“With his physical play
and determination, we are convinced that he will add valuable energy to our
group of players.” – Bob Gainey on signing Georges Laraque, July 3rd,
2008 Press release.
frustration of having Georges Laraque on the Injured Reserve through training
camp and the start of the regular season was offset by the anticipation of his
debut in the lineup. Now Georges Laraque is set to return again, this time from
his 3rd stint on the IR, and the anticipation has turned into
ambivalence for most. What happened?
toughness, the hulking 6’3” enforcer was considered a key free agent signing by
Canadiens General Manager Bob Gainey. After being out-muscled by the Flyers in
last season’s playoffs, the need for ruggedness on the roster was readily
apparent, and the signing of Laraque was a clear message that the Habs
would not be pushed around again. Not only that, but with 148
points in 634 games, Georges was also considered to be
a serviceable hockey player.
years of age, none but the most delusional of fans expected Laraque to post a
career high in points. But no one expected him to post a career low either.
Currently at 0.11 points per game, Georges hasn’t made as little a mark on the
score sheet since his first season in the NHL.
ignore the goals and assists (or the lack of goals and assists) and focus on the
toughness. Currently sitting at 29 PIM, he has five fighting majors and
25 hits in just 17 games. At first glance, these seem like fine numbers for the
amount of icetime he’s seen, but sometimes you have to look past the statistics.
For me, the defining moment
in Georges Laraque’s season so far came in the November 22nd, 2008
game against Boston. In the teams’ previous meeting, the Habs had been
embarrassed, finishing 6 – 1 on the scoresheet, and losing All-Star defenceman,
Mike Komisarek, for a month with a shoulder injury suffered in a scrap with
Milan Lucic. This time, a physical message needed to be sent, and Georges
Laraque was expected to deliver it.
Laraque spent the first half
of the game shadowing Lucic, inviting him to fight. The key word there is
“inviting.” At no point did Laraque do anything to agitate or provoke the
Bruins. Instead, Georges spent the entire game cordially asking their players to
a charming bout of fisticuffs – a request every Bruin gracefully declined. Some
people call this classy. I call it ineffective.
Georges Laraque has the
reputation as the toughest player in the game. Sports Illustrated named him the
#1 enforcer of 2007-08. In a
recent blog on sportsnet.ca, Georges himself admitted, “the tougher you are,
the less you have to fight.” At this point in time in hockey, where even clean
hits on star players can result in immediate retaliation, Laraque has done very
little to initiate fights aside from passive provocation. Georges needs to start
forcing the hand (so to speak) of opposing players with hard checks, devastating
hits, and body contact so rough it borders on criminal.
So why hasn’t he done so? Why
are his hits so trepid? Simply put, after starting the season injured and being
rushed back every time, Laraque hasn’t been able to skate well enough to set up
for the good hit.
So now Georges Laraque is
coming off the IR for the third time. Every time he’s been rushed back at less
than 100%, he has been mostly unsuccessful in his duty, and then inevitably been
re-injured. Let’s all hope that this time he’s coming back in full health.
Because if he isn’t, we’ll be looking at the same blundering, “bear-on-skates”
routine we’ve been seeing all season. With 100% health comes better skating, and
with better skating comes better hockey. Then Georges Laraque can finally start
to meet expectations.