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‘No Half Measures,’ Enforcer Explains Penguins Need for Toughness vs. ‘Tom Wilson Factor’

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Tom Wilson

The Metropolitan Division reacted to one apparently immutable factor, which has changed the philosophy and trajectory of at least one other team in the division. The Washington Capitals and the Tom Wilson factor shoved the New York Rangers into desperate acquisitions of toughness, including a self-proclaimed sheriff. The New York Islanders are tough, the Philadelphia Flyers got much tougher, and the Pittsburgh Penguins hope to add 6-foot-6 Brian Boyle.

The Penguins President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke believes in tough hockey, though the Penguins roster has not yet added heavy sandpaper to the lineup.

PHN spoke with former NHL player and tough guy Stu Grimson about the state of the game’s seeming lurch back to toughness. According to Hockey Fights, Grimson had 12 fights against famed pugilist and talented player Bob Probert, the most either player had against any other. He played in the salad days of skill and toughness when the toughest players like Probert, Grimson, and Marty McSorely skated in the same league as all-time greats Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.

You may remember Grimson from Chicago in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins. Since his playing days ended, 6-foot-5 Grimson became a lawyer.

Imagine arguing briefs against him, eh?

As the Metro Division has lurched towards the physical and the added guys who can drop the gloves, we needed an inside point of view from someone whose job it was to calm the waters. And there were few better than Grimson.

One player–Tom Wilson–has arced the trajectory of the entire division, especially following his treatment of the New York Rangers. That’s impressive, even for the premier pot-stir Tom Wilson.

“If you’re a club like the New York Rangers where you don’t really dress a physical, imposing team before the Tom Wilson incident with Panarin last year,” Grimson began. “And you see the downside of that– is that guys like Wilson don’t believe they’re going to be held accountable, and they take liberties they may not otherwise take.”

Accountability. Put a pin in that word for the next eight months.

Frontier justice isn’t necessarily exacting revenge to feel better, but the threat of being accountable deters all of us, right? It also sends a message to your own team too.

“I think it’s incumbent upon (the GM), number one, to be competitive. Number two, to demonstrate to Panarin’s on your roster–Hey, we realize there’s a shortcoming here in our makeup. We’re going to address that, and you’re going to be in a situation where you can play with the peace of mind that a Wilson-Panarin incident isn’t going to happen at some point in the future.”

One of the most contentious issues in the Pittsburgh Penguins fanbase, besides Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin’s futures, is the role of truculence in the game. It surely seems to be changing, but even a year ago, the Penguins blogosphere–and by extension the fans–would howl at the suggestion the Penguins needed more toughness.

Just play, right? Grimson praised the Penguins’ ability, to a point.

Now, guys like Malkin and Crosby and Guentzel… they tend to be a group where they’re able to play through the heavy going, the heavy fog, just because they’ve got that mindset, that skill set,” Grimson said. “I could probably point to a handful at clubs and say on any given night if you play the game like you’re going to run these guys out of the building, you’ve probably increased your odds of winning on this particular night by 20, 25, maybe, maybe 40%.”

Though the former NHL tough guy turned legal eagle conceded there is a limit to “just play.”

It seems Pittsburgh Penguins fans have been waiting for toughness this summer. Perhaps watching Wilson become a one-man wrecking crew against the Rangers last season, or watching the New York Islanders grind the Penguins to flower, swung the pendulum, even though Mike Sullivan quickly dismissed any notions the Penguins lost to New York in Round One because of physicality.

Grimson expects the Penguins’ moves on the NHL trade market for tough players to begin as soon as it’s feasible.

“(Burke) and I see the world and probably see the game in the very same way. And the fact that he hasn’t made a deal to this point to address that piece on his roster is because the right deal hasn’t come along…” Grimson told us. “I think for guys like Burkie, if you’re going to go out and get somebody like that–this is this has been an age old adage in the sport–if you feel like you need to go out and get a lion, you may as well get the biggest, meanest cat in all the jungle.

