Toughness Preview 2011-12
We're a week into the NHL 2011-12 season and rosters are finally solidifying. It's time to take a look at every team in the league and who their toughest players are, measuring up the quality and quantity in this year's toughness preview.
The Ducks lost Kyle Chipchura and Brad Winchester to free agency, but reloaded signing Jean-Francois Jacques and Brian McGrattan in the off-season. Always-willing Big George keeps hold of the #1 spot this year, while Sheldon Brookbank and Luca Sbisa join him. The Ducks opted to waive Brian McGrattan a few days into the season, only to see Nashville claim him. They replaced that departing toughness by signing and sending down versatile Troy Bodie, who will now be a call-up option if the team has injuries or needs more toughness. With Parros, Brookbank, possibly Bodie and a top line where all three guys can drop the mitts for themselves, there is no drop toughness drop off in Orange County from last year. Expect the Ducks back near the top of the FM list this year.
The Stanley Cup champs didn't lose any hint of toughness this year with Thornton, McQuaid, Ference, and Campbell are all back for another tour. Raw numbers depend on how many times Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic drop the mitts, but that shouldn't figure too much into the Bruins returning to the top 10 of the league. Thornton was swamped with credit for the Bruins playoff success. He should see increased ice-time unless he makes a major mistake.
The Sabres lost Steve Montador to free agency, but replace him with tough-as-nails & occasional glove-dropper Robyn Regehr. Zack Kassian is also expected to debut for the Sabres, a huge wild-card type of player in terms of toughness. If Kassian is a regular, he'll join returning team FM leader Cody McCormick, occasional glove-dropper Paul Gaustad and agitator Patrick Kaleta for Buffalo. Expect them to be in the middle-10 teams for fights if Kassian makes the club out of camp.
Calgary will welcome back heavyweight Raitis Ivanans, who lasted one game last year. Returning with Ivanans is Tim Jackman and Tom Kostopoulos. Possibly seeing spot duty is Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who was brought in via trade from New Jersey. Losing Robyn Regehr hurts, but it still should be a fun fight year for the Flames given Ivanans being healthy, and the possible addition of PL3 from Jersey. Expect the Flames to easily surpass last year's total.
The Canes had a big hole for toughness at the end of last season, and not bringing back Troy Brodie makes that hole even bigger. With only Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison as regular scrappers, hitting the 20 fight mark may seem like a stretch this year.
The Hawks let Troy Brouwer and Jake Dowell go, but added a lot of nastiness back with forwards Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers. To make sure the D corps complements the forwards, they then signed veteran tough-as-nails blueliner Sean O'Donnell and always-willing middleweight Steve Montador from Buffalo. For heavyweights, 6'8" monster John Scott returns. With division games against St. Louis and Columbus, there should be plenty of chances for the middleweight newcomers to hang some high fight totals on the board. Expect the Hawks to easily jump past last year's total.
The Avs lost David Koci to free agency, but brought in veteran tough blueliner Shane O'Brien to fill the role. Ryan Wilson, Ryan O'Byrne and Cody Mcleod are all returning and provide fistic presence while playing a physical game. In the rough Northwest division, the Avs should be able to hit last year's 43, even without David Koci.
The Jackets return their solid but light 1-2 punch of Jared Boll and Derek Dorsett. Tom Sestito left town at the trade deadline last season, so he's no longer a call up option. Also gone from last year, by way of buy-out, is Mike Commodore. They did bring in a skilled, rugged, veteran in defenseman James Wisniewski, who could contribute to a fistful of fights. Given how often Boll and Dorsett drop the mitts, breaking 40 shouldn't be a stretch, but hitting 50 again might be.
Losing fourth-line center Brian Sutherby may hurt a bit, but that was alleviated with the signing of Jake Dowell. The Stars made a huge splash in signing former top heavyweight Eric Godard. Also moving to Big D is a big D-man in Sheldon Souray, who's falling out with Edmonton finally ended with a buy-out. Returning is healthy resident enforcer Krys Barch, along with middleweight scrappers Steve Ott, Brenden Morrow and Adam Burish. There's no reason the Stars don't hit the 50 fight plateau again with a healthy Barch and Godard seeing spot duty.
No, the Red Wings aren't making a return to fighting prominence by signing Mike Commodore, but it's something. Maybe, just maybe, Commodore joins Adelkader, Helm and Bertuzzi to push them above the 20 FM plateau this year. We can always dream of the Wings returning to the years of the Bruise Brothers, but it won't be this year.
