By Georges, Sens tough enough

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Mediaa

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Are the Ottawa Senators tough enough?

Plenty, says the player generally regarded as the NHL's heavyweight champion.

Big Georges Laraque knows for a fact a number of teams were interested in acquiring his services prior to the NHL trade deadline and -- because of a reluctance to "throw guys under the bus" he'll only confirm the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins were still pitching to the Phoenix Coyotes at the "last hour" -- he says the Senators were never in the running.

"Why would they?" Laraque, an extremely imposing, 6-foot-3, 245-pounder, told the Sun after yesterday's morning skate. "Chris Neil does a great job here. And with (Brian) McGrattan .... those two guys, one-two, are perfect for this team."

McGrattan, who has suited up for just two of Ottawa's last 15 games, was commended by Laraque for the job he did when stepping in to the middle of a late-February, home-and-home series with the Buffalo Sabres that turned nasty.

The Ottawa enforcer fought Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters at the end of a long shift and, after absorbing a hard right early on, McGrattan came back to win the scrap.

Senators players were more than impressed by the performance of the guy they affectionately refer to as "Big Ern."

"McGrattan plays some games, maybe not as much towards the end of the season, but he's a big factor in the beginning of the season when things are really rough," said Laraque. "Maybe his role is not as important now, but he's the reason Chris Neil is having a good season ... because Chris Neil does not have to worry about the big heavyweights. McGrattan worries about that. Chris Neil can just play hockey. If McGrattan is not there, Chris Neil does not have nearly as many points.

"Some people don't understand that. McGrattan takes on the toughest guys in the league. For him to come in and do the job he does in the regular season, you've got to give him a lot of respect. He gave that team and Neil a lot of room. You don't understand. The way Neil runs around and plays and stuff, it's because of McGrattan. If McGrattan is not there, Neil has to answer the bell himself all the time. He's not going to be able to play like that.

"Neil should give a cut of his contract to McGrattan. To get him to do the dirty job, and Neil can go out and play ... they've got the best of both worlds."

Laraque spent eight seasons with the Edmonton Oilers before signing a $1-million-plus free agent contract with the Coyotes last summer. After he was dealt to Pittsburgh, he made it clear he was still bitter with the Oilers for not recognizing his worth. Laraque reminded the Edmonton Sun that the six concussions suffered by the Oilers' skilled players this season were the result of hits from "legitimate tough guys" and not just physical players.

"(Not having a policeman) makes a big difference," he said then. "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."

By letting him go, Laraque said the Oilers "took a gamble and lost." Yesterday, however, he downplayed the reputation he brings to the Penguins as the game's top fighter.

"People talk to me about fighting all the time, but to be honest with you, I do it because it's my job," he said. "I'm not one of those guys that get revved up about it ... I do it because it's my job, not because I like it. It's not in my nature. But if you're going to do it, you might as well be good at it. You don't want to get hurt.

NO BELL IN HOCKEY FIGHTS

"In (hockey) fighting, there's no bell. There's only a bell in boxing and the (WWE). So, in the NHL, being counted as the best doesn't do anything for you. It makes guys go after you more. I'd rather someone else have the title so people would go after him to try to get it, than me. It's not an honour. I'd rather score goals and be a big factor in the playoffs than having that reputation. As long as you do your job well, whether you're the best at it or not, you still have a job to do, right? It really doesn't about that reputation. I don't want that honour. It's not an honour. It's really not who I am.

"Yeah, you do get extra room, I don't deny that. You do," he added. "But when people ask me if I consider myself the top, or whatever, really, this is something I don't care about. As long as I get room, my teammates get room, I do my job well ... that's all I want. In terms of who's the best or whatever, that's the least important thing of the job."


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