Toughness Factor: It’s Good To Be Bad, Just Not Ugly
The era of the pure goon is dead.
The demise of players that could do nothing but pound opponents into tapioca began, really, when it became apparent that players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the future of the sport. In came rules to curtail the fisticuffs, along with an increased focus on skill. With rules to further restrict or eliminate the “trap” and “left-wing lock” defensive styles, the players that had gotten by with clutch-and-grab tactics were now actually forced to play the game, move their ass, and win or lose on skill rather than on their ability to diminish the skill of others. Pure goons went on life support.
And finally, following the most recent lockout the front of the net was turned from the war zone it once was to a “Mom-he’s-touching-me” fifth-grade gym class. Now you’re more likely to scuff your nail polish than get a cross-check across the shoulder blades. In other words, the jobs for pure goons with no talent other than the pugilistic arts are now few and far between.
Put another way, if your primary talent is mangling people on the ice, you had also better be able to play the game. Players who can do it all — skate, pass, shoot, score, check, and fight — are replacing the Ryan Vandenbussches of days gone by. Anyone who has seen John Scott on the ice for more than 30 seconds knows why this is true. A player who can’t do those things is a liability that can cost your team dearly in close games with playoff implications. Unless Scott can step up his game, most specifically improve his speed to somewhere north of a phlegmatic manatee, his career is all but over.
Realizing that not only was Scott barely better than a cardboard cut-out of himself when the puck was dropped, but the remainder of the team more closely resembled the Mighty Ducks than the Charlestown Chiefs, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman dipped into the free agent market this summer looking for that “tough to play against” quality he so covets. He brought home two candidates who will do nicely, and one that may tip the balance in the wrong direction.
Starting at the blue line, veteran defenseman Steve Montador is a stay-at-home type who can contribute 20+ assists a season. But while playing on the Buffalo Sabres he was the kind of teammate who was first to dive into a situation to send a message — even if the guy who needed the lesson taught to him was several weight classes above his. He has an aggressive fighting style, sometimes pushing his opponents around the rink and into the boards to gain the upper hand. Safe to say that if a cheap shot is delivered in the Blackhawks’ zone, you will soon see Montador taking swings at somebody’s face.
On the offensive side, one of the fourth-liners that will be asked to jump in to protect our young, talented core is Jamal Mayers. He boasts 10 NHL seasons with 80 or more penalty minutes, and each of his last two seasons he has ratcheted that number up over 125. Built more like a defensive tackle than a left winger at 6’1″ and 215 lbs., Mayers will be making the boards shake quite regularly at the United Center this season. We can expect to see him bury his knuckles in more than a few opponents’ eye sockets as well.
The last of the three pugilists is the most potent, but also the most potentially dangerous. Earlier this off-season I called the acquisition of Daniel Carcillo a mistake. Only time will tell if that’s true. On average, Carcillo spends more time in the penalty box than he does on the ice in any given game. He is one of the pure goons I mentioned earlier; one that can be a liability in plays not involving a fight. The nickname speaks volumes: “Car Bomb.”
As if to underscore my point, at a press conference on Monday Carcillo took the opportunity to list the names of players he was looking forward to squaring off against once the season got started. We’ll ignore the fact that two of the three players he named now play for teams other than the one he thought they did. And in the interest of full disclosure, the guy was baited by the press corps, and he very obviously doesn’t have the presence of mind to deflect those questions.
So since Carcillo quite plainly has the common sense of a rabid wolverine, here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice. You simply do not call players out by name, especially ones that you have no good reason to call out, and especially ones on long-time conference rivals. No good can come of that, and I certainly hope that Bowman and the management staff get that shit under control very quickly. Additionally, if Carcillo is in the lineup on November 6th, the over/under on the first fight of the game currently stands at 7 seconds.
Carcillo is fearless, aggressive, borderline unbalanced. Good attributes to have in a fighter, not so much for a player in the last minutes of a tight defensive game against a divisional opponent. Using Carcillo sparingly, and hopefully in games that mean nothing to our playoff hopes, will be the key to keeping the damage he does to a minimum. At least until he gets the proper combination of medication to prevent him from frothing at the mouth in the presence of fast-moving objects.
Players that fight are like nuclear weapons: other teams have theirs, so we have to have ours; but as soon as anybody uses them, things go straight to hell. As with any weapon, using it safely and judiciously is the best way to keep from hurting yourself instead of your intended target. It will be up to Head Coach Joel Quenneville to determine how that will be best achieved in the coming season.
When the Blackhawks traded away Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Ben Eager, they lost a measure of toughness that became noticeably absent last season. The addition of these three players helps to fill that void, and serves as a suitable complement to the speed and puck-possession game that the ‘Hawks have honed to an art form since the Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009-10. No matter how you look at it — the good, the bad, and the ugly — the Blackhawks have set the table for a veritable feast of excitement for fans this fall.
About the author
Tim spent Saturday mornings playing street hockey in suburban Toronto before moving to Chicago at age 11. He played amateur hockey in Chicagoland through high school, got his B.A. in Communications, then wasted 7 years as a news/talk radio host. Today he tinkers with computers and web sites and yells at the TV a lot.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Tim Currell on August 10, 2011 at 7:31 am, and is filed under 2010-11 Offseason, 2011 Off-Season, Blackhawks, Chicago Blackhawks. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|