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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Alot of aspects of the game change when you put your opponent down 2 zip. Getting this 2 nothing lead won’t happen very much at all this coming yr. I think we’re still going to need that nuclear deterrent in MacIntyre to throw out there if players are taking liberties. I could see these type of changes being made 12 or 24 months from now but with suckage on the agenda for yet another year, we’re doomed to always be reacting to whats happened on the ice rather than initiating it. Not sure the guys Jason mentioned would be successful if their only needed to prevent someone from going low on Taylor Hall. We need players who can put the Oilers up 2-0, then their opponents will be much less likely to give the Oilers a shot at making it 3-0 on the powerplay.

    Taylor Hall,Jordan Eberle,Ryan Nugent-Hopkins,Sean Couturier,Erik Gudbranson and Duncan Seimens will go along way to getting us that 2 zip lead and put this unnecessary part of the game behind us.

  • I’m still not convinced Peckham can play. Sure he was a physical player, but he really needs to pick his spots better. Often times he ended up way out of position and hung his partner out to dry.

  • Vaclav

    @ Jason Gregor

    I believe Konopka may have flown under the radar a bit last year. But given his gaudy numbers on the dot and the ability to play several roles on a team he likely won’t get overlooked this summer.

  • raceguy

    I’ve watched Vancouver this playoffs, and I think Ryan Kesler would add the grit and line-carrying abilities this team really needs.

    Vancouver is in a lot of cap trouble after this season, and Kesler might want a bigger spotlight, rather than standing in the shadows. Toss in Ballard as an albatross, and we could get some serious value. Canucks like the Swedes, maybe throw them a couple.

    To Edmonton:
    Ryan Kesler
    Keith Ballard
    Cody Hodgson

    To Vancouver:
    Magnus Paajarvi
    Anton Lander
    3rd Round Draft Pick

    • Bob Cobb

      I don’t usually like to call people out, but are you stupid? Vancouver WILL never move Kesler, and you’ll have to throw in more than MPS and Lander to get just him. Way to over value your own team. MPS has played one year, Lander hasn’t played any and a 3rd round pick who may not pan out for a possible Conn Smyth candidate. Think man, thats like asking for Seguin, Lucic, and a 3rd round pick for Tuebert, Plante and our 19th, its not goint to happen.

    • John Chambers

      Most ridiculous trade suggestion I have ever, ever read. And that says a lot since I’ve read trade suggestions from delusional Maple Leaf fans. But this takes the cake.

      • Souby

        You took the words right out of my mouth.

        Sorry Michael, I would love for the Oil to somehow get Kesler (or a reasonable facsimile), but I don’t see how Vancouver would ever give him up, especially not for this deal.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Wow what world are you living in man. This isn’t Dr. Evil’s World of Wonder. I seriously doubt that Van would even consider that trade if you changed that 3rd to next years 1st. Kelser is worth way to much to this team and I think these playoffs have been a good example why. He is a game changer for them.

  • Jason Gregor

    I don’t mind the idea of them signing a guy like Konopka but if they did I hope they don’t view him as a solution to their faceoff problems and as a player that will help with the PK.

    If they brought him in, played him on the wing and viewed his FO and PK experience as organizational depth then I could see him being a real asset.

    I also like the idea of Eager, he is a bit of a meatball but for a team like the Oilers he could be just what they are looking for.

    A 4th line with Eager and Konopka available to patrol the wings with a decent depth center would be alright with me.

    Too bad about Mac, he is likeable guy. Hopefully they keep him in the org and try to sign him for OKC.

    • Jason Gregor

      Why would you move him out of centre, when he clearly can play it well as a 4th line guy? Why would you change a guy out of a position from where he is was successful? That makes no sense.

      • Jason Gregor

        As I said in a later post, I don’t actually think he can play it particularily well.

        In a perfect world I would like to see the Oilers have a their two bottom centers as having similar skill sets and then have a guy like Konopka playing off the wing and then up to the 4th line center spot in the event of injury or situational play or what have you.

        Otherwise as the 4th line center you have Konopka as the 1st alternate to play up the lineup in the event of an emergency and that just isn’t good for anyone.

        Given how shallow the depth at center has been on this club, combined with the obvious problems that have come with it, I don’t think it’s all that out of left field to want to see the Oilers swing the pendulum the other way for a while.

        If Konopka is THE answer, then I think the wrong question is being asked.

