White Towel: Enforcers now everywhere in the Northwest
New Oiler Mike Brown joins contingent of division’s tough guys
It was either lip service or the ultimate compliment.
The Toronto Maple Leafs showed Mike Brown the door last week, then left it open a crack.
When Brown became the latest addition to the suddenly tougher Northwest Division after being acquired by the Edmonton Oilers for a conditional draft choice — joining Brian McGrattan in Calgary, Tom Sestito in Vancouver and Mike Rupp in Minnesota — the feisty fourth-line winger left a favourable impression with his former employers.
The Maple Leafs didn’t rule out Brown being re-acquired at some point during his career by the resurgent NHL franchise.
Brown’s exit was expected with the improved play of enforcer Colton Orr, the waiver-wire claim of Fraser McLaren and opening a roster spot for the return of winger Matt Frattin. And those plaudits shouldn’t be unexpected, because Brown may have a leg up on his fourth-line peers.
A fourth-round draft pick by the Canucks in 2004, the Northbrook, Ill., native could always skate, agitate and contribute in some fashion. There was an obvious need for the Oilers to seek protection for their young and extremely talented forwards, but Brown believes today’s grinders are more geared toward playing smart while providing a physical presence.
He isn’t a heavyweight, but speed and smarts and a willingness to play the body caught the Oilers’ eye. With the Leafs this season, he had one assist and 70 penalty minutes in a dozen games, and missed eight games with an upper-body injury.
He also fought five times.
“I always had a strong and powerful stride — I was always quick,” the 27-year-old Brown said in a phone interview.
“In bantam, we went to the national championship and I won the fastest skater. It wasn’t as much about my puck handling, but I’ve worked on that over the years and I’m just trying to get better, and you have to work on your weaknesses every day.
“But speed is a good positive now, especially on the forecheck.”
The shortened season has placed a premium on line rotation and taking the heat off top alignments. And it’s not just fourth-liners playing as many as eight to 10 minutes; the last three Stanley Cup champions in Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago proved that their fourth lines could play significant roles and provide offence, too.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the lockout, but more of just that it’s a faster game and guys are getting better and smarter,” added Brown. “You need to give your top two lines a break and the only way to do that is to cycle through lines — being able to play every position and being reliable. To have your fourth line play eight to 10 minutes, it gives those guys a break from being double-shifted. You now see a lot of guys who are physical and can play.
“I play the same game no matter what team I’m on. With these guys bringing me in, I’m not looking too far into anything and the reason they brought me here is because I play that energy role and to be physical. They just wanted more of a presence and I’m not necessarily any kind of heavyweight. As for leaving Toronto, it was a little bit of everything. Obviously, you know when a team has to make a move. With too many bodies, there’s going to be a roster move and you never want to think that’s it’s going to be you. It wasn’t a shock. I wasn’t playing much and they had to do what they had to do. It didn’t really catch me too off-guard.”
The book on Brown is that he often handles the puck like a grenade because he had just 14 goals in 254 previous career games with Toronto, Anaheim and Vancouver before joining Edmonton.
But the thick 6-foot, 212-pounder can handle himself and has fought notable sluggers Brandon Prust, B.J. Crombeen, Zenon Konopka, Jim Vandermeer and new teammate Ben Eager.
And he has that menacing moustache that those young Oilers can’t hope to match.
“You look around this room and you see a lot of kids,” chuckled Brown. “It’s a highly skilled group and there’s a lot to learn, but I like the direction in which this team is heading. I’m glad to be a part of it.
“You’ve got to imagine that they got you because they need you and you take the positives out of it. I’m a big believer in you can’t look at the past or too far in the future. It’s what I can do here and now and contribute and be happy.”
QUICK NORTHWEST HITS
And then there were three again in Abbotsford.
The return of Miikka Kiprusoff from a knee injury and the waiver acquisition of Joey MacDonald means Danny Taylor joins Barry Brust and Leland Irving in a crowded crease.
“You never want a three-goal system,” said Irving recently. “It doesn’t work.”
They didn’t gain a point because of a last-minute 3-2 regulation loss in Chicago on Wednesday, but the Avalanche had a 3-1 lead in the third period and probably deserved a better fate.
Giant step in the right direction.
Winger Cal Clutterbuck returns after injuring his thigh from a Taylor Hall hit Feb. 21.
The Wild was also considering changing backup goaltenders and giving Matt Hackett — currently playing well in Houston — a shot.
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