The Oilers lost a lot of toughness from last year: Steve MacIntyre, Jim Vandermeer, Zack Stortini, and Jean-Francois Jacques are all gone. Only Theo Peckham returns. Joining Peckahm this year will be newcomers Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Cam Barker and Andy Sutton. With the replacements they brought in, and being in the bitter Northwest, there is no reason for the Oilers not to break 50 fights again this year.
The Cats let Darcy Hordichuk depart, again, via free agency. Next they shipped Mike Duco to the Canucks, and then signed former Caps MW Matt Bradley. Joining Bradley, and returning to the place where his NHL career took off, is veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski. Jovocop isn't the defenseman he once was, in many regards, but he may be pushed into fighting a bit more with how soft Florida's squad is, and with the number of highly drafted youngsters. Given how the team looks, and the players brought in, the Panthers should contend for the least number of fights this year.
The Kings return one of the better heavyweight-middlweight combos in the NHL with Kevin Westgarth and Kyle Clifford. Matt Greene also returns to provide a hammer presence from the blueline. Joining them will be "Captain Crunch" Ethan Moreau and former Flyers captain Mike Richards. They lost Wayne Simmonds in the Richards trade, but overall there's no lack of toughness from the Kings this year, and they'll likely push back near the 50 FM mark.
Minny had a busy off season acquiring big name snipers, and to protect the acquisitions they have Brad Staubitz and Clayton Stoner returning. Matt Kassian had a cup of coffee in the NHL last season, but figures to be around more this year. Colton Gillies is NHL-ready now, Darroll Powe came over from Philly and hit-everything-that moves junior Brett Bulmer also added more grit to the lineup. If Matt Kassian sees regular time, the Wild should have no issues surpassing last year's 32 fight mark.
The Habs return the same soft lineup from a year ago. Travis Moen and P.K. Subban are the only returning Habs who consistently shed the mitts. Ryan White may see regular NHL duties this year, which could help. Other than that, they'll have a hard time competing physically with divisional opponents and bigger, tougher teams. Montreal hitting 30 fights might be tough, barring a melee or two with the Bruins again.
Nashville loses Shane O'Brien to Colorado via free agency and Wade Belak - who was done halfway through last year's campaign - to a tragic death this summer, and replaced those two with Zack Stortini. After one fight, a TKO loss to Ryan Reaves, the team opted for a bigger gun, and claimed Brian McGrattan off waivers from Anaheim. He'll join resident havoc-causing wrecking ball Jordin Tootoo as the regular Nashville glove droppers. With McGrattan playing a somewhat regular schedule, and Tootoo, you'd have to think the Preds top 20 fights this year.
New Jersey definitely beefed up the toughness this summer. Bringing in underrated heavyweight Eric Boulton and fan favorite Cam Janssen. Expecting to figure into the resurgence of tough hockey is returning powerforward David Clarkson. The team waived young Mark Fraser late in camp, who could have really helped the team's toughness situation. Between Clarkson, Janssen and Boulton, exceeding last season's 37 fights shouldn't be too hard for this year's Devils.
The Islanders had an epic season of tough hockey last year with games seeing line brawls and goalie fighting. However, missing from last year's crew is Zenon Konopka, who was second in the league in fighting majors. However, Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Travis Hamonic are all returning, and Micheal Haley should see spot-duty again. In a late camp move, the Isles brought in rugged veteran blueliner Steve Staois. With the number of "battle of Alberta" games Staois has endured, he should fit perfectly with a team building and sustaining rivalries like the Isles. Pending suspensions, a return to the top 10 shouldn't be too much to ask of this year's Long Island natives.
The Rangers were hit with tragedy when Derek Boogaard passed away this summer. The team replaced the massive loss of Derek's toughness with a far more hockey-skilled enforcer in Michael Rupp. Joining Rupp in the Garden is returning Rangers scrappers Brandon Prust, Michael Sauer, Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle. The team put antagonizing machine Sean Avery on waivers, so his fights and caused fights will be missed. Given the number of natural rivals the Rangers have, hitting 60 with the addition of Rupp to complement Prust and others shouldn't be too much to ask.
The Sens will move forward with one of the best 1-2 combos in all of hockey with Matt Carkner and Chris Neil, but joining them will be fighting machine (58 in the past two years combined), Zenon Konopka, who departed Long Island via free agency. If injuries hit the Sens, always entertaining rock'em socke'em robot fighter Francis Lessard could see spot-duty, but his forecast is dim at the NHL level. There's no reason the Sens don't break 60 fights next year with their 3-headed monster.
