Monday, September 12, 2011

Team Toughness

The phrase "Team Toughness" is one that has been used by the Edmonton Oilers organization for some time now. Ever since the departure of Georges Larques following the 2005-2006 season, the idea of team toughness by committee has been the clubs mantra. The problem being, that not only did they not have a true enforcer most seasons but they compounded the issue by not having players who were willing to punish opponents night in and night out. Have a look at the 2005-2006 roster and you would see the following names:

Georges Laraque, Todd Harvey, Ethan Moreau, Raffi Torres, Brad Winchester, Chris Pronger, Matt Greene, Jason Smith & Steve Staios

Compare that list to the 2010-2011 roster:

Steve MacIntyre, J.F. Jacques, Zack Stortini, Theo Peckham, Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer & Jason Strudwick

All of the players listed from the 2005-2006 roster were capable and willing to either take care of themselves and their teammates on the ice and/or intimidate the opposition with their style of play. Could the same thing be said of the group of players listed from last season? For some yes but as a collective group the answer was a resounding no.

A team with players that are not willing or capable of playing a certain type of style and/or impose their will on the other team, is a team with no team matter how many times this organization tries to sell fans that bag of goods. The Boston Bruins just displayed what team toughness is all about on their march to becoming Stanley Cup Champions. The Bruins did not have a true heavyweight but they did have a bunch of guys who play a very intense style of hockey and are willing and able to stand up for themselves and each other. A team can add as many big bodied players to a roster that they would like but if they are not the right type of player, the experiment is always doomed for failure.

With that being the case, the Edmonton Oilers have decided to bring in players that are willing to hold up their end of the deal and address a problem that has been hampering this club the last five seasons. The additions of Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk & Andy Sutton via free agency and trade, have now given Edmonton the look of a club with team toughness. Add in Peckham and Smid and the Oilers will have four or five guys on nightly basis that can bring it and play the game. Are they the best group in the league? Far from it but it is a huge step forward towards no longer allowing teams to take liberties with their young skilled core. Before teams could do what they pleased with no real fear of repercussion...that will no longer be the case.

They let the super heavyweight MacIntyre move on to Pittsburgh but it was apparent to all that teams would not engage Big Mac and he would not impose his will on a game unless invited by the opposition. Enter Darcy Hordichuk, who like MacIntyre, won't dress every night but when he is, he will leave his mark. If the team is in need of a spark or a mess cleaned up, he will be their guy. He isn't the same fighter he once was nor does he win every team he drops the gloves. Yet, he will not allow his teammates to become targets and if someone takes a run at a young skilled Oiler, the same treatment can know be expected in return.

In Ben Eager, Edmonton finally has that player that other teams will have to think twice about. He is not an imposing player but because of the uncertainty of what he might do next, teams will be aware of him at all times. He has a nasty side to his game and while you hate playing against him, he seems to be the type of player you would love to have on your side. Add into the equation that Eager is known to be a great dressing room guy and his addition to the club holds even more importance. Ben Eager will likely play every night and see regular fourth line minutes throughout the upcoming campaign.  If he is able to stay away from making the bad decision that hurts the team, he will be a big part of the Oilers fourth line for the next couple of years.

Which brings us to Andy Sutton. The same Andy Sutton who hurt three Oiler players in a game back in 2010 as a New York Islander and who wouldn't man up and fight Georges Laraque during the now famous 2004 line brawl between Edmonton and the Atlanta Thrashers...instead he took on Eric Brewer. Sutton plays a mean game but he has been one who always picks his spots when it comes to exchanging blows. He will be a nice addition to the third pairing with Theo Peckham and it should be a pair that will be able to punish more than a few teams forwards. Sutton has always come to the aid of his teammates when needed, if not always being the most honourable player when it comes to answering the bell for his own indiscretions.

By making these three additions for the coming season, Steve Tambellini was able to achieve what he and Kevin Lowe had failed to deliver since the end of the 2005-2006 season. In recent years, most teams that play the Edmonton Oilers have set their focus on intimidating the Oilers skilled players. By letting this continue and not addressing the matter, the organization seemed ok with having targets pointed on the team’s best players...thankfully that seems to no longer be the case.

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