EDMONTON – Two Septembers after declaring he saw no purpose in prolonging a lineage of renowned enforcers that included Dave Semenko, Marty McSorley, Dave Brown and Georges Laraque, Edmonton Oilers’ coach Craig MacTavish has reconsidered.
With a roster loaded with small, skilled players, and having watched that talent manhandled without fear of reprisal, MacTavish’s change of heart resulted in Edmonton claiming 28-year-old Steve MacIntyre off waivers from the Florida Panthers Tuesday.
Say goodbye to the team toughness approach MacTavish previously preached and hello to MacIntyre, a six-foot-six, 265-pound nose-bender who is considerably more adept at his role than he is in aspects of the game performed with the gloves on.
That’s a sizeable second thought, coach.
“The bottom line for us is we need to be able to protect our skill in a way we haven’t done the last little while,” MacTavish said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to protect the skill on your team.”
When Laraque was allowed to walk as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2006, team toughness became the mantra. In two seasons since, the Oilers have set back-to-back franchise records for man-games lost to injury.
Many of those injuries had nothing to do with the lack of an established heavyweight, but the perception is the Oilers have become a team that can be pushed around.
MacTavish dismissed that perception in 2006-07, but the addition of youngsters Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson last season, plus the ongoing abuse marquee man Ales Hemsky has taken, apparently changed his mind.
The Oilers tried to entice Laraque to return this summer with a four-year contract worth US$6 million, but he signed a three-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Enter MacIntyre.
“We’ve got to make sure teams aren’t feeling like they can take liberties with our skill,” MacTavish said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to take care of those guys.”
MacIntyre, from Brock, Sask., has bounced around the minor leagues after spending three seasons in the WHL with Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Red Deer. He doesn’t have a single NHL game on his resume.
He’s had AHL stops with Providence and Hartford, but the vast majority of his time has been spent in the low minors – Muskegon of the UHL, Charlotte of the ECHL, Bay County of the CEHL and St. Jean of the Gong Show that is the Quebec Senior Professional Hockey League.
“It’s not rocket science. I’m not coming here to score goals,” said MacIntyre, who skated with the Oilers Wednesday and will likely dress against the Calgary Flames Friday.
“We’ve got a smaller team. I just have to go out and do my job and see what happens.”
A search of his name on YouTube turns up 29 video clips documenting his career. In none of them is he wearing gloves for more than a second or two.
There’s even a two-minute instructional video, titled “How to Fight,” featuring MacIntyre. Among his nuggets of advice: “Punch first, ask questions later.”
“I play hard and protect my teammates,” said MacIntyre, who had 18 fighting majors and 213 penalty minutes with Providence last season. “I’m not going to go out and be stupid. That’s not my game. I keep an eye on things.
“I’m here to make a good impression and I’ll do whatever it takes to win a spot on the team.”
MacIntyre was in Florida’s lineup at Rexall Place on Sept. 25. He spent much of the night trying to goad Zack Stortini into a fight. Now, depending on what he shows in the next two pre-season games, he could end up tag-teaming with Stortini.
“I’m not here to pretend that I’m the toughest guy in the league, by any means because I’m sure as heck not,” he said. “There’s lot of guys tougher than I am, but I’ll go in and battle and do what I have to do and get my nose dirty.”
MacIntyre wore No. 33 with Providence – an ode to McSorley, a favourite when he was a youngster in Brock, about six hours outside Edmonton.
“It’s a dream come true, absolutely,” MacIntyre said. “I grew up watching the Oilers and Flames. My dad was a Flames fan, unfortunately. This is a great opportunity for me. Hopefully, I can crack the squad.”