Time To Toughen Up

John Piry
Sep 25, 2000

Most General Managers would tell you today that the game is rapidly shifting more and more towards speed. I will not argue this point, however for as long as I can remember, it has been critical that every team carry a legitimate heavyweight on their respective clubs and I am confident that this will be a requirement for quite some time. Yet some GM's have been foolish enough to say that there is no place for fighting in hockey, such as long time General Manager of the Dallas Stars, Bob Gainey. This is quite absurd when you think of it, seeing that this is the same guy who watched his player's Joe Nieuwendyk get flattened in a questionable hit from San Jose Shark Bryan Marchment, and Mike Modano go head first into the boards courtesy of Ducks defenceman Ruslan Salei. Salei was slapped with a ten game suspension for his unruly actions, but who out there actually thinks this will stop him from performing a similar type of action the next chance he gets? What I am trying to get at here is simply that if I am Ruslan Salei or Bryan Marchment, I would be more concerned about a legitimate tough on the other team inflicting some type of revenge on me than the ten game suspension or so that I might get hit with. Unfortunately for Dallas, there is no legitimate fighter on this club that is capable of dishing out some good old-fashioned justice to these notorious bad guys.

As we work our way through the preseason and slowly towards the regular season, I have looked at some of the team's rosters, and frankly, some of the teams really have to get with it when it comes to the toughness aspect of the game.

Let's start with the Dallas Stars. Modano, Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull, Sergei Zubov, and others on the team must be thinking to themselves, "Hey, when are we going to get some decent protection on this club?" Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't the last legitimate heavyweight on this club Shane Churla, not including enforcer Patrick Cote who was not surprisingly given any chance by Mr. Gainey. Brent Severyn had a short term with the club, but I don't think he quite cuts it as a team's number one guy. Same story went for Chris Murray, who rarely played a game for Dallas anyways. You think after all those injuries to key players, Gainey like it or not, would get a heavyweight to protect his players. I'm hoping, and I think most Stars fans would agree with me, that Gainey does not think that Finnish enforcer Sami Helenius, who was signed in the off season, qualifies as the club's number one guy.

The next team that I am going to attack is the Ottawa Senators. What are they thinking? This is one of the worst teams I have seen in a while. No, Andre Roy is not a legitimate heavyweight. His fight record was awful last year (2-7-1), and his list of opponents wasn't even that impressive either. When you have a team with so many Europeans as the Sens do, you are going to need one tough dude to protect these guys. The only solution for this club it seems is to bring up minor league tough guy Christopher Neil. As unready and immature as he might still be, they cannot possibly go through another year with Roy as their protector.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are another team that has to make you shake your head. This team knows what it is like to go through a season without a heavyweight. They have done it before and paid a heavy toll for doing so, which came in the form of Paul Kariya missing a good chunk of the season. After Stu Grimson and Jim McKenzie had done an unbelievable job at keeping opposing team's honest, they showed their gratitude towards these two veteran enforcers by dumping them. McKenzie signed with the Devils, while Grimson headed off to Los Angeles. So they bring in Jim Cummins, a fighter who has served as a great punching bag for the other teams heavyweights throughout his career. Sorry Jim but its true.

Would Colorado please find room for Scott Parker on the team? Yes, Chris Dingman might have more skill than Parker, but he is simply not good enough for a team that showcases such talent as Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque and more. Parker has already shown that he is ready to tackle the other teams premier scrappers, scoring an impressive win over Stu Grimson in this year's preseason.

Similar to Colorado, Detroit has too much talent on this organization not to sport a heavyweight. McCarty does not have the toughness to compete with the top heavies in the league, and even if he did, do you really want this guy in the penalty box?

The Sharks obviously think that there is no need for a heavyweight on the club, and unfortunately for them, they will pay a heavy price for doing so this year. Although San Jose do have players that will play it tough for them, such as Todd Harvey, Scott Thornton, and Owen Nolan, they are still desperately lacking that physical which will keep teams from taking liberties with them. The club will also have to cope with the loss of Ronnie Stern, who recently announced his retirement.

The last team which I find fault with is sadly the Philadelphia Flyers. Luke Richardson had a stellar year with the gloves off last year going 10-0-3 but he still needs support, and big Gino Odjick will not give it to him. Odjick only fought twice last year, a sad fact for such a notorious fighter as he is. GM Bob Clarke has recently made some fatal mistakes, trading Sandy McCarthy and not re-signing Craig Berube. The Flyers possess team toughness with guys like Dan McGillis, Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, Chris Therien and others, but who will be their main guy who will be able to step it up when called upon? Francis Lessard seems to be well on his way to becoming a dominant enforcer in the league some day, but will most likely not be ready this year.

The teams that I have mentioned are simply lacking that one presense that makes other teams think twice about pushing them around. Although fighting in the NHL is decreasing more and more, I still think it vital that a team carry at least one guy who can handle the job as enforcer well. My prediction for this year is that these teams, unless they fix their problem somehow, will suffer from not having a legitimate heavyweight. When the puck drops to start the season, so will their players, unless they can quickly find a solution.

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