A Useful Enforcer?

"Having 18 lovable guys on a team is fine, but if you finish last they aren’t so lovable."
-Fred Shero.

When Terry Harper was marking Brian Conacher (that photo is probably from 1967), tough players roamed the NHL just like they do today. The difference between 45 years ago and now comes in how these players are used compared to the olden days. The mid-60’s Habs boasted some of the truly filthy players of any era: John Ferguson roamed left wing and was legendary for his stick work and fistiuffs. Ted Harris was a brick wall and a willing fighter, his nose testimony to on ice wars over 2 decades. Harper was a poor fighter but tough as nails and an extremely physical player. This gave the Habs skilled men (Yvan Cournoyer, Bobby Rousseau, others) more than enough room to dominate less skilled teams.

The difference between Ferguson, Harris and Harper and the enforcers of today is the times of the game they were/are on the ice. Harper and Harris were two of Montreal’s top 5 (back in the day the top 4 played and then a 5th would fill in at times or replace an injured or ineffective player) blue and Ferguson was a vital part of Montreal’s top 9 forwards.

All three could play, beyond what they offered physically.

In the early 1960’s Montreal had a terrible time dealing with Toronto (Leafs won the Stanley 62-64) and their size. The Habs were more skilled, but their bigger defenders (Lou Fontinato, Tom Johnson) were long in the tooth and while the youngsters coming up (JC Tremblay, etc) could hold their own the team needed added toughness. They brought in Terry Harper from the Regina Pats, and signed Ted Harris and John Ferguson. Here are the two transactions that brought in toughness in one significant summer:

  • June 1963: Montreal acquires D Ted Harris from Springfield (and crazy Eddie Shore).
  • June 1963: Montreal acqured L John Ferguson from Cleveland for cash.

QUINN’S VISION

When Pat Quinn arrived as Oilers coach, he quickly elevated wingers like JF Jacques up the depth chart in order to add some grit to the skilled lines.

  • Quinn: "We think that line (Horcoff-Jacques-Hemsky) can play against anyone now and they’ll want to check them but we’ll have some muscle there too. I kind of like the possibilities."

Quinn didn’t last his contract, partly because of decisions like that one. Having said that, if the Oilers could find a player–an actual NHL player–to add to the group then they might be cooking with petrol.

EAGER TO PLEASE

I’ve waited all training camp to write this, but Eager’s concussion means we’re going to have to wait for another day. The idea of a John Ferguson type is intriguing–a guy who can actually play and police the ice when the skilled men are on the ice certainly has value.

Is Eager that player? He might be, and I’d say Eager is worth the risk.

  • San Jose coach Todd McLellan: "I’ll take Ben Eager’s game without the penalties any night. He was an honest guy, battled hard, skated, fought through everything."

I think that is going to be the key for Eager (if he ever plays for the Oilers). Eager is slotted into the 4line role as we speak (behind Hall, Smyth and Paajarvi) but the club may end up moving Paajarvi to RW (especially if Hemsky is dealt) and that might mean a move up the depth chart.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Ben Eager has some skill and was a first round pick. His career high in goals scored is 11 and we can’t expect him to turn into a 30-goal powerforward. However, Eager could be a very useful player for the Edmonton Oilers, creating space for the skilled guys and cashing 10-15 a year as a bonus.

His injury slowed down the process and has given others a chance to shine. However, we shouldn’t forget the fact that Eager has miles of NHL experience and that’s a major item. Always.

  • Clarence Oveur

    Heard his injury was more whiplash-related than a concussion, which would be good news.

    Agree on Eager, guy could be extremely effective as long as he doesn’t go the way of Ethan Moreau (dump penalties, dressing room cancer, etc.).

  • raceguy

    I’ve had a hard time liking Eager since his opportunistic blindside elbow to Liam Reddox’ temple when he was with Chicago. I suppose I’ll cheer like hell for him now though. He knows the game and Renney will probably like what he brings, but I hope he doesn’t disgrace the team.

