LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE: THE PROTECTION RACKET

While I don’t pine for or expect to see a new millennium version of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers at Rexall Place this season, I’m one of those dinosaurs who believes toughness takes a backseat only to talent when it comes to building a successful hockey team.

The Edmonton Oilers will have plenty of the latter, even if it’s still plenty wet behind the ears, in Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle, to complement Sam Gagner, Gilbert Brule, Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner this season.

And they’ve loaded up, in a rather timely manner in my estimation, in the former with tough guys Steve MacIntyre and Zack Stortini, along with hard-nosed Jim Vandermeer, underrated Jason Strudwick and, maybe, willing and raw Theo Peckham.

I believe the first group and the second is a combination that’s going to surprise a lot of teams this season. It’s a combination I’m looking forward to seeing against the Calgary Flames tonight. Want to play hockey? Fine. If not . . .

THE RIGHT MIX

How much toughness, if any, a team needs makes for great debate and it’s an argument that’ll go on as long as fighting is allowed in the game. How many roster spots, if any, should a team commit to toughness? Why hold back a talented prospect to dress a hammer who plays four minutes a night and isn’t needed in half the games? On and on . . .

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what you or I think when the puck drops. What counts is what the people playing the game, Hall and Hemsky, Eberle and Paajarvi, think. I can tell you without any reservation, Hemsky is just as delighted about the infusion of toughness as he is to see the addition of offensively gifted players like Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle.

Likewise, there’s no question MacIntyre and the rest of the bent-nosed bunch coach Tom Renney has put together to contest his 23-man roster know why they’re taking up space in the dressing room. Take a run at Hall or even flap your gums at the kid? Pay the price. Toss Hemsky into the boards from behind (hello Robyn Regehr)? Say hello to my little friend. Face-wash Paajarvi? Here, take this and that, too.

DOING IT RIGHT

I’m not advocating meaningless thuggery or staged showdowns — although I won’t turn away in disgust if MacIntyre and Raitis Ivanans decide to throw down for no good reason tonight — I’m talking about employing toughness effectively.

"Obviously, you’ve got to go out there and set the precedent that, you know, we’re not going to be taken lightly and people are going to be accountable," MacIntyre said.

"It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. If it’s time to do something, you do it," said Vandermeer, who had a memorable tilt with MacIntyre during the 2008 pre-season as a member of the Flames after he punched out Marc Pouliot.

"There are certain guys in the line-up to keep other teams honest. If somebody is going to take liberties, it doesn’t matter who it is, on the team, they’re going to know not to do it."

The key, at least from where I sit, is these "certain guys," with the exception of MacIntyre, are players who’d have legitimate shots at making this roster on other merits. They can play some.

Stortini fits a fourth-line role. Vandermeer can play in a team’s third-pairing. Strudwick is a utility guy. Peckham is contesting a third-pairing role. MacIntyre? I’ll give you that one. He’s here because he’s six-foot-five and 250 pounds of face-breaker and doesn’t need a written invitation to get the job done.

LET THEM PLAY

If teams want to play it straight, fine. If they don’t, that’s when MacIntyre and the rest come into play.

Three years down the road, when Hall, 18, Paajarvi, 19, and the rest of the young players in Oilers the line-up have established themselves as NHL regulars and have matured physically, maybe the needs will change. As always, it’s a moving target based on personnel.

For now, though, it’s in the Oilers best interests to keep opposing ruffians in check, to let Hall and Paajarvi know they can go out and play and nobody is going to screw around without having to answer for it. They need to know somebody has their backs. While that’s not everybody’s way of building a team, it’s the way I’ve always believed it should be done.

More important, at least to Hall, Paajarvi and the rest, it’s the way Renney intends to go.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

    • Detroit did fine by making teams pay with a prolific PP for many years and that’s definitely one way to make opponents think twice about getting stupid.
      The problem is, what do the other 25 teams who don’t have killer power plays do?

      Do you mean Edmonton “has” one of the softest teams in the NHL now? If that’s what you’re saying, you’re flat-out wrong.

      • With the exception of Dustin Penner is there a forward in the top 9 who intimidates anyone physically?

        No

        Is the Oilers defense mobile enough to intimidate anyone?

        No

        Are the Oilers more skilled and difficult to play?

        Yes

        As I said. The Oilers ARE still one of the softest teams in the NHL and until they make teams pay on the PP they will get run.

        • Jerk Store

          There’s a lot of latitude between a group of forwards that is soft and a group that intimidates. The Oilers aren’t at either end of that spectrum.

          As I said — even though you’re a real tough guy who would drop your gloves with 90 per cent of the Oilers (and get sh*tcanned by every one of them) — you’re wrong. So, you carry on asking questions and then answering them yourself.

  • PabstBR55

    I fear that if Souray re-emerges and plays for a Western Conference team, he’s going to take some serious runs at the young assets.

    For that reason, and that reason alone, it’s almost worth burying him in the minors and eating the cost vs. trading him for some timid pre-schooler like Jason “snowflake” Blake.

    If Souray ends up with, say, the Jackets, he’ll slobber and snarl at Magnus, Hall, and Eberle. Say what you want about on-ice policing, I’m not convinced that even McIntyre’s bad attitude could stop genuine mal-intent.

    • Hemmertime

      I don’t know if this is that big a deal. Any team that is worth its salt will take runs at your best players if they think they can get away with it.