You know, there’s no point going half measures on all that. So my point is, I’m sure Burkie is working to address that.”

We chatted with Grimson before the Penguins signed Boyle. However, it can be argued the Penguins management team with Burke and GM Ron Hextall have not yet addressed physicality in a meaningful way since Boyle is only a PTO. His lineup position would be tenuous once the Penguins are fully healthy.

Training camp will begin in about two weeks, so GM Ron Hextall and From the inside, what does a player like Wilson mean to the Capitals game plan, and the Penguins game plan against him?

Physicality. Accountability. Pushback. They matter, even to a team with a strong mindset to sidestep the ugliness. Sometimes, it’s forced upon a team like what Wilson did to New York.

Not only does a player like Wilson, or Reaves, have an effect, not having a counter-balance has an effect, too.

The Penguins may or may not have a response in their lineup. Former Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak would count as a half measure, as the big defenseman wasn’t naturally a bruiser but gave it his best shot. Oleksiak tried to respond to Wilson in Dec. 2018, was concussed in the fight, and traded back to the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round pick by February.

The only potential measure the Penguins may have on their regular-season roster is 6-foot-6, 245-pound Brian Boyle, who will attend Penguins camp on a PTO. Even if Boyle lands on the Penguins roster, he’ll have difficulty sticking around when everyone is healthy.

The Penguins may not have any measures without Boyle.

“It’s still an interesting question to wrestle with within our sport,” Grimson concluded. “I think it kind of depends, you know, who you are, what your division looks like, who you see on a regular basis, where your rivals are.”

Matt Martin (NYI), Samuel Morin (PHI), Wilson (WSH), and Reaves (NYR) are players who are legitimate heavyweights when the gloves hit the ice. The Philadelphia Flyers got tougher–a lot tougher to play against–since last season when they folded at mid-season.

That’s where the Pittsburgh Penguins rivals are. It’s their move, or we’re going to hear a lot of “Just play.”

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Simon Hargus
Simon Hargus
2 months ago

I think the Caps will regret it this season. Wilson is on their first line, they don’t need him losing big minutes every game if he’s always out from a fight. A coach will take a 4th liner get out if it means Wilson out every time. And i thin that’s gonna be the strategy this season. Equal minutes out but it’ll hurt the Caps the most out of the other teams.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

I can’t wait for next week’s Tom Wilson article. They keep getting better and better! This one had a lawyer. If you ask him out on a date, the worst that can happen is he says no.

Sarcasm aside, Tom Wilson is garbage and shouldn’t be in the league. That would be the best solution to this problem. Not having more non hockey players trying to “play hockey”. So uncivilized

Donny
Donny
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Wilson is actually a pretty good player. It is the anticipation of the worst of Tom Wilson that casts a long shadow over the league and this division in particular. If the league had any integrity, they would have given the Goony Tom Wilson a lengthy suspension for the Panarin incident among others. Many others. But the guy can also play within the rules at times. It’s the league’s fault that goons are allowed to be goons first and foremost. Agreed that Goony Tom Wilson is garbage, and agreed that such behavior should not be tolerated in the League. But… Read more »

Iwasiam
Iwasiam
2 months ago

Just Play!!….means “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE”!!!

Katz
Katz (@paul)
2 months ago

It’s their move, or we’re going to hear a lot of “Just play.” You got your answer at the trade deadline in 2018 when Sullivan forced Rutherford to move Reaves. The 2nd Round loss didn’t alter Sullivan’s dogma. You got another answer in the Islanders sweep. Next you got another answer with the Montreal sweep. And finally another answer going into the next aisle series loss. They only acquired Carter . Now they lost Tanev and gained , drum roll please, ……. Domineeek Seeemone!!! I sense if this team does not address this glaring void and they miss or prematurely… Read more »

jack burton
jack burton
2 months ago

If I didn’t know better I would think the NHL enjoys and condones thuggery. Troglodyte Tom is a one man Department of Player Unsafety. What he did to Panarin could have easily ended up with manslaughter charges if Artemi’s head hit the ice first instead of his shoulder. That is just one of many incidents were Voldemort has intentionally tried to injure someone. What was the result? A small fine. It is a shame that the whole division and league is focused on this POS. So the upcoming season will be an endless series of Hatfield and McCoys violence with… Read more »

