Haymakers from Georges

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

On a day when Edmonton Oilers management was already taking serious lumps in the wake of Ryan Smyth's trade, Georges Laraque threw a few verbal haymakers of his own.

Discarded by the Oilers last summer when the team decided enforcers were no longer necessary in the new NHL, Laraque pointed to all the injured Oilers they've been scraping off the ice in his absence, and the fact that the most exciting team in the NHL wants him badly, and figured it was time to laugh last.

"Look at all the concussions the Oilers have had this year," the NHL's heavyweight champion said in the lobby of his Edmonton hotel after being traded from Phoenix to Pittsburgh. "And they were from tough guys, not just physical players, but legitimate tough guys, taking advantage of their skilled players.

"(Not having a policeman) makes a big difference. That's why, as much as people say you don't need it anymore, the Oilers are the biggest example of how much you need a tough guy."

Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll, Fernando Pisani, Joffrey Lupul and rookie defenceman Tom Gilbert have all been lost to concussions this season. Rookie defenceman Ladislav Smid limped off the ice Sunday in Minnesota after Derek Boogaard stuck a knee out on him.

You survey the damage, in the past and the potential for more in the future, and wonder if the $1 million a year, no-trade contract that split him and the Oilers might have been a wise investment.

"All you have to do is take a look at what the Oilers are going through this year," said the six-foot-three, 245 pounder. "You can see (letting him go) was obviously a mistake. They took a gamble and lost."

He says current Oilers have admitted as much, privately, anyway.

"Guys on the team have told me. You don't know what you have until it's gone. I mean, why would you want to be a team in this division without having a guy who can respond to Boogaard?"

Laraque believes it's more than just a case of opposition tough guys sticking out their chests because there's nobody here to stop them - he thinks they're making a point of punishing Edmonton for its stance on enforcers.

"The worst thing the Oilers could have done was to say you don't need tough guys in the NHL anymore. That was like hanging a big bulls-eye on the team.

"All those tough guys are saying, 'Oh yeah, you're trying to get rid of our jobs? We're going to show you how much you need a tough guy.' And they play Edmonton even harder.

"You look at what's going on there. If Edmonton doesn't lose all those (injured) players, they make the playoffs this year."

Laraque's feud with Edmonton's brass runs so deeply that he came within a whisker of going to the Calgary Flames out of spite.

"Calgary was very attractive," said Laraque, whose no-trade deal in Phoenix allowed him to pick his destination.

"Not really liking the way things ended in Edmonton, the best place to go would have been Calgary, definitely." Laraque spent part of Monday night's Calgary-Phoenix game talking with GM Darryl Sutter.

"It was closer than a lot of people thought," said Laraque. "For a while, in my head, I said I was going. I was really fantasizing about wearing Flames red and coming to Edmonton and showing the people who thought the Oilers made a good move by getting rid of me."

But the opportunity to ride shotgun for Sidney Crosby is too good to pass up. This is Dave Semenko and Wayne Gretzky II.

"That's pretty much how you can compare it," he said. "When the Great One called me to come to Phoenix I couldn't turn that down. Well, this is another Great One, who's playing right now."


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