    I read every article written here and at Lowetide, but everytime someone mentions Hemsky getting traded I vomit a little. Leading to malnutrition.

    • Chris.

      Disgrace the team like Mark Messier when he broke a stick over Thomas Gradin’s head? Or like Steve Smith who speared Carey Wilson so hard he lost his spleen and almost died?

      Like it or not: douchbags win Championships… Guys like Mark, Steve, and even Chris Pronger. Nice guys (not named Gretzky) often finish last.

  • justDOit

    @LT: Do you think that there is still room on a successful NHL roster for TWO players like this (Hordichuk, Eager)? Things have changed an awful lot since the 60s.

    I was ecstatic when I heard that we signed Eager, but less so when Hordi’s signing was announced. Is there room for both?

    • Lowetide

      I think the Oilers think so, and coach Renney has always had two of this player type. Hordichuk will play the Steve MacIntyre role, I’d suggest he’ll play in 40-50 games and it will depend on whether or not the opponent has a fighter dressed.

      Eager is a little different. He can fight, but as mentioned there’s more of a player here. Both men can take and make a pass and carry enough footspeed to be part of the play (that was imo what cost Stortini his job with Renney) but yeah they can both play.

      • justDOit

        I see that you mentioned that the Oilers and Renney might think so, but do you agree that we need to fill two roster spots with this type of player?

        I see it as excessive, considering that we have more overall toughness in the lineup now, and that we have some really good, mature bodies in TC who might need some more time to prove their worth. If it was up to me, Hords would be riding the bus come October and someone like Petrell would see some regular duty for a while.

        • Lowetide

          Well, understanding that my opinion is a fan’s opinion, my lineup would be much different than coach Renney’s. My C’s would be Gagner, Horcoff, Belanger and RNH; my LW’s would be Hall, Smyth, Paajarvi and Eager; my RW’s would be Hemsky, Eberle, Omark and Hartikainen.

          My extra’s would be Jones and Petrell.

          • justDOit

            Very similar to mine, but I feel that Lander stands a better chance to play an entire season than RNH. Loving Nugkins’ performance tonight though! Prove me wrong, little buddy.

  • bleedingoil

    The Oilers need team toughness. That doesn’t come from adding 1 or 2 goons on the fourth line. It comes from all 12 forwards (and 6 D)committing to finishing their checks, driving to the net, playing hard along the boards, grinding it out in the corners, blocking shots, etc. Renney doesn’t understand this.

    I really hope the current regime of old-school managers and coaches isn’t falling into the out-dated scheme of stocking the top 6 full of highly-skilled wimps and the bottom 6 full of talentless goons. That approach rarely wins anymore. The sooner everyone realizes this, the sooner we can trade Gagner and Omark for a defenceman and make some roster space for more well-rounded scorers.

    Oh and hey Tambo, 1980 called, they want their team back.

  • raceguy

    LT:

    I am old enough to remember John Ferguson the last couple of years he played.He was my Grandmother’s favorite player.
    Biggest difference between him and Eager….about 50 lbs.

  • Oh and hey Tambo, 1980 called, they want their team back.

    Not sure what you meant by this. The 1980’s Oilers would have eaten the 2011 Oilers alive, and swallowed bones and all without chewing. Don’t forget that was only a few years after the Broadstreet Bullies. That Oilers team changed the game to what we know now.

    I like players that are formidable enough to not be messed with easily, bring heat, and don’t need babysitting to play in the NHL.

    Top 6 players that exhibit the full range of NHL qualities are what you want, but are very rare. In today’s game, every player HAS TO BE ABLE TO SKATE WELL. If you can’t obstruct or injure (as Shanahan is clearly defining because the Crosby concussion has finally inspired the league to protect it’s only asset – the player) plugs who do nothing but hold, fight or look to injure are done.