Philly is bringing back veteran enforcer Jody Shelley and Scott Hartnell, and that's about it for returning toughness. Newcomers Maxime Talbot and Wayne Simmonds are expected to replace Sean O'Donnel and Daniel Carcillo as both have departed Philly via free agency. Tom Sestito and Matt Walker remain call up options for the Flyers. If they can get some consistent time at the NHL level, it will significantly bolster their fighting abilities. With the rivalry games the Flyers have, breaking 45 fights again shouldn't be too hard, but the lack of committed, NHL regular combatants might make it tough.
While their division rivals all restocked toughness, the Coyotes remain the weak team of the Pacific division. They signed Kyle Chipchura who may provide some relief, but all in all, the fighting duties start and stop with BizNasty, Paul Bissonnette. Expect them in the bottom third of the league, again, in fighting majors.
Even though they let former HW champ Eric Godard and versatile scrapper Michael Rupp go via free agency, the Pens wasted no time in replacing that toughness with Steve MacIntyre. Big Mac will ride shotgun with regulars Deryk Engelland, Craig Adams and Arron Asham providing plenty of fistic support for the Pens superstars. Expect them to be back in the top 10 for fighting majors this year.
The Sharks were busy taking players from Minnesota, but also brought in a bit more toughness. Frazer McLaren expects to play a larger role this year in assisting "Crank Shaft" Douglas Murray with fistic duties. The Sharks also signed free agent, veteran lightheavy Brad Winchester late in camp to assist with the gloves off responsibilities. Joining him is fellow newcomer Jim Vandermeer, who is hoping to provide veteran toughness from the back end. With Ryane Clowe, who never backs down from a fight, returning, and the new comers, the Sharks should be able to hit 45+ fights again this year.
St. Louis, as is the norm with JD leading the charge, will bring back a scrappy, tough team in 2011-12. Even though they lost Cam Janssen and Tyson Strachan, they replaced them with Ryan Reaves, who'll become a likely full-timer, and Scott Nichol. Returning are newly C'ed captain David Backes, Chris Stewart, Barret Jackman and B.J Crombeen. The Blues hitting 75+ fights again may be a stretch, but they should be in the top half of the league.
The Bolts lack of toughness definitely wasn't addressed in the off-season, bringing back the same group that finished out last year with a dismal 20 fights. Steve Downie is expected to shoulder the majority of the fights; and Ryan Malone, Eric Brewer and Nate Thompson round out the cast of glove droppers. Expect another bottom-10 finish.
The Leafs didn't need to really address toughness in the offseason. They simply needed to get healthy. Both Mike Brown and Colton Orr missed significant time last year, and both are healthy and will add to the fighting majors number. Jay Rosehill expects to be a more prominent contributor. Michael Komisarek and Dion Phaneuf both add toughness from the blueline, which bolsters the team's overall toughness. Expect them to surpass last year's 50 fights if the roster remains healthy.
Vancouver was a win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup. Their lack of toughness was a question mark after the season and certainly wasn't addressed. Tanner Glass wasn't retained as the teams' mainstay fighter. Todd Fedoruk and Mike Duco were both in camp, but both were cut. Byron Bitz is in Vancouver, which helps a bit, but given the other teams in the division and the rivalries, it doesn't seem like enough. Young middleweight Aaron Volpatti, who saw spot-duty last year, is the only truly consistent glove-dropper back. Team toughness appears to be the message from Vancouver with Kevin Bieksa, Andrew Alberts, Maxim Lapierre and Keith Ballard. Breaking 30 fights appears to be a long shot this year for the 'Nucks.
Washington looked to add playoff grit during the offseason, and did so with Troy Brouwer coming over from Chicago. He'll add a few fights along the way, but the "heavy lifting" still comes down to the three returning players: Erskine, King and Hendricks. With Brouwer and a healthy D.J. King (always an issue) the Caps should be able to eclipse last year's 45 fights.
The Jets will get their fresh start with a slew of middles leading the way. Tanner Glass came over from Vancouver, Chris Thorburn followed the club from Atlanta, and Patrice Cormier is expected to see regular time this year. David Koci and Troy Bodie were in camp, but the club opted to cut both. Mark Stuart and Dustin Byfuglien round out the remaining potential glove-droppers. There's no reason to think Glass, Thorburn and Stuart the Jets don't break the Thrashers mark of 33 fights last year.