      I doubt that Souray would want to do something that would get him suspended by doing something stupid out there. (Losing a huge chunk of change in the process just to exact some measure of revenge?) He also mentioned that he didn’t have any problems with the players, just with the higher up management.

      Burying him in the minors is really just a waste of $4.5M. I think it’s more important to get this issue dealt with, have Souray go somewhere that is not Edmonton and move on.

  • I always love a juicy rumour, and I like this thing regards to the whole Souray thing. I know two things about this debacle Souray’s comments were bad, and the team handled the situation worse. Something real ugly transpired, that the fans don’t know about. Souray a good guy who broke a rule, and is being villified by this organization and certain sheep in the media. Something made him snap, and we actually knew what happened we might all might have done the same thing Souray did. I have no disdain for him, because I refuse to judge him on half a story. But anyhoo, heres the rumour I read and maybe its complete crap, but enjoy.

    Some guy stated on TSN comment board:

    Ok, firstly, Sheldon Souray never had a melt down. His hand was very badly hurt. then it got seriously infected. The team doctors and trainers messed it up. THAT is why they all got fired! So, lets talk truth her folks. Then he was told there was potential for losing pinky finger due to severe staff infection.I saw it, with MY own eyes. So they had to cut his hand wide open, finger to wrist. He had an IV for 3 months! Then he called Oilers to share he was not being looked in on by team doctors and trainers or being looked after. their 5 million dollar man. And yes, he was upset. hearing you may lose a finger when you use your hands is scary. So he is the ass in this mess. get real. Sheldon is a top 10 defenceman in NHL, period! There is even more of a story. Like a team wanting to finish last! Real cahmpions and competitors don’t want to finish last.So, he voiced his disapproval. So grow up everyone, and know the facts before you start speculating and bitching. he is a great guy, big heart, loves Alberta, is proudly Canadian. Oilers could have traded him over the summer. report this comment

    The only point we all know that is not true the top ten defenceman part. Has anyone heard this before, or am really outta the loop. It may be junk, but I would love know what people think of this.

    My only opinion about this is for the Oilers to truely attract great free agents in the future, the brass in my humble estimation needs to go. Since this won’t happen, I hope this is the last of the messes created by Tamblowe and the misfits. Except the Magnificent Bastard. (we should give that guy a key to the city or name a road after him. My second born name will be Stu “Magnificent Bastard” G%$#^^%$%& for sure)

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      You touched on it, but the fact the original writer states Souray is a top 10 dman, should be proof enough that it’s just some dork stuck on the end of Souray’s ****.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    Is it a Fluke Semenko rode shotgun to Gretz and the Other young Oilers? Is it a Fluke that Gretz wanted McSorley in the Big trade? Is it a Fluke we traded for Dave Brown? Big George was the heavyweight Champ. We are a Proud City who does not want our team pushed around. Everyone agrees it was a nightmare when Louie “Looked the Other Way” or “Didnt See” any issues, and Bucky would have to step up Three weight classes to defend our team. Big Mac’s first go around eliminated Robyn’s tough man act, and Jimmy V knows that lesson first hand. Talent is the Key – True! But, they need to know they can wheel and deal. Finally this year, we bring a line up of sandpaper and toughness…a year we start to run around and make things uncimfortable for alot of teams!
    GO OIL GO

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Hockey, violence…good. Intimidation alters performance.

    What good is gaining a pound of flesh after the damage has already been done, the token fight after you’ve lost a Hemsky or a Horcoff or Souray from your line up really serves no purpose. We’re better off to initiate these moments of passion and let the other teams react to what the Oilers are doing. Stir the pot first and never be the victim. 3 or 4 fights for Taylor Hall this year could go along way to establishing how the opposition players perceive him.

    • Reacting is second best. Initiating is always better, but more times than you’d think “initiating” can be as simple as your tough guy sending a clear message by saying something like:

      “Are we going to play, or is somebody going to f*ck around with the kids and get hurt?”

      If you get a “f*ck-off,” back, it might be a long night. If you do, chances are it was going to be one anyway. Just as often, you’ll get, “Let’s play.” The message gets passed on. I’ve seen it and heard it first-hand countless times.

      If only more players wore microphones you’d hear this stuff all the time. A good heavyweight, like a good doorman, can steer things the way he wants them to go a decent percentage of the time without dropping his gloves.

        • He didn’t miss it. He’s here to be the contrarian and the voice of reason. His theory on any given subject trumps all else and he’ll write 100 paragraphs at any given time to back it up. That much, you can look up. With After The Green Light pretty much tits up, we’re being treated to the routine here.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        On ice conversation capability, now that would be a Center Ice package worth subscribing to.

        I really appreciate the basis of this effort you put forth this afternoon Robin, just needs a little more of a rub salt into that wound approach.

    • Interesting point. I’ve always admired Iginla’s willingness to drop the gloves. His toughness makes him a more complete player.

      Brownlee, do you think once Hall fills out a bit more that he could mirror his game after Iggy?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Always an interesting debate. But in the end this line:

    ” What counts is what the people playing the game, Hall and Hemsky, Eberle and Paajarvi, think. I can tell you without any reservation, Hemsky is just as delighted about the infusion of toughness “

    Is all that really matters.

    If the skill guys feel better about the situation, then that’s the way it should be done.

  • DK0

    I think Theo Peckham might have played himself off the team when he backed off from Hordichuk. This is a test for him, if he is physical, then he gets a spot, if not he will be on waivers.