TURNING OVER TOUGHNESS

It is much easier being tough on the Internet than it is being a tough guy in the NHL, and while I’ve always respected the guys who are willing to throw down on a regular basis and risk getting KO’ed, all arrows point to the Oilers making a massive overhaul in their toughness department.

Last season the Oilers finished 7th in the league with 55 fighting majors. The Blues were tops with 78, while the Bruins and Penguins had 71, the Islanders (68), Ducks (67) and Rangers (62) were the only teams with more fights.

Four of the top ten fighting teams made the playoffs, while eight of the bottom ten least fight-happy teams made the playoffs. Clearly you don’t need to fight often to win in today’s NHL, instead you need guys who are willing to do it if need be, and most importantly; they need to be able to play.

Theo Peckham led the Oilers with ten fights, but he also averaged 18:35 of icetime a night, 6th most on the team. Peckham was valuable because he wasn’t just physical; he proved he could contribute in more  ways than just through his fists. I love watching a good tilt almost as much as a good goal, but you need fighters who can play, and it is clear the Oiler coaches didn’t  have faith in their fighters, or their fighters just weren’t good enough to play.

Steve MacIntyre might be the toughest guy in the league following the unfortunate passing of Derek Boogaard, but MacIntyre only dressed in 34 games and averaged 3:32 of icetime. He had seven fights, and all of them got the fans and player’s attention. He crushed Raitis Ivanans on opening night, had two tough tilts with Boogaard in November, tangled with Colton Orr in Dec, had a draw with George Parros in February, had an epic slugfest with David Koci in March and snapped on Brad Staubitz in April. Essentially he fought once a month.

The problem for MacIntyre was that outside of fighting he didn’t contribute much. MacIntyre is one of the most humble guys you will meet. He truly enjoys and relishes everyday he is in the NHL, and being a super heavyweight he risks getting his face broken every time he drops the mitts,however, I don’t see the Oilers re-signing him and I can understand why.

There are only a handful of guys who are willing to fight Big Mac, and gone are the days where you can truly intimidate through fisticuffs. Don’t post in the comment sections that MacIntyre should just grab a guy and beat him to a pulp, because then the Oilers’ skilled players would instantly get more room.

Sorry folks, the league doesn’t work that way anymore.

If MacIntyre could play even seven or eight minutes a night then he’d be worth re-signing. If he got that type of icetime he might be able to intimidate by throwing a big hit, or getting in someone’s face in front of the net, but it is virtually impossible to intimidate while sitting on the bench. The Oilers won’t find a guy tougher than MacIntyre in free agency, but they could find a guy who will fight more and play more; Zenon Konopka.

Konopka was 2nd in the NHL with 25 fights last season, and he led the league in 2010 with 33. He isn’t a super heavyweight, but he is tough enough to fight the guys that get out of line, and more importantly he can play. He was 57.7% in the dot last season, and only Paul Gaustad, Manny Malhotra and David Steckel had a better success rate while taking at least 1075 faceoffs.

Konopka averaged 10:11 TOI each game, he wins faceoffs, he can kill penalties and he is a good dressing room guy. He was 4th amongst Islanders forwards in PK icetime, which is pretty good considering he spent almost 250 minutes in the box for fighting and misconducts. The Islanders were 12th on the PK last year, in case you wondering.

The Oilers should offer Konopka a three-year, $3 million deal. Sure it might be a slight overpayment, but he will protect the kids, and he can contribute in more ways than just fighting.

NEW BLOOD WILL BE SHED

Zack Stortini, JF Jacques and Jason Strudwick also look like they’ve played their last game with Edmonton. Stortini (8), Jacques (5) and Strudwick (3) were in the top seven amongst Oilers in fights last season, but it is clear the organization is looking in a different direction. Strudwick played the most and showed the best in his tilts, but the Oilers want to get younger and quicker on the backend.

The Oilers have to offer Stortini a one-way deal prior to July 1st to retain his rights and they won’t do that so he will become an UFA. They’d have to do the same for Jacques at around $675,00, which won’t happen, so both former 2003 draft picks will be looking for work elsewhere this summer.

Jacques’ inability to stay healthy is why he won’t be coming back and Tom Renney clearly lost confidence in Stortini last season, so why would they bring both players to camp in September?