Rob
Rob
2 months ago
Reply to  jack burton

It’s an overreaction. As much as I would have LOVED to see someone on the Penguins fold that gorilla Matt Martin in half, would the pens have won that series if that happened? NO!! Did Martin lead the Isles to the cup? NO! Did Tom Wilson lead the Caps to the cup? NO!! Hockey is about scoring goals and keeping them out of your own net. None of these players had an impact in either of those areas.

Rob
Rob
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

You can beat people up all the live long day, but i have never seen any team punch their way to the Stanley Cup.

Rick
Rick
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

It may have been a while, but actually Rob, teams have beaten their way not only to the Finals but to hoist the Cup. Don’t know if you go back long enough but in my mind the Paragon’s of pugilism were the Flyers. Look back to the 1973 – 74 and 1974 – 75 Flyers – they epitomized the punch your way to a Championship. In fact, check out what Bobby Clarke of those same Phillie Flyers did to Russian Super Star Valeri Kharlamov to win game 6 of that Canada – Soviet Union 1972 Summit series

Rob
Rob
2 months ago
Reply to  Rick

That was way before my time! Lol I stand corrected. No one has punched their way to the cup recently

Stephen Powanda
Stephen Powanda (@pozone)
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

I did Dave Schultz and Bob Kelly in 1974 and 1975.with the Flyers.

Jake
Jake
2 months ago

why do people think boyle is tough, he’s not he’s just big…he’s had a few fights…he’s not even that good of a fighter.

Ken Colligan
Ken Colligan
2 months ago
Reply to  Jake

Gutsy guy. Awful fighter.

Frank
Frank
2 months ago

Well now that Stu Grimson has weighed in then . .. it is all settled. When he played he was essentially a knuckle dragging thug. Aside from amassing penalty minutes he did nothing remotely close to playing hockey. He had no choice. He HAD to mug the opposition or he would have been off to other things. I find it hilarious that he is a lawyer/attorney. I think a psychologist would have a field day with that analysis. And no surprise he and “Burkie” are of a like mind. At least Grimson was on the ice doing what was expected.… Read more »

Rick
Rick
2 months ago

Interesting that you mention Oleksiak. As big as he is, I agree, he really is a second tier pugilist. However, remember, that team could have gone against Wilson sporting not only Oleksiak but Reaves (as you mention a true heavyweight), if not for the allergy our Penguins seem to have to toughness and grit. Oleksiak could have been Reaves’ Robin.

In a different line of toughness, that team could have also had Cole.

Mike
Mike
2 months ago

Sign Chara for the league minimum and have him play division games and a few others. Problem solved.

Tony C
Tony C
2 months ago

Regarding the statement: “if you play the game like you’re going to run these guys out of the building, you’ve probably increased your odds of winning on this particular night by 20, 25, maybe, maybe 40%.” Where exactly, or even approximately is the evidence for this?  Several teams tried this approach against the Pens in 2016 and 2017. What the “run these guys out of the building approach” usually amounts to.. is taking bad penalites… and causing your team a loss.   Asking a pugilist if pugilism is important… is a bit like asking a pacifist if pacifism is important. Hardly informative, let… Read more »

T.J. Bunner
T.J. Bunner
2 months ago

Sorry, but Brian Boyle has never been a fighter or even a player that any other team fears. He’s a large man, tough in front of the net, but has never been the most physical of players.

TomWilsonsMomRaisedaPunk
TomWilsonsMomRaisedaPunk
2 months ago

Non hockey fan here. Tom Wilson is a punk and I told his momma that-anyone can easily find her on linkedin.

Ken Colligan
Ken Colligan
2 months ago

The problem with “ Just Play “ is that eventually you can’t.

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