Lacing Up: Goon With The Wind
In remembrance of the late Ashley Gallant, originator of “Lacing Up,” Matt Paul, Joshua Neal, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF Monday mornings. If you have any topics you would like to see us discuss, or if you would like to be a guest in our series, please let us know through the comments section below or on our Contact page, linked at the top of FF.
Matt Paul: So news broke last weekend that a popular enforcer and Stanley Cup winner in Pittsburgh has retired at the young age of 32. Eric Godard certainly wasn’t known for his offensive or defensive talents, but his role with the Penguins was an important one (if you ask me, anyway) that did not get overlooked by his teammates, who voted him the team’s “Players’ Player” in 2009. He was popular in the locker room, understood his role on the roster, and answered the call when needed. I was disappointed when the Penguins let him walk as a free agent in 2011, as he brought many good memories during his brief tenure in Pittsburgh. Josh, what are your fondest memories of Godard?
Joshua Neal: Well, with no disrespect to Eric Godard, and as you have already mentioned, it certainly doesn’t involve any lighting of the lamp. However, Godard was a respected fighter across the league and many were excited when he arrived in Pittsburgh. The Atlantic has always been one of the more rough-and-tumble divisions in the NHL. The fondest memories I have of Godard are 1) his shellacking of Riley Cote, the Flyers’ heavyweight and 2) a spirited fight against Mike Rupp when Rupp played for the Devils. I don’t recall the exact dates, but the fights were among the most memorable I have ever seen. What Godard lacked in any kind of hockey skill he made up for in his dedication to his teammates and his willingness to drop the gloves for anybody wearing his uniform. Though I’m not fond of remembering the Brawl in Long Island, and Godard likely shouldn’t have left the bench to dispatch Trevor Gillies, the fact that he was willing to do it is a testament to his commitment to his teammates. Matt, 32 is not that old, so beyond the wear and tear that a fighter puts up with on a relatively nightly basis, could this be a signal for the direction in which hockey’s newest generation may be headed with regard to “the goon?”
Matt: It sure would seem that way, Josh. Let’s face it, Godard is to fighting what Evgeni Malkin is to scoring. At any given time, he can and often is considered the best at his trade. But Godard’s timeline over the last year and a half has been less than flattering. the Penguins chose not to re-sign him in 2011 in favor of adding a more minor league-oriented enforcer (Steve McIntyre). The Dallas Stars then took the bait, signing and subsequently sending him to the AHL. Most recently, though, the Stars chose to buy out the final year of Godard’s contract, leaving him a free agent in the midst of a lockout. If fighting was such a valued commodity, wouldn’t he have been snatched up by someone prior to the lockout? What I think is happening isn’t that we’re seeing the end to fighting, but rather the end to one-dimensional goons who are, generally speaking, useless at all things hockey. In their place, we’re seeing the emergence of guys like Deryk Engelland and Rupp, who have the ability to play the game, but also the toughness and the willingness to stick up for teammates and to do so effectively. Are you seeing the same thing, and if so, what are your thoughts? Will you miss the Frankie Leroux vs. Tony Twist heavyweight main events, or will the middle weight mid card fights be enough?
Josh: I definitely agree that the one trick pony fighting “specialist” is on its way out, for various reasons. Thankfully, though, it does seem that the element of fighting remains in the game with little politicking from the league to limit it. The players you mentioned, while relatively limited in skill, certainly provide more of it than guys like Godard, Jody Shelley, or Steve MacIntyre could offer. I think that the heavyweight fights we saw in past years almost became too staged, and many teams are finding that rather than sacrifice a roster spot for a player like that, they’d rather see a slightly more skilled player contribute something positive offensively or defensively while still being available to drop the gloves if needed. I think Tanner Glass will fulfill that role to some extent, and I always love watching Engelland go. To me, I love the fights between the players that aren’t thought of as primary fighters. Ruslan Fedotenko went a round with Colby Armstrong a few years back. Granted, he broke his hand and missed a few weeks, but it was satisfying nonetheless. Tyler Kennedy has had some pretty good brawls in his day as well. To me, the passion and energy of the smaller guys is just as exciting as the guys who throw cinder blocks. Matt, do you agree, or will you miss the big boppers who seem to be on the way out?
Matt: I totally agree that staged fights are and always were pointless. And, really, the only players willing to fight the heavyweights are/were other heavyweights. So, what exactly are these players deterring when they “patrol” the fourth line? Do you think P.K. Subban would have avoided stomping on Jordan Staal’s foot a few years back had Godard been on the bench? Absolutely not. And, really, the big brawl with the Islanders might just be the perfect example of how enforcers have grown ineffective. That said, I’ll always have a fond memory of the big-time fights involving guys like Twist and Leroux (mentioned above) and Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Stu Grimson, etc. Did they contribute to the game of hockey? Not much/at all. Was it fun to watch? Absolutely. Can or should they be phased out? Unfortunately, yes. Look, I hate to see genuinely good guys like Godard lose out on what they love: the opportunity to be part of a team and hang with the fellas. But I’m all for the growth of the game, and these guys just don’t do anything other than provide a sideshow act. Perfect example? Trevor Gillies. Tell me, Josh, what business does he have playing in the National Hockey League?
Josh: In my opinion, none at all. A guy with about as much hockey skill as a La-Z-Boy recliner who has spent more games suspended than he has played has no place in the league. But I think Gillies’ role never actually belonged in the game. Many of the goons stuck to fighting as their only arena for doling out punishment and policing the game. Gillies is one of the goons who goes beyond fighting and takes cheap shots within the game with intent to injure players outside of the confines of fighting. There’s no place for that, and truly, stricter suspensions for things like that – including a hit like Asham threw on Couturier in Philly, will likely help reduce that form of goonery. Sadly, I think that in addition to the changing nature of the game that we’ve mentioned, these goons that goon it up outside the fight are bringing an even quicker end to the goon as we know it.