When The Going Gets Tough …

10 months ago
A lot of talk about team toughness this week after the Oilers did not lay a beating on Mackenzie Weegar for his knee on knee on the franchise …
Have a seat and grab a beer because there is a lot to unravel here.
Personally, I am a big believer in team toughness meaning being mentally and physically disciplined. On the boy’s team this past fall we had an issue with one of our best players thinking that every time he was on the ice he was in a dick-measuring contest. It is non-contact but they are 17-year-olds so there are always situations where the blood runs hot. The thing is … nobody really needs protection out there. So when he was jumping in to ‘protect’ players who were bigger than him, well it only ended up in a steady and totally pointless parade to the box.
We were in a tournament in November and the same player left after the first game as he had booked travel out east before we signed on. When we got to the semi-finals we played a goon squad who spent most of the game running our guys. The game sheet (which I tape to the wall of the room every game) tells the story. We have two penalties, both for regular infractions. They have around a dozen – crosschecking, multiple body contact, slew foot. They spent most of the game shorthanded, two of their coaches were tossed and we won the game 1-0. If our traveler had been there, it is well known on the team, we probably would have lost because he would have gone nuts. When our guys were getting dusted, they got up, skated away and went back to work.
So yeah I subscribe to this model (and yes I know NHL hockey and U18 Select is not the same 😉 ) but I look at those teams that won a lot of Cups and Chicago and Detroit come to mind as two teams that were tough but not in the way that traditionalists believe. They were hard on the puck, would win their share of puck battles, would go to the dirty areas as you need to do but mostly they were not afraid and they were disciplined. And they won with what people traditionally call ‘soft players’ in the bottom six and bottom pairing. They just had really good hockey players who would not back down, no matter how small or skilled they were.
But! But! the purists scream … this means there is an issue in the dressing room. The team is not closely knit. To which I reply … if there is anyone who, for whatever faults he has as a player, is a core member of this team, that would be Darnell Nurse. Tough as nails. Never afraid to go. And it seems to me anyhow, close to the franchise. And yet … he did not try and exact revenge.
We can’t have it both ways gang. One of the reasons that Nurse is beloved is because in a lot of ways he is a throwback. He is not as mean as Chris Pronger (nobody is 😉 ) but he is a tough guy and the fact that he did not go after Weegar first chance he got tells me … well not much other than the team is playing disciplined hockey. And smart hockey. If he goes bananas on Weegar and the latter turtles (I know I know a Falme would never do that) and the Oilers were suddenly short for 4 or 5 minutes … well … there is a good probability that those two points are down the tubes.
Now the call is for “functional toughness” to be brought in and at least we are far past the point of thinking that a fourth liner or two whose only job was to fight is of any use. A good player who brings an edge is a worthy asset. Evander Kane brings a meanness and swagger to the team that has not been seen in years. A guy who can score but is also a bit of a loose cannon is a valuable player, even if he takes too many penalties.
The question is … why are you bringing these guys in? If the idea is as a deterrent then there is not really a point. Who was on the ice for the Bruins when Matt Cooke ended Marc Savard’s career? (answer below ***)
Two of the toughest scariest guys in the league. It didn’t stop Cooke. Remember a while back when I said that all fringe guys are ‘great guys’ … they have to be or they would be out of work. Well, a guy like Cooke (a dying breed to be honest) has to play the way he plays. The moment he stops then he is a less effective player. (Think Marchand or Tkachuk as other examples).
So bringing in whomever you can in order to prevent guys from taking runs at McDavid and Draisaitl … there is probably not a lot of point. Hockey is a dirty brutal game and players are going to do what they are going to do.
Now … if you can bring in guys with some jam who can play and do so without overpaying, then, hey go for it. But if you are going to overpay for an idea that is actually not real, well then, your team is going to be weaker than it was before. And that is not the end goal here. 😉
*** Lucic and Chara

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