Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dropping The Gloves In The Atlantic

This is part of my latest weekly column for Inside Hockey covering the Atlantic Division

Love it or hate it, fighting is still an important part of the NHL, especially in the Atlantic Division.

Here's a look at each team and who on their roster is most likely to drop the gloves on a regular basis during the 2009-10 season.

New York Rangers

This summer the Rangers made it obvious that they do not intend to be pushed around by adding one of (if not the most) feared heavyweights in the NHL, Donald Brashear. During the past few seasons Colton Orr (who signed in Toronto this summer) has been the Rangers' enforcer. This year Orr will be replaced by 37-year old Donald Brashear who few will argue is one of the top fighters to ever step onto an NHL rink. Out of all of the enforcers in the Atlantic Division, Brashear is clearly the top dog.

Aaron Voros who spent the majority of last season in the press box once John Tortorella took over the team is trying to land a spot on the Rangers fourth line. So far he has had a solid camp and has looked good playing on a line with Brashear and Boyle. Voros' best asset is throwing his body around on the forecheck. He is always willing (which makes it hard not to like him), but he has made a habit of getting pummeled (think back to the Cam Janssen fight from last season). Needs to pick his spots better.

Not a heavyweight, but Sean Avery is a true agitator and sometimes that results in Avery backing up what he says. He has improved his all around game, so he fights less than he once did, but it's certainly still a part of Avery's game. He has developed a mini-rivalry with most of the league's other middleweights - but look for his battles to continue most notably with Philadelphia's Mike Richards and David Clarkson of the Devils.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils invited Andrew Peters to training camp on a try out basis. The invitation is most likely a result of seeing that the teams that they play six times a year were not getting any less physical. The Devils lost Mike Rupp this summer to Pittsburgh via free agency.

There are no guarantees that Peters will be offered a contract, but it's likely that Lou Lamoriello will sign the former Buffalo Sabres enforcer to a one year deal. Peters was drafted in 1998 and is certainly the size of a heavyweight (6'4, 250lbs). But, he's gotten lots of criticism in recent years for being too defensive and basically trying to just hug opponents when he fights.

Pierre-Luc Leblond will also be vying for a spot on the Devils fourth line. Leblond is known for dropping the gloves and has a history of fighting players such as Brashear and Riley Cote. If he impresses Lamoriello enough then it's possible that instead of Peters that he'll be Rupp's replacement. Although he is a decent fighter, it's questionable how successful he would be taking on Brashear, Godard and the rest of the heavyweights on a regular basis.

Another Devil known for dropping his gloves on a regular basis in the past is David Clarkson. However, in a recent interview Clarkson said that he was going to pick his spots more so than he has in the past. One can only assume that with the loss of goal scoring from last season (Gionta, Madden and an injured Elias) that the Devils will be asking Clarkson to increase his offensive output from last season (17 goals). In order to do that, he'll need to spend more time on the ice and less time in the penalty box. But, it's safe to say that anytime Sean Avery is in town that Clarkson will continue to pick that spot.

Philadelphia Flyers

Perhaps a better question than who for the Flyers will be fighting on a regular basis is who won't fight on a regular basis? A look at the Flyers lineup is a reminder that this is the team known as the "Broad Street Bullies."

Riley Cote is the Flyers heavyweight and likes to fight, as evidenced by his 59 fights over the past two NHL seasons. Pound for pound he is probably one of the strongest and toughest players in the league, but he often ends up on the losing side in fights against the upper-echelon fighters (Orr, Brashear, Godard & Belak) of the NHL.

Aaron Asham, Dan Carcillo and Ian Laperriere are middleweights who are all known to fight frequently. Carcillo was acquired via a trade from Phoenix last season and Laperriere was signed as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Chances are if you are playing the Flyers and want to fight, you'll find a willing dance partner on pretty much any given shift.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Surprisingly this summer the Penguins went out and signed unrestricted free agent Mike Rupp. Last season, Eric Godard was their resident tough guy and he is still on the team. The only assumption that can be made is that the Penguins wanted someone who could not only fight but can also play a regular shift. There's no doubt that Mike Rupp is a better all around player than Eric Godard. In fact, there were rumors circulating this summer that the Penguins were shopping Eric Godard. But, that could possibly just be fans assuming that there wasn't room on the roster for both Godard and Rupp.

It is possible that Rupp will play regularly on the fourth line and Godard will only play in games against the more physical teams of the league - such as the Flyers, Leafs and Ducks.

New York Islanders

Going into the season the Islanders are still looking to see who is going to protect their young up and coming stars such as John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Last season that job fell into the hands of Tim Jackman who certainly has size but not the hands of a top fighter. This summer there are other players such as Joel "The Wrecker" Rechlicz, Michael Haley and Jeremy Reich playing for a roster spot.

Honestly, with the Islanders having anointed "John Tavares" the next great thing in Long Island, it's quite surprising and disappointing that they haven't invested some money in a top heavyweight to protect their assets.


Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want Peters as their top fighter when the other teams in the division have brash, cote and godard?

Neil said...

A good post but I have to disagree with a couple of points. John Madden as an example of the Devils missing scoring? I think the Devils can pick up his 23 points from other players. Either way Clarkson should fight less, no way he needs to lead the team in FM's and be a 20 goal scorer.

The other thing is, Joel Rechlicz, not Jeremy, has all the tools to be an elite heavyweight in the NHL. He has an iron chin, throws well with both hands, can actually skate and play and is more than willing. He'll start turning heads very soon in the NHL.

Puck Central said...

Yeah, maybe I misworded what I was trying to get out there about the Devils. With all of the exits in NJ (Holik, Madden, Gionta etc) they'll need Clarkson on the ice more to replace them. But I also think they want more offense from him this season.

As for the "Jeremy" -- confused him w/ Reich

Thanks Neil

Ben said...

Cote probably won't see enough ice time to be the prime fighter for the Flyboys this year, but when he is on the ice he will be dropping the gloves about once every two steps.

Derek said...

The Isles' best probably is Nate Thompson. Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton also drop 'em occasionally.

Puck Central said...

Thompson may be the best one that you listed.

Sutton has fought 7 times in the past two seasons + this preseason and doesn't have a very good record.

Witt has also fought 6 times over the past two seasons, also not an impressive record.

None of these guys should be mentioned in the same sentence as Brashear, Rupp, Godard or Cote.

Puck Central said...

Rumor has it DJ King is on his way out of St. Louis & Raitis Ivanans is done in LA. They could be traded/waived soon. Wouldn't be surprised if the Islanders put in a waiver claim or made a trade offer

Anonymous said...

DJ King would be a nice addition to the young Isles. HE along with The wrecker atleast will represent. Young middle weight Matt Martin is making a name for himself in Islander camp