DETROIT – The Red Wings haven’t been a pugnacious team for several decades.
And why should they?
General manager Ken Holland hasn’t felt the need to employ a hired gun to run amuck, even though some living room GMs think the Red Wings need a pugilist if they’re to survive in the new Atlantic Division with Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Buffalo.
“There’s going to be the odd situation and the odd night where we’ll probably wish we had a one-dimensional tough guy,” Holland said. “But I think it’s more important to try to have in those bottom three guys players who can kill some penalties and maybe take some hard minutes away from our top players. If they can do that and chip in a few goals, I think we’re going to be a better team.”
After all, it’s scoring that wins games, not fighting, which is why the Red Wings like having guys like Drew Miller, Tomas Tatar and Patrick Eaves zipping around on the fourth line creating scoring chances.
“I’m more concerned about our scoring,” Holland said. “I think at the end of the day, when you build your team, on that fourth line, there’s a bunch of different ways you can go. We think they’re guys that can chip in offensively.”
And it’s the offense that will get the Wings to the postseason in the new and unknown re-alignment world.
“I think last year of the top 10 teams in fighting majors,” Holland said, “only four of them made the playoffs.”
A little checking and the Wings’ GM is right, only the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Senators and Canucks reached the postseason after finishing in the top 10 in fighting majors. Collectively, the four playoff teams had 130 fights last season. The Red Wings had 115 fights – combined – in the last eight seasons!
“We’ll see how it goes,” Holland said. “Ideally, I’d like to have (Martin) Lapointe, (Darren) McCarty and (Brendan) Shanahan in the middle of our lineup, but that’s not the case.”
But not everybody in the league defines toughest the same way, for example, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, who thinks the Red Wings are plenty tough, in their own sort of way.
“Toughness isn’t always about fighting. I think there seems to be a misrepresentation about what team toughness is,” Carlyle said. “Team toughness means to take a check to make a play, block a shot, get in the way of people in the tough areas of the ice and earn your space. And they do a good job of that.
“I don’t think that you can say that they don’t play a tough brand of hockey.”
For Buffalo tough guy Steve Ott, the Red Wings are an anomaly, which every team in the NHL wishes it could be.
“The success that they’ve had as an organization here is phenomenal,” he said. “They’ve had success, they have a veteran team that’s gelled and continued to win and be at the top of the league for every single year. It’s going to be great for the young guys in our lineup to see what it takes to be that good.”
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