I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit guilty. I've long been a proponent of the "we don't really need a goon" theory. I loved it when Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau declared last season that they supported the idea of team toughness, rather than that of giving five minutes a game to a "tough guy" who contributed nothing except a fight every three games. I was proud of the Habs when the Bruins and Flyers roughed them up, and our guys came to each other's aid, even if they were doomed to lose. (We did notice you clutching Chara, though, Lats.) But the intention was there. Even if they couldn't win a fight (nice trying though, TK), the support was there. I didn't buy the idea that the Habs lost in the playoffs because they weren't tough enough.
So then, Gainey announced he's signed Georges Laraque. Big Georges. Heavyweight champion of the NHL. I have to admit, my heart sank. I thought of all the drawbacks...that Laraque's 1.5 million salary for three years was too much. That his presence in the lineup would take a spot from a kid like Greg Stewart. That I recently read a poll of NHL players naming the worst skater in the league and Laraque was in the top five. That he'll cost the team a bunch of powerplays against.
Then I started listening to the thoughts of other Habs fans. They were thrilled. The thought of Laraque beating the crap out of Milan Lucic was sending them into paroxysms of joy. The "Laraque is better than Chuck Norris" threads and the posted video highlights all over the internet were hilarious.
This is where my guilt comes in. I really do think team toughness is better. Like the seventies Habs...they had a lot of guys, like Rick Chartraw and Pierre Bouchard and Larry Robinson...who could lay down the law and fight all comers. They were tough as nails, but they weren't exactly goons. Every one of them contributed in ways other than the five minute penalty. Even the eighties Habs, with the great Chris Nilan, had a guy who could beat the living daylights out of pretty much anyone, but he could knock in 20 goals too. He was crazy, but had other talents. Laraque isn't that. He's a guy whose point totals are in the teens for the last several years. Yet, I've started to get that feeling that other Habs' fans are describing.
It's bragging rights. For many years, we, as Habs fans, have dealt in moral victories: Yeah...your guy beat the snot out of ours, but our guy was braver. Or: Okay, your guy scared the bejeezus out of our guy, but we still won in OT. But now, for the first time in years, Habs fans can say, "Yeah? Our guy can beat up your guy!" and mean it. We can gloat about having the skilled guys to beat the other team, AND the tough guy who can beat all the other tough guys. It's exhilarating. It's like being in grade six and having the biggest big brother in high school. You can pretty much do whatever you want and no one will bother you. The Habs are that kid now. Andrei Kostitsyn, Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec (Kovalev's exempt because of his bionic elbow) will get more respect and more room because the other team knows if they don't...Big Georges will take offence. Carey Price won't have to knock guys in the back of the helmet for crowding him if Laraque is there to do it for him. It gives the team room to add a little cockiness to their repertoire in a way they haven't been able to do before. No more false respect for fear of getting killed. If Gainey meant to abandon his theory of team toughness and go out to get a goon, he got the best damn goon on the market.
So, here I am, finding the Laraque highlight videos make me smile, the piston-like right hand giving me as much joy as a Kovalev wrister from the right circle or a Komisarek cruncher on the boards. He's ours! I'm exulting. And, I'm guilty. Because, I really do believe in the concept of team toughness over that of carrying a goon. I think a group of guys who can play the game, yet convincingly stand up for themselves beats a team of softies who rely on the intimidation factor of a goon every time.
But, realistically, I have to admit that the Habs, outside the powerplay or a Komisarek bodycheck, rarely intimidate anyone. And if Laraque can add an element of scariness to the Canadiens' roster, that's a good thing. As someone put it to me today, if he can be an extra tool in the toolbox that lets our guys win...he's worth it. So, here I am, waving the goon banner. Go, Georges, Go!