIGGER PICTURE
Laraque, of course, was the epitome of the tough guy with the heart of gold. He was a living, breathing example of somebody who held the most violent, dangerous and calculated job in hockey, yet was a kind-hearted, thoughtful person away from the rink.
Too much so for many critics, who’ve long suggested Georges just didn’t have it in him to be as ruthless as he needed to be to handle the job description. They, I’ve got to admit, have been right all along. A feared fighter and the toughest guy in the NHL for a stretch? Yes.
The best enforcer, ala Dave Brown or Bob Probert? Not close.
I knew this on many levels from all those years on the bus, not that you needed the seat in front of him to figure it out. Framed in that, he didn’t have me convinced this spring when he told me felt he had something to prove — amid speculation he might end up back in Edmonton — after the Montreal Canadiens ditched him.
I’ve never met another athlete brimming with the humanity Laraque has shown me on countless occasions, and not just when there’s a grip-and-grin opportunity. If you’ve met him and talked to him for more than a few minutes, you’ve likely sensed it, too. Some of is charitable exploits you know of. Many of them, you do not. I’ll keep those for another day.
But deputy leader of the Green Party? Punchlines aside, I never saw that coming. Better hugging trees and appearing at Gay Pride in Vancouver on the weekend than riding reluctant shotgun for kids Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. There’s more to life than that and Georges has found it.
Best of luck, big man.
Just got off the phone with Laraque and he’s definitely done with hockey and will officially retire. That’s prompted not only by his many off-ice interests — including the Green Party, his involvement with a company specializing in green technology and his vegan restaurants — but by ongoing issues with two herniated discs in his back. In short, Laraque has definitely played his last NHL game.
ON THE AIR
The more I listen to the Edmonton Eskimos broadcasts, the more I’m certain the Oilers had better get it right when they announce who’ll take over for Rod Phillips as play-by-play man.
I’m not going to try to make a point of showing up Morley Scott, Phillips old partner in the booth, but I liked him a helluva lot more as a hockey sidekick than as a football play-by-play guy. The first five games have been mostly dreadful.
I get it that Scott is learning as he goes after changing games in mid-career, but what I’d say to that is this: hire somebody who is already up to speed. The CFL is a real pro league. Shouldn’t somebody who gets one of just a handful of jobs in the entire country be qualified and experienced enough to hit the ground running?
Was the list of experienced candidates that wanting?
Simply put, the Oilers need to sift through the wannabes and hire a voice with the broadcast chops and sizzle to take over from Phillips, and do whatever it takes to get it right. If I could make one suggestion, it would be to let Phillips listen to the best clips of the short-listed guys and put a lot of weight in the candidate he says has the gas to be something special. OK won’t hack it.
JUST SAYING . . .
— So, Lowetide lists reasonable expectations for Hall this coming season as 72 games played and 20-20-40 for boxcars? Anything above that will mean he’s exceeded expectations, eh?
The way I see it, that’s setting the bar too low. Now, if you’ve read the item you know Lowetide isn’t projecting the best possible expectation, just a reasonable level of performance. I’m thinking 23-28-51 in 76 games is about right. We’ll see.
— I doubt he’ll get the captaincy, and I’m not certain the Oilers will even give anybody the "C" to start the season, but the more I think about it the more I believe Ryan Whitney is the right guy.
I previously said it would be Shawn Horcoff, and he’s probably the best bet, given he’s the veteran here, but if I had a vote it would go to Whitney. By the way, where are all those fans who thought the Steve Tambellini got the pipe in the trade for beloved Lubomir Visnovsky?
— When Devan Dubnyk signed a two-year deal worth $800,000 a season some fans said that shows he’s surpassed Jeff Deslauriers as the guy to back-up Nikolai Khabibulin. Pardon? So, what does Deslauriers contract, which represents a bigger raise to $1.05 million, albeit on a one-year term, mean? Let’s see if DD’s hot-streak to end last season carries over to training camp and pre-season, shall we?
— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.