Enforced rules

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

Enforcers know when they sign up that their careers will only last as long as it takes a younger, stronger, cheaper 250-pound slugger to literally beat them out of a job.

What a lot of them didn't know until it was too late - or knew and couldn't do anything about - was that the newest and most serious threats to their livelihoods were old men in business suits and 180-pounders in striped shirts.

When the NHL returned from a year-long lockout with an armload of new rules and a solemn vow to call every one of them, the role of tough guy changed forever.

Some are struggling to adapt, evolve and avoid extinction, and some of the big T-Rex's that patrolled the ice all these years simply faded into the tar pits and were never seen again.

"I was questioning things at the start," said Anaheim winger Todd Fedoruk. "It was hard to get into scraps and you saw guys like Kip Brennan and Peter Worrell, Krzysztof Oliwa, who aren't in the league anymore. There was just no room for them."

It's no fun watching your league do everything it can to eliminate your position. And it's not easy to reinvent yourself while sitting on the bench watching power plays.

"I feel bad for the guys who lost their jobs," said Georges Laraque, who plays more than most heavies, but saw his ice cut to 6:15 from 9:21 last season.

"Because I know how hard the job is."

It's tougher now than it ever was, in an NHL that seems bent on keeping its dirtiest players free from retribution - with wrist slaps when they check somebody from behind, an instigator rule that keeps them off limits in a close game and fines and suspensions for players and coaches if a score is settled in the last five minutes of the third.

Try being a policeman when the league won't let you police.

"That's why I hate guys like Steve Ott and Tyson Nash or Sean Avery," said Laraque.

"Those guys are the ones most in favour of the instigator rule. In the old days players had to be responsible for what they did. Now they're all brave because they can hide behind that rule."

And the last of the beat cops are trying to get the job done with both hands tied behind their backs.

"You can't just grab guys and send them a message," said Fedoruk. "You can talk, get in their ear, make them think, let them know that you will do something if it comes down to it. And to do that you eventually have to take two, five and 10 for instigating and let them know you're not bluffing."

He isn't. Earlier this season, Fedoruk tried to scrap Denis Gauthier after the Phoenix defenceman took runs at several of Anaheim's best players. When Gauthier refused, Fedoruk gave his medicine to Petr Nedved instead, shelving him with a shoulder injury.

"I liked what he said afterward," said Columbus heavyweight Jody Shelley.

"He said, 'Nedved can thank Gauthier for that.' There's a message there and it's remembered. Our coach always said if you can't get someone to drop the gloves, then X@%$^$%# run someone else over. If you have a little agitator out there who wants to be a pest, that's the price the rest of his team has to pay."

Fedoruk, who served three games for the blindside hit, doesn't regret it a bit. Gauthier was traded to Philly at the deadline.

"The intention wasn't to hurt Nedved, but I sent a message to him, to their team, and to my teammates," said Fedoruk. "That I'll be there for you if things are getting out of hand."

How much longer tough guys will be there to dispense their justice is a matter of debate.

Some say they'll all be in the tarpits soon. Others say guys like Fedoruk, who can play as well as fight, are even more valuable now because frontier justice, or the threat of it, is a weapon most teams can't be without.

"Now you have to be a guy like Chris Simon or Tie Domi, who can chip in 15 points, play eight minutes and not be a liability," said Shelley.

"But teams still need that guy. Guys still need it in their mind that if they do something stupid they're going to get hurt.

"When you have a player like Georges in Edmonton, there's that respect. A guy will maybe go to the line, but not over it. It's one of those things where you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

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T'S TOP FIVE

AFTER A BIZARRE STRETCH IN WHICH HE GAVE THREE GAMES FOR BREAKING SOMEONE'S NECK AND ONE GAME FOR A THROAT SLASHING GESTURE, HERE ARE THE TOP 5 SUSPENSIONS COLIN CAMPBELL WOULD HAVE HANDED DOWN THROUGH HISTORY:

5 - Jack the Ripper: "It was more reaction than premeditation. $1,000 fine.

4 - John Wilkes Booth: "President Lincoln left himself in a vulnerable position. Two games."

3 - Charles Manson: "Were any Leafs hurt? No. Give him three games.''

2 - Lizzy Borden: "On a lot of those whacks she was just following through. One game.''

1 - Jason, from Friday the 13th: "Decapitation looks bad when you slow it down, but it was just a hockey play."

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T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

C - JASON SPEZZA (SENATORS): 7 points in his last 3 games. Keep it up and he'll be an Olympic candidate.

LW - JUSTIN WILLIAMS (HURRICANES): Picking up for injured Erik Cole with 9 points in last 7 games.

RW - JONATHAN CHEECHOO (SHARKS): 5 goals in 3 games, 8 points in 5. Playing with Joe Thornton is fun, isn't it?

LD - JAROSLAV SPACEK (OILERS): 4 points in last 2 games. Playing with Chris Pronger is fun, isn't it?

RD - TEPPO NUMMINEM (SABRES): Hello, Numminen. Carries the mail for Buffalo with 6 points and a plus-5.

G - TOMAS VOKOUN (PREDATORS): Posted 2 shutouts last week - that's a good year for some goalies we know.

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T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"If he gets hit, he gets up and keeps playing. Not like that other rookie who starts crying.''

-- Sens' Daniel Alfredsson on Alexander Ovechkin ... and Sidney Crosby


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