Jul 24, 2010, 10:31 PM EST
I don’t know anyone who would ever want to get in an argument with Derek Boogaard. In fact, I’m a bit scared to even write about the guy. He’s an intimidating human both on and off the ice so when he says that he feels there’s still a role for enforcers in the NHL, I’m not going to argue with him. People I would argue with, however, are NHL general managers. John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press has the story.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound left wing remains one of the top two or three most-feared enforcers in the NHL, which is why the Rangers’ Glen Sather was one of what Boogaard said were about 10 general managers who came calling July 1, the first day of free agency.
“That’s more (teams) than Gabby was dealing with last summer,” said Boogaard, who shares agent Ron Salcer with Marian Gaborik, with whom Boogaard will be a teammate again. “Ronny was surprised; he told me he thought there would be four or five teams (interested).”
Not to quibble with the Boogey Man, but I’d guess he had more suitors because his price was an easier fit on most teams than the $7.5 million a year Marian Gaborik got. One thing to note about the four-year $6.6 million deal Boogaard got from the Rangers though is because there’s a man in the Ranger front office that knows a bit about Boogaard and what his skill set can provide an NHL team: Former Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough.
“Obviously I know a lot about him,” Risebrough said Friday, “but the ultimate decision to bring him was left to the Rangers people. My information was on what kind of person he was, how he was to deal with, what kind of player he was.”
Risebrough has always liked Boogaard. He signed him to a three-year extension that paid him $1.025 million last season and on Friday called him “arguably the second-most popular player the Wild ever had.”
“I always feel good when I see someone make the most of an opportunity,” Risebrough said. “Clearly, Derek had an uphill battle to play in the NHL based on his skills and experience in juniors, but he worked hard and got better.
“He always told me the light went on when he was playing in the East Coast League. People told him if he wanted to play in the NHL, he had to get in better shape and work on his skating, and that’s what he did.”
I’d have to guess that Risebrough’s recommendation to Rangers general manager Glen Sather was even more glowing than what he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press because to lock up a guy who averages about eight minutes a game for four years and more than $1.5 million a year is a huge commitment. Taking advice from a guy that managed to run an organization into a hybrid of salary cap and developmental hell, however, is what I’d call questionable.
The real debate here presides over whether or not enforcers truly do have a role in the league anymore, a debate that has fans in Detroit talking lately. Wings general manager Ken Holland has had a little bit to say on the issue lately in particular speaking about a Niklas Kronwall’s injury suffered at the hands of Habs enforcer Georges Laraque.
There clearly was a sense, Holland said, that the Stanley Cup winners in 1997 and 1998 were built on toughness and skill, with Martin Lapointe and McCarty especially suited to the roles of third- and fourth-line forwards, and Brendan Shanahan, Bob Rouse and Jaime Pushor on the roster.
But all of those players brought clear talents to their game, beyond quick fists and an enthusiasm to serve and protect.
“But, Scotty Bowman was never one for the one for the one-dimensional tough guy,” Holland said. “I’ve never been one. I think come playoff time those guys are obsolete, although they can be more valuable and important over 82 games.
“It’s been an ongoing topic of conversation, for us. At times the answer’s been, yes. At other times, it’s no,” he said. “But whether you have a guy like that on the team, or not, I don’t know, does Georges Laraque decide not to stick his leg out? Probably not.”
Skill and toughness versus straight toughness and fighting ability is where the line is drawn for many teams, often sometimes ending up with teams hiring agitating forwards that rarely drop the gloves and instead opt to make questionable hits (Patrick Kaleta, Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu come to mind).
Obviously the game has trended towards more skill and more speed, but the role of an enforcer seems to come more into play with a team lacking a team-wide physical brand of game. After all, if everyone isn’t out there being aggressive and checking, you can’t have them get out there and get pushed around by teams that will do it. The Red Wings have always employed a team brand of toughness since they’ve become an annual Cup contender while the Rangers, at least last year, seemed to come at you in waves of tough guys with Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley.
Looking at the teams that have won the Stanley Cup each year since the lockout (Carolina, Anaheim, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Chicago) you’d be hard-pressed to find a definitive goon on any of those teams. Anaheim is the one outlier of the bunch because most of that team would punch their own grandmother to win the Stanley Cup. One thing that all of those teams were, though, was tough all around. It remains to be seen if the Rangers expensive gamble on an elite enforcer will pay off how they want it to.
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