Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Laraque IS Doing His Job

There has been some talk recently about how Georges Laraque has not done his job since he arrived in Pittsburgh protecting our star players who are still receiving cheap shots and thus is useless or not doing his job. I can’t disagree with this more.

First off, if you say the cheap shots haven’t subsided at all, you didn’t watch the games last year or you are purposefully blinding yourself to what he has done. The amount of cheap shots have decreased significantly since his arrival. No longer are Crosby and Malkin taking shot after shot by everyone and their mother.

Secondly, it’s not Laraque’s sole purpose to keep these things from happening, nor is the responsibility solely his. People say he was brought in here to protect the stars and nothing else. Those people are wrong. Is it his main duty? Yes. Is it his only duty? Absolutely not. Laraque is known not just for being a great fighter, but the fact he can play with the puck; there is more to him than just fighting. He can create offensive chances and isn’t a big liability in the defensive zone like most enforcers are.

If Laraque was so one dimensional, why give up Danial Carcillo and a 3rd for him? We could have had Todd Fedoruk or someone like him for nothing. It’s because Laraque can play. He can take a regular shift with the 4th line, so you don’t have to double shift people at all towards the end of a game when enforcers aren’t needed.

Also, why is it Laraque’s sole duty to stop the shots at the good players? Why aren’t Talbot, Armstrong, Roberts, Hall and Ruutu doing something about it too? Everyone should be sticking up for their teammates, not just the toughest guy. It is more of a concern why no one else is stepping up when Crosby takes a shot than the fact Laraque isn’t preventing 100% of them.

Third, and I want to make this point especially clear, NO ONE PERSON CAN STOP THESE FROM HAPPENING! It’s not possible, it just isn’t. Yet here people are complaining that Laraque can’t do his job because he hasn’t completely eliminated it. That is an unrealistic expectation. Derek Boogaard hasn’t stopped all the hits on Wild Players, George Parros for the Ducks hasn’t done it, neither has Raitis Ivanans of the Kings. No Player X on Team X had been able to do it, so why is Laraque getting criticism for it? This crap happens on every single team in the league, yet for some reason people only want to hold Laraque accountable.

There is also the criticism that Laraque doesn’t fight enough. How often does Brashear fight? Or Parros or Ivanaens? Where are all the fights Boogaard gets in anymore? They’re not there. Just grabbing someone and beating the hell out of them doesn’t always make a difference. Fighters are a deterrent, not a solution.

People also say Laraque is not feared. If so why does no one want to fight him? When in a scrum why does the other guy always skate away? Why is it when a player turns his head and sees Georges coming at him they get an “oh shit” look on their face? Why? Because they know he can beat the hell out of them anytime he wants.

I am not going to deny Laraque needs to fight some more, but you have to understand that him fighting left and right won’t make things a lot better, if at all. Expect more instigator penalties for one. Second, when it comes to guys like Sean Avery, you beat him up and he still goes out and agitates. It’s doesn’t stop it from happening. The best you can do to stop it is a team effort to do it; having one tough guy wont make it stop. It never has, it never will. And don’t go on about Gretzky, that was a different era and not applicable.

So if you think Laraque is not doing his job and having no impact, than you unrealistic expectations. The cheap shots will never stop 100%, and one person definitely cannot stop them from happening. It is not humanely possible.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Dont Give Up on Fleury

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about Ray Shero searching for a goaltender due to Fleury’s struggles, and once again the Fleury bashers are out in force seeking his removal. But to give up on Fleury at this point can be summed up in one move: idiotic.

Apparently at age 22 when you have a boatload of skill you should already be an elite goaltender in the league. This is the point of view of many of his detractors, but their expectations are completely unrealistic.

Most goaltenders who break into the NHL tend to break in at their mid 20’s, the higher skilled/picked ones maybe early twenties, and almost always as backups to a veteran. This way they can gain more experience without having the pressure of carrying a team on their back which helps their development. But let’s look at how Fleury has been handled.

2003 (age 18): drafted 1st overall and plays 21 games for what will be one of the worst teams in the league before being returned to juniors. He plays for a total of three different teams that year, and after a fluke goal in the World Junior Tournament is already being called a bust.

2005 (age 20): Is expected to back up Jocelyn Thibault who misses most the season with a hip injury. The team was totally revamped, but lacked any cohesion, no defense and still lacked a full time goalie coach. The Pens are pitiful once again and Fleury was forced to carry the load in net at a time most goalies are in their first year of minor league hockey.

2006 (age 21): Assumes the starting role from Thibault and now has a full time goaltending coach. He gets 40 wins and plays very good in the playoffs, keeping the Sens from running the score up in most of the games.

2007 (age 22): is once again the starting goalie, but still has a weak defense.

So at 22 years old, Fleury is in his third season as a starter, an age where most goalies have yet to see any NHL action, and most as a backup. And let’s not forget that a goalie is the slowest developing position in hockey.

Plus, think about it for a moment. A 22 year old player is a bust. How often do people ever find themselves saying this? It’s one thing if it’s a forward a la Alex Daigle who has been in the league four years, playing 15+ minutes a game and not producing, and even then you don’t declare them a bust, you’re just wary.

Does Fleury let in some soft goals? Yes. But he also makes some saves a lot of goalies couldn’t. To give up on a 22 year old player, and a goalie at that, is ridiculous.

Most goalies are still dreaming of the NHL at his age, let alone in their third year as a starter. Don’t give up on Fleury, there is still plenty of time for him to get better.