samedi 11 avril 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs recall Colton Orr, part of an endangered species, for one last swing in the NHL



source : nationalpost.com

The Toronto Maple Leafs share the Air Canada Centre with the Toronto Raptors, but a different kind of dinosaur was back roaming around the arena on Thursday morning.
Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 222 pounds, Colton Orr still refers to himself as a “role player.” There are other names for what he does: enforcer, fighter, goon. Of course, extinct might be the most appropriate way of describing his role these days.

The last time Orr played in the NHL was on April 12, 2014. Since then, a lot has changed in the hockey world. One-dimensional role players have become an endangered species as more and more teams have decided to fill the fourth lines with players who can skate and score rather than drop the gloves and fight.
And so, while the Leafs recalled the 33-year-old from the minors to play in the final game of the regular season against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday — a classy gesture by the organization — it was mainly so that both he and the NHL could say goodbye one last time.

“I’m not going to think like that,” said Orr, who has not decided whether he will retire after the season. “I’m going to enjoy my last game as a Leaf and try to have some fun.”

Does that mean he has one more fight in him? Maybe not. In 14 games with the Marlies this season, Orr had zero points and zero fights. Part of that is by choice. But even if he wanted to, there are few players around left to fight him.

Rich Lam/Getty Images
 
Rich Lam/Getty ImagesColton Orr is not the only victim of a new NHL. Tom Sestito, who led the league with 19 fights last year, has played three games with the Vancouver Canucks this season.

The heavyweights of the NHL, who were so prominent in the last two decades, have been forced out of the league, their knuckles dragging along the ground. And Toronto has largely led the revolution.

When Brian Bruke was hired as the Leafs general manager in November 2008, he promised to build a tougher team that had “proper measures of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.” Burke signed Orr to a four-year, US$4-million contract, making him one of the highest-paid enforcers, and filled out the rest of the roster with like-minded brawlers in Mike Brown, Jay Rosehill, Frazer McLaren and Mark Fraser.

Toronto led the NHL in fighting majors in 2012-13 and 2013-14. But it came at the cost of being a three-line team that typically faded in the second-half of the season. This year, the Leafs gave Orr’s roster spot to 5-foot-8 winger Brandon Kozun in hopes of creating a more balanced four-line attack.

“We threw all the cons on the table and just found that teams that are having more success are having deeper lineups,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis told the National Post in December.

The Leafs, who are tied for 19th with 24 fighting majors this season, have fought half the amount of times as they did last year. But the end result has been mostly the same. Toronto, which may not have been bullied off the ice physically, was certainly outworked and outplayed on most nights.

Having Orr in the lineup would not have changed that, although Horachek said, “I feel like sometimes we’ve missed that (physical presence).”

Orr is not the only victim of a new NHL. Tom Sestito, who led the league with 19 fights last year, has played three games with the Vancouver Canucks this season. Rich Clune (16 fights last year) and Jay Rosehill (10 fights) have spent all of this season in the minors, while Kevin Westgarth (six fights) is playing in Belfast and Krys Barch (13 fights) and George Parros (nine fights) have been without jobs.

Claus Andersen/Getty Images
 
Claus Andersen/Getty ImagesLast year, Colton Orr had no goals and no assists and averaged just five minutes and 23 seconds per game. On most nights, he spent more time in the penalty box than he did on the ice. It was a luxury that teams can no longer afford.

The game is changing. According to hockeyfights.com, the NHL is averaging .32 fights per game, down from .38 fights per game last season and a significant drop from .48 fights per game in
2012-13. The big change, however, is in the decrease of so-called “staged fights.” Only 44 games have featured more than one fight, which is 34 fewer than last season.

“I think a lot of the teams still have a physical presence,” said Leafs head coach Peter Horachek. “I think that the role of the singular heavyweight fighter is lessening and going away with a lot of the teams. But there’s still a lot of physical players that can play and it’s still a big part of the game.”
Indeed, players are still fighting. But that is not all they are doing.

Colorado’s Cody McLeod, who leads the league with 19 fights, also has six goals and 11 points. Vancouver’s Derek Dorsett (17 fights) has seven goals and 25 points, while Montreal’s Brandon Prust (16 fights) has 17 points and is averaging more than 13 minutes.

Last year, Orr had no goals and no assists and averaged just five minutes and 23 seconds per game. On most nights, he spent more time in the penalty box than he did on the ice. It was a luxury that teams can no longer afford.

“You seen a lot of it this year, a lot of guys get sent down,” said Orr, who scored 12 goals and 12 assists and had 1,186 penalty minutes in 476 career games. “It’s different, it’s changed a little bit. But I don’t think you’ve seen the end of it. I think there’s still a need for role players and guys looking out for teammates.

“It will be around for a little bit.”