    Goodbye Cooke, Avery, Hatcherites, etc. And perhaps Chara after what he did to the Hab. And it is about time for hockey fans. MME can suffice for those who don’t like it.

    Makes one wonder why the Oiler’s brass loaded up on thuggery this year so much. Eager, yes, he can play a bit of hockey. Hordichuk too? Already past his due date. Then Tulipov, whose only skill is Stevensesque, late, crippling hits? And he injures Eager? Stupid invite to the NHL camp. Then Tyrvainen, another injury artist? Sutton, in decline and another tough guy?

    How can we trust these guys, who seem either at the forefront of anticipating the league in looking for skill no matter what the size, and in complete reversal then acquiring goons from wherever they can find them?

    These decisions don’t make any hockey sense.

    It’s not that hard. With a rookie team loaded with talent, start looking around for good, veteran NHL players to fill a few holes well, and package up some of the excess young talent and make it happen. You know, like the team did it last time it was good. Smyth is not enough work in this area, especially considering the Oilers had likely nothing to do with his return.

    At a certain point, rebuilding becomes a choice, not a necessity. And given the word is out about how to assess what a winning hockey player looks like on paper or screen, there is no time to waste.

    • D-Man

      I think you underestimate the value of Eager and Hordichuk… Both can skate – fast enough to finish checks and hit the likes of Sedin… Can’t remember which sister it was – but Eager demolished one of them last year – which is what we need… Sure these guys can fight and aren’t going to score goals – but they’re going to keep the opposition’s 3rd and 4th lines honest… They demolish Hall with a clean hit – we now have the players that can hit back (and not their 4th line plugs, but their marquee players)… Granted – Eager can be a bit of a nut job, but don’t tell me a Cooke or Avery wouldn’t think twice before taking a run at Hall/RNH/etc.

      Smac was/is the best fighter in the league – and you’re right, his type of player is a dying breed. But the toughness we’ve acquired is an upgrade… We’ll see the benefits of those acquisitions soon enough… Now only if we could find another #2/#3 d-man…

  • Little Buttcheeks

    As long as he stays out of the box, he is a very effective player. He sounded optimistic about being back in time for the season opener so that would be nice.

  • bazmagoo

    Eager is exactly what the Oilers need in their 4th line slot. A high energy hitting winger that can stick up for his team mates (and won’t ask permission to fight) and pot a few goals along the way. As long as he can stay away from dumb penalties (something Hordichuk won’t be able to do) he’ll be a solid asset to the team.

    RNH will easily make the team playing the way he has so far. Really impressed with his defensive ability, particularly in taking away the puck from the opposition.

    Said it once, will say it again. Forwards are looking deep and awesome, defense is horrendous, and goaltending is mediocre but Dubnyk could prove me wrong.

    No 30th finish this year boys!

  • bazmagoo

    Eager is exactly what the Oilers need in their 4th line slot. A high energy hitting winger that can stick up for his team mates (and won’t ask permission to fight) and pot a few goals along the way. As long as he can stay away from dumb penalties (something Hordichuk won’t be able to do) he’ll be a solid asset to the team.

    RNH will easily make the team playing the way he has so far. Really impressed with his defensive ability, particularly in taking away the puck from the opposition.

    Said it once, will say it again. Forwards are looking deep and awesome, defense is horrendous, and goaltending is mediocre but Dubnyk could prove me wrong.

    No 30th finish this year boys!

  • RexLibris

    Glad to see you feel this way about Eager and Hordichuk. Going by some of the things your buddy Zona from Copper ‘N Blue has been saying I think he would love to run both of those guys off. I think you are right about Renney loving guys like Eager and Hordichuk. After the one preseason game he was raving about Hordichuk.

    The thing I love about both guys as you say they can play. But also they have the foot speed to make things happen and actually get there. Loved Big Mac but his feet were just too heavy and his hands too hard to get in the play and handle the puck or hit anyone.