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