Some guys they should look at if they’re still available on July 1st include Ben Eager, Tanner Glass, Mike Rupp, Aaron Asham, Brad Winchester or Cam Janssens, although if they get Konopka there is no need for Janssens.

I fully expect Teemu Hartikainen to start the season on the 4th line, and while he won’t replace the fighters, he is a big body along the boards, who skates well enough and can cause problems down low.

OTHER OPTIONS

The Oilers can’t go into next season with only Peckham and a guy like Konopka, so I wonder how hard they will try to re-sign Jim Vandermeer. Vandermeer was brutal for the first 40 games last year, but he got comfortable after that and played well. He definitely is tough enough to handle most guys in the league, and if he can play like he did in the 2nd half of the season, then I’d offer him a one-year deal around $1 million.

The Oilers need to get more productive minutes from their physical players this season, but they also aren’t good enough yet to go into a season without at least three of four physical players that will keep the opposition honourable.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Great article. Time to ship out some dead weight and get a fourth line that can give us 10 minutes a night. A guy like Kenopka would be a nice pick up but a guy like him might have a few suitors.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Gregor;
    I like the idea of having Konopka, at the very least he’s an upgrade in both playing ability and toughness that Stortini or JFJ never had. So right there that has to be considered an upgrade to our current roster.

    I’m all for having an enforcer, but I prefer the enforcer to be a bit of a wild card as well, not a “good guy” someone like Trevor Gillies, his mustache even scares me!

  • raceguy

    A month or so ago I read an article on Smac(I think it was on Cult of Hockey?)Whatever stats it was that Smac was the worst in the league at,Konopka was 2nd or 3rd worst in the league.
    NYI penalty kill was 12th in the league so he must have been half decent at it.I would offer 2 years not 3.

  • GEP

    Hey Gregor,

    I agree with you that Konopka would be a great addition to this team’s 4th line and I remeber when Stauffer brought this up last off-season.

    However, I am not sold that Konopka is the best answer this off-season. Let me put it this way:

    If we could sign either Brooks Laich or Konopka, who do you sign? I am leaning toward Laich as he brings an element of toughness plus a lot of the other intangibles this team needs. Sure he won’t fight 25 games a year and he would cost a lot more, but we have the cap room and I believe he makes the Oilers a lot more competitive than Konopka.

    I don’t see them being able to add both of these guys without dropping a few forwards, so that is why I am assuming it is one or the other.

    Thoughts?

    Also, I just want to throw out a thank-you to you and Brownlee as I love the articles you write on this blog and the pieces you talk about on your radio show.

    Cheers.

    • Jason Gregor

      If they could land Laich I would take him, but he wouldn’t fill the 4th line toughness void.

      I wonder if Laich would want to leave an elite team to come to a rebuilding one, but if they could convince him I like him cause he adds size to top six/nine.

      I meant Konopka was best option for his specific role. I agree Laich is better, but with Smac, Stortini, Jacques and Strudwick leaving they need some toughness coming back.

      Thanks for the kind words, glad you like the show and articles.

  • GEP

    I agree that Konopka would be a good signing. I think we need more 4th line players that have an edge to them. I would try to sign 2 or 3 of these types of players to add depth to our roster.
    Start the season with a few vets on the 4th line and allow guys like Hartikainen to build their confidence as top line, heavy minute players in the AHL.
    I don’t think we need to rush anyone into the roster this year. Spot the kids a year with some vets who are hungry for playing time, and it will provide competition as well provide depth when the inevitable injuries strike Hemsky and Horcoff.
    If the kids outperform the vets then that is a bonus.

  • D-Man

    I agree that Konopka would be a great signing and I’d also try to get Ben Eager as well… I’d also resign Smak to a one year deal – I have to admit that I disagree with Gregor on the intimidation rule… Even with the instigation rule – if Smak were to ragdoll a Staubitz (or anyone else who would take a dirty shot at a skilled player) and take the odd suspension – I do think other players would take notice.

    Gregor is right – that Smak isn’t intimidating to those who hide behind the instigator rule as Smak is an honorable guy (asking to fight, rather than just taking the attitude punch first, ask questions later)… Hopefully, he continues to work on his skating and watches a couple more Semenko clips on being mean going into this season.