Tough Guys

There are many NHL teams that covet tough-guy players. Players like Carcillo, Ott and Laraque can earn a very good living from playing the role of a pugilist or for administering bone-shaking body checks to opposing players. Some even act as a bodyguard who protect their teams’ star players. Athletes who compete at this level are often admired by both fans and coaches for the ability to display a combination of toughness and skill.

When you consider which current members of the Vancouver Canucks roster fit the role of the teams aggressors, most would agree that the likes of Rypien, Hordichuk and relative newcomer Tanner Glass are the teams resident hard men. They serve as valuable members of the team who can be very versatile, bringing physical aggression and skill to their game.

Glass, Rypien and Hordichuk are all notorious for their penchant to drop the gloves. Rick Rypien is considered by some to be the middleweight fighting champion of the NHL. Perhaps his ability to fight is due to the fact that his dad was a former Canadian Golden Gloves boxing champ. Hordichuk, even spent time training with former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell during the summer of 2008.

Each of these forwards are very good at the defensive aspect of the game, often playing on the third or checking line. They can be relied on to kill penalties while also possessing enough skill to contribute offensively, scoring goals or adding assists when needed. Wingers of this ilk are not expected to score goals every night and with Vancouver’s top two lines playing as brilliantly as they currently are some might wonder if having an abundance of secondary scorers is as imperative as it could be if the Canucks were struggling to win games. Will the Sedins, Burrows, Raymond and his second line mates continue to dominate once the Canucks are deep into the team’s grueling Olympic road trip, or during the play offs?

Vancouver’s three tough guys are very important to the team but lack some of the scoring prowess of other third or fourth line players. The last time a member of the Vancouver tough guy trio registered a point was when Rypien scored a goal on January 5, 2010 during a win against the Blue Jackets. Tanner Glass hasn’t contributed to team scoring since December 31, 2010 and it’s been even longer for Hordichuk since he collected a point way back on November 5, 2010.

When you also consider that players like Wellwood, Bernier and Hansen, who are supposed to offer support to the teams main offensive threats are underachieving more times than not, is there such a great demand for three skaters who are more likely to spend five minutes in the penalty box for fighting than scoring the game wining goal; wouldn’t one enforcer be enough for Vancouver? Surely having three offensively skilled goal scorers play on the bottom two lines would be of greater benefit to the Canucks organization than three brawlers?

As mentioned earlier Georges Laraque is a player who is well known for his militant fist first mentality and he forged a twelve-year career playing that way. That was until last week when he was told that the Montreal Canadiens would rather do without his services. Laraques’s head coach Jacques Martin said that he didn’t need a player of Laraque’s nature to win games.

Martin also said, "The Red Wings, I don’t think they have an enforcer and they’ve won some Cups. The game has changed and speed has become a major factor."

Will the tough guy eventually become a thing off the past? The NHL will undoubtedly find homes for players like Rypien and his cohorts. The question still remains do Vancouver need as many tough guys as they currently have and can they prove to be a winning formula?

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  • First off, great photo! Reservoir Dogs was a great film by Tarantino and really captures the spirit of tough guys in the NHL.

    Great thoughts on the Canucks current group of "knuckle-chuckers." It's tough to say what the team will do. While Rypien is a favorite of Vigneault, he has been prone to injuries and I think that's one reason both Hordichuk and Glass will be kept around – for insurance. Of course if a deal goes down at the trade deadline that could obviously change things, otherwise I believe we'll see at least one of them in the press box every night the rest of the way.

    The regular season is one thing, but that all changes in the playoffs. Unless the guy can skate and chip in the occasional goal he's going to be in the press box during those important games. And it's not because the playoffs are a skate and score only affair. Anyone who has watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs knows it is all out war – one of the reasons it's the toughest championship to win in professional sports.

    The game has changed and the players that adapt with their fists, feet, and hands will continue to play, those that don't won't. It's simple evolution. As we've seen, some players adapt and others don't – although Laraque's situation has as much to do with his off ice issues as it does with the Canadians problems on it. And for Martin to compare his team to Detroit is like comparing apples to oranges. The Wings have a wealth of players at their disposal who play a system, Montreal is still trying to rebuild.

    Fighting will always have a place in hockey in my book, but the role of the pugilist has definitely changed.