Is Kip a Keeper Because of the Reaper

By Tony Calfo
With the departure of Sean O’Donnell and Steve McKenna in the expansion draft, the Kings had a glaring need for some muscle. Enter 35-year-old Stu Grimson, who signed a one-year contract last week to patrol the ice for the Kings in 2000. While this is a great PR move and gives the Kings a season with one of the toughest forwards to ever lace them up, how much of a difference can Stu make? After all, enforcers have moved a lot this offseason and a low draft pick could have given the Kings players like Oliwa, Cote or any number of young thugs. Why Grimson? The reason is twofold- Kip Brennan and potentially Brian McGratten.
King fans watched players like Josef Stumpel and Ziggy Palffy miss games last season due to injuries that came from players taking liberties on the ice that a physical team would never let happen. While I applaud the Kings for signing Stu, the fact is that those injuries would have happened last season even if he were a King then. A player like Grimson is never on the ice with skill players like Ziggy and Josef. Even if he were to clobber an offender, the fact is the injury will still have occurred. The most effective enforcers in the “new” NHL will be the physical players who can take shifts on the top two lines and can create room for the skill players, like Edmonton typically did with Gretzky. The players who can make the transition from goon to skater are the types that can make room nowadays by patrolling the ice and get in the way of a few pucks giving the line some offense. Darren McCarty, Randy McKay and Chris Simon are the epitome of this new breed. These players can play on one of the top lines and while the prototype enforcer seldom even dresses in the postseason, their game is perfectly suited for the physical style of play in the playoffs. It is no coincidence that all three of these players have played in the last three Stanley Cups.

Having said that, what does Stu Grimson have to do with any of the aforementioned players? Grimson is not skilled enough to play on a top line, and he seldom vacates his patrol duties. If you watch Grimson take a shift, you will see that his primary focus is not the puck, but rather the ice and his teammates. There are not many better at that aspect of the game and while the days of the “goon” are numbered, the patrolman will always have a place in hockey.

The Kings have two physical forward in their system in Kip Brennan and Brian McGratten. Brennan and McGratten have put most of the focus on the physical sides of their games, but both have progressed offensively. Brennan is still learning the forward position and McGratten found a bit of a scoring touch following a trade this season. Make no mistake, neither of these players will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Lemieux and Gretzky, but the potential is there- coaching and hard work can help it evolve.