I think Gainey caved into the media and fan pressure to sign Laraque...the need for a 'legit' enforcer has been an issue with the Habs for years, so when Laraque was available, it was almost a no-brainer that he almost 'had' to sign him, especially given the fact that Laraque is from the area.
The problem was that, the Laraque who signed with the Habs in the offseason 2 summers ago, was not the same Laraque who we all remember from his days in Edmonton. Heavyweight fighters have a short shelf life and it was evident to ANYONE who watched the Penguins during the playoffs 2 years ago that Laraque had significantly slowed down. Fans from both the Pens & Coyotes fanbase warned many habs fans that while Laraque still had some use, he was not the same intimidating presence he was while in Edmonton.
Laraque has worn the crown of undisputed heavyweight for quite some time, which means that only a few who are looking to prove themselves will be willing to fight him and Laraque just doesn't have the skating ability anymore to command respect by playing physical. That's the issue, I personally didn't give a **** if Laraque didn't fight, what i wanted more of was him to play physical and when our best players got targeted, he went out and targeted the oppositions best players, not by going ape s**t and pummeling them without warning like many of you want, but by destroying them with heavy hits, putting them through the boards...but he simply doesn't have the ability (i.e. skating, stamina) to do that anymore
Habs fans wanted the Laraque of 6-7-8 years ago...and Gainey caved.
Gainey and his staff deserve some flak for this...but so do 95% of Habs fans. Be careful what you wish for...
Good analysis and I agree pretty much all of it. I have to admit I got sucked in as well. It was clear Laraque had lost some speed and wasn't as effective with the new rules and while I knew he wouldn't be in Edmonton from, I still really thought he could be at least an effective player. You look back though and in his prime he was a guy who didn't take bad penalties, played solid shifts where he hit people and controlled the boards and obviously dominated the heavys in the league. That imagine, coupled with the desire for some added toughness made it easy for most us to accept the move. Oh well, it didn't work out but now you move on. Hope Georges can get his career back on track and become a contributor again.
That being said, the bolded part is 100% correct and I hope it's lesson learned for Gainey and staff. Heavyweights have a very short shelf life and it's easy to get sucked in by past accomplishments. For example, many people could be lining up to get Shawn Thornton this offseason, but will he be as effective at 33+ (and possibly 1.0M cap hit) as he's been over the past 3 seasons?
It's always tough to say you should draft enforcers with limited upside given there are so few picks each year, but there are usually some overagers or 19 year olds that go undrafted that you can sign and develop. Last time we tried that was Jimmy Bonneau I think.
Off the top of my head I'd say Randy McNaught has emerged as a force in the WHL this year. 6'5 220+ with 19 fights this year and most of them victories. If guys like Abney are getting drafted I could see him getting picked this year since he's really emerged as a top HW, but either way it goes to show that there some guys out there you can draft/sign and develop rather than go for a 30+yo enforcer.
Originally Posted by 417
Please...stop buying into the propaganda. What the hell has Philly & the Leafs done with their big bad teams?
Skill and ability trumps ALL...2 years ago the Habs finished 1st in the East not cause they were big and bad, but because teams couldn't skate with them and the teams who tried to take liberties paid for it on the PP (which is the best form of retribution).
Habs have a skilled team, the more they play to this strength, the more success they will have. It almost seems like things started to go downhill for the habs 2 years ago when they thought that they had to stop playing with their skill and start playing with their fists.
The problem with the Habs is that they lack TEAM TOUGHNESS...they don't stand up for each other as much as other teams do.
I think it's a more complex debate than most people make it out to be. It's very easy to cherry-pick Toronto or point to Detroit in cases like this.
Watching a lot of Western Conference games, I'd say firstly that there is a significant difference in the style of play between the two conferences and in the West size and toughness are more important factors than they are in the East. Many WC teams seem to follow the top 6/bottom 6 build more closely than EC teams. Other than Detroit, most teams have significantly more size and toughness built into their lineups than their EC counterparts. (Generally speaking of course, Nashville and Detroit aren't huge and Philadelphia and Toronto are going for that size and toughness model.)
And even then, the myth of Detroit not caring about toughness has sort of gotten carried away. True they don't carry a heavyweight and post-lockout have consistently been in the bottom 5 in fights, but it's inaccurate to call them soft. Holmstrom and Franzen give their top 6 huge net presence and allow them to dominate the boards. Draper and Maltby aren't what they were in 2002, but they still bring work ethic and sandpaper to their bottom 6. Guys like Stuart, Kronwall and Ericsson can punish you on the backend.
But Detroit was ahead of the curve, as they've been since the late 80s when they realized Russians would be the next big thing in the NHL. They knew that they had the personnel to play a puck-possession style that would allow them to dictate the pace of games and they built their team around Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg. So while they do play a gave based on puck possession and talent which has brought them a lot of success, without world class players on both offence and defence, which so few teams have, it's very hard to mimic that style. That's why a lot of teams like Buffalo, Ottawa, NY Rangers etc...that originally went with mostly a pure speed/skill look in the post-lockout era have had to change tactics and go for a more balanced approach.
Finally the Habs. It's misleading to compare this edition of the Habs to the 07-08 one in order to link the idea of talent trumping. They finished first in 07-08 because their powerplay was dominant and their 5 on 5 play was solid. In GF and GA they were top half of the league at ES. Their speed, work ethic and puck control created a lot havoc in the opposing zone and helped them have the 5th most powerplays in the league. Many PP opportunities+dominant PPs=a very scary team in the regular season.
This year's team has more problems than simply team toughness. They are downright abysmal at ES. And because they don't have the size, speed or skill to play at ES, they don't generate any PP chances. They are dead last in ES goals and esg/g. They are dead last in PP opportunities. That does not, to me, indicate a "speed and skill" team. Coaching a passive style and having a slow defence with little puck moving ability doesn't help, but overall this team has far more problems than the endless, decade-long "are we tough enough???" debates.
I thought Laraque had a good playoffs with Pens, I noticed some shifts by their 4th line where he would be impossible to get off puck down low and lead to good chances. It was impressive. His back really fell to pieces over the course of 2 years.