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.

  • Agreed!

    We don’t need a fighter, we need a stable of guys that can throw down and hold their own if they need to, but whose first job is to play. Peckham is a great example: when I think of his toughness, what comes to mind first is big clean checks. More of that is good.

    I also think there is value in putting forwards in the lineup who can hit/fight without spending time on the 4th line. I’ve been suggesting Harti would be worth a look on a 2nd/3rd line alongside Horcoff and Hemsky: He can be mentored by the vets and play a defensive role on a line that should still be able to score, plus with his size and grit he can take pressure off Hemsky and allow him to spend less time pretending he is a grinder who doesn’t easily get hurt.

    Vandermeer in the Strudwick role is great: 7th dman, who do to injuries probably plays 50 games. Good experienced guy who is tough and won’t embarass himself out there.

    We should look to free agency to fill some roles. Konopka would be a solid replacement for Fraser, who should slot into the extraman role, or be released. Konopka playing with Jones and Cogliano (who is finally put on the wing where he belongs) would be great. Throw in Brule as an alternate and we’re starting to get somewhere.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I think we need someone that can play more than 10 minutes a night. We need a tough player either in our top 6 or on or top d pairing. We don’t just need someone to come in and stick up for the kids, we need a guy that goes out there and takes it to the other team.

    • Dan the Man

      Knopka is a guy who could probably handle a couple of more minutes a night. Lord knows we need the face off help and the toughness.
      Unless the Oiler go after a guy like Hartnell in Philly.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    And for the love of god if you can get Maas and Strudwick on alternating weeks this summer, do it. The best two guys I’ve heard in a long time and I can see why both teams kept them around.

      • Vaclav

        I think Konopka will be a very sought after commodity come July 1st. The Oilers will be hard pressed getting him under contract for 3 years and $3M.

        He should be exactly who Tambellini targets however.

        • Jason Gregor

          He was an UFA last summer and he only got a one-year deal from the Islanders at $600,000, so I do think that offer should at least get them in the running.

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            What exactly is the issue with Konopka? TB let him go and then Botta said on your show a couple months ago that there was little talk of the Isles re-signing him. The guy seems to be the perfect NHL 4th liner. What gives?

          • My guess would be that he just isn’t that good of a hockey player but his faceoff ability is too much for a coach to ignore and it results in him being on the ice at all the wrong times.

            He would make for some nice insurance but would be a problem if he was brought in as some kind of a specialist.

          • John Chambers

            System, goaltending, defence…

            There could be a number of reasons.

            Hate to bring up Horcoff but at one time he was part of a 2nd ranked PK unit and yet lately hasn’t faired so well.

            What ever it is there are red flags. The number of organizations, as you pointed out, and more specifically he is one of the worst +/- on the team while playing the least amount of time per game out of the NHL regulars and yet is on their first unit PK…it just doesn’t seem to add up.

            The only thing that makes sense to me is that he is brought in hoping that he is the sum of his parts but instead he is just a guy that just has different parts to his game.

            As I said, if they were to bring him in as a 4th line winger he could be a nice luxury because of the different elements he can bring as opposed to a poor answer if they brought him in as a PKing faceoff guy.

      • Gregor, Strudwick has to be one of the best athletes you’re lucky enough to get on your show – seriously good interviews. I wouldn’t mind you telling us in advance when he’ll be on so I could make sure to listen in.