        • Bob Cobb

          Actually it kind of depends on other moves the team makes, if they decide to use gagner, cogs, or brule on a wing then he wouldn’t have to leave the 4th line center position. One of those guys could fill in. Especially if they decide to draft a center 1st and have him in the NHL this up coming year. I think signing him would be a smart play. Also Fraser will likely still be in the mix. Mayber they try him out as a third line center to see if he can actually do anything with some more skilled wingers. I think there are plenty of options for the team right now.

        • Jason Gregor

          What makes you think he isn’t good at it? Because he was a minus player? Their entire team was.

          I’m curious what you are basing your “he doesn’t play it well” argument on?

          • Jason Gregor

            I tried to hit on a couple of items, if all you took out of it was the +/- comment then so be it.

            Anyways the 5 o’clock whistle is about to blow, if the thread is still going tomorrow maybe I will try and expand other wise that’s all I got.

  • John Chambers

    Great article Jason, thanks for the insights. Fully agree with you on Konopka, but we needed him last year too, and was our GM smart enough to go out and get him? I have little faith in Tambo’s UFA decision making ability. Hordichuk is another guy I would’ve loved to have got. You can’t tell me these types wouldnt come here if we overpaid.

  • Awesome article. I agree on all points.

    I really like the idea of Big Mac back in the lineup but the argument made for Konopka over the last six months is a good one. 57.7% in the dot? SOLD. Now if only they can get that deal done…

    Vandermeer is as gritty as they get. Hope they can make that deal too. Everytime that guy smiles it just means someone is gonna get punched in the grill.

    I hope the organization keeps Strudwick around with a new position elsewhere. Good guy for sure.

    I used to like the pre-wimpy 2011 finish Stortini…too bad that didn’t work out.

    Adios Jacques…should have been done years ago. Talk about a player who really benefit from the Oil brass thinking, “But what if he can really put a complete game together this year?”

    Get rid of Colin Fraser ASAP – total waste of a roster spot. Buy out Khabibulin too…please.

  • Wow I guess a lot of you haven’t seen Kesler if you think that’s a bad deal. Kesler used to be like Gagner but now he’s one of the top 2nd line centres in the game. He scored 41 goals this year… you guys don’t think we could use that?

    I guess they could toss in Schneider? And we upgrade our 3rd round pick to a 2nd round pick?

  • Wax Man Riley

    How about we get the Sedin’s, Kessler, and take Torres back.

    We can offer Horcoff, Gagner, Brule, Smid, Khabibulin… and a 3rd.

    The little meter on my NHL ’09 just went up enought to almost even it out.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I intensely dislike talking about trade possibilities.

    Usually they make no sense and are always better for the home team. If anyone feels the need to suggest a trade, take your copper and blue coloured glasses off and ask …. “If I were the GM of (insert trade partner here), would I do that deal? Does it make my team better?”

    Free agent signings are slightly different, as there is an actual possibility of it happening in the real world.

    I would try to sign Wisniewski and I haven’t seen Konopka play enough to say for sure, but 57% FO? Tough and can play a few minutes? Git ‘er done.

    • justDOit

      It makes sense for Vancouver.

      Kesler has a huge 5 million cap hit for the next 5 years. They might need to rebuild when half their roster disappears next season.

      Lander has all the leadership of Kesler, and Paajarvi has more talent. They will replace the Sedins.

      Hodgson has diminished in value since being drafted. His value is right around a high second round pick, so that evens out.

      Then Ballard, the albatross, gets dumped on a division rival.

      Makes a lot of sense if you ask me.

      • Wax Man Riley

        I don’t know… 41 gritty, experienced goals and an amazing playoff performance don’t even out to a sophomore player with potential and a kid that has never played a game in the NHL. If I’m The Canucks, I do what I can to keep him for another couple and try to win (another? … dammit!) cup.

      • Huffing Glue?

        Lander has not played an NHL game. Kesler is a candidate for the Conn Smythe and an Olympic Silver medalist. Their leadership abilities cant be compared since Lander has never proven himself on the stages that Kesler has, but one stands to reason that there is no way Lander is clearly a better leader.

        Kesler scored 40+ goals this past year and was a force defensively. Paajarvi didnt net 20.

        Both Sedins have won the NHL scoring race. It would take a mirace for Lander and Paajarvi to replace them. In fact, God might not be powerful enough to make Lander that good.

        How are you coming up with your evaluation of talent?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Gregor, great article. I especially enjoyed the absence of any reference to MMA/UFC and other homo-erotic “sports”. Thanks for that!

    Gordon Lander

  • justDOit

    I’ve been saying for a while now that guys like Smac, Storts and JFJ are not worth having in the roster – glad to see this viewpoint is starting to spread.

    Look at the successful teams – you might see the odd fighter, but it’ll be someone who can also play (Eager, Rupp…).

    If JVM was re-signed, that would give at least 2 d-men who can handle themselves and Konopka. Not bad, but another tough player on the 3rd line would be nice. We would have a physical presence on the ice pretty much all the time.

    For those saying that Peckham can’t play, just give him some time. He’s still young, and I see more good than bad in him.

  • Jason Gregor

    Couldn’t disagree with you more Gregor. ZK is not going to sign here to come fight.If he was told he was going to be a fourth line PK and faceoff specialist I could see it happening. If you expect him to come here and fight 25 fights like he did this year your wrong.He has stepped up his game and he and his agent know it. A million? I’d be stunned if someone dosen”t pay him 1.6-1.8 per season x 2. He would be nuts to sign here for anything less.As to McIntyre. If I am Tom Renney and Tambo I would want the biggest gun in the case. I don’t go to war with .22. I go to war with a M17. I want to know that when push comes to shove that our deterrant is that if another team decides to up the ante in the physical department that we have the weapon to nullify that threat. Semenko and Brown were effective because of that very reason. Different time? The game has evolved but the injuries that occur now are more severe due to the size of the players and the design of the equipment. You got pukes like Matt Cooke running around throwing elbows into peoples heads. Or a Danny Heatly.Or a Chara taking out Paccioretti into the stanchion. We all saw, including you what happens to a player who dosen’t know how to fight. It cost us Halll for the rest of the season. Gretzky in old days didn’t need to tell Semenko what he needed to do when a threat arose. It was dealt with in timely manner by Semenko or McLeland or McSorley.The Oilers of the past were a skill team but they were surounded by by players who could pound you into the pavement. Hall and company will lead this team into the future. Peckham, Ryan Jones and Steve McIntyre will be right there ensuring that we “team toughness”.

    • Jason Gregor

      First of all Ryan Jones is not a physical presence. Works hard but not a guy who intimidates.

      What is point of having a guy who is top-three tough if no one fights him. It is an archaic way of thinking.

      As for Konopka, not sure why you think he gets that much money. Boogard was the only one to ever get that much, and many people were stunned he did.

      Konopka will fight if he plays close to ten minutes a night. No reason why he can’t play that much here in Edmonton.

      I love fighting but comparing today’s game to the 80s is wishful thinking. The instigator rule, more skilled players and less guys willing to fight changes the way the game is played an enforced.

  • Jason Gregor

    Gregor:

    Fair enough.

    I’ll just add that I don’t think the two minute enforcers are Renney’s or Quinn’s first choice when it comes to players but when you have to compensate for such a huge amount of lacking toughness with so few roster spots available you almost have to go with the nuclear deterrent.

  • Wax Man Riley

    The big gun in the case has no use anymore. Big Mac was on the team last year and it didn’t stop anyone from taking liberties. Teams still pushed The Oilers around and Hall still got hurt.

    If I were @Smacker33, instead of hunting all summer with @jonesry28, I would be working with a skating and puck handling coach. The 2 minute enforcer doesn’t do anything anymore in the game. If you can’t play well enough, you won’t be on the ice, and if you aren’t on the ice, you can’t be a difference maker.

    I was sorry to se SMac go last time, and I’ll be sorry to see him go again, as there is something to be said about having the toughest SOB in the league on your team, but if he only gets out 2 minutes a game. It doesn’t really matter.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I think the Oilers should resign SMAC and play him every game, im not saying he should get 15min a game, just 5-7min on the 4th line is all and Renney definitly needs to play him more regularly. I hated the fact that guys like Hemsky,Hall, and Eberle got tossed around while Renney let Mac sit on the bench, yes he can’t skate worth sh*t but how is a guy supposed to do his damn job from the bench.

    How was Semenko’s skating back in the day?? he still got in every game to PROTECT THE SKILLED PLAYERS.

    • Jason Gregor

      I would agree if Mac was as good a player as Semenko and he isn’t. Dave worked hard on his game and while Mac does, he hasn’t shown an improvement in his positioning.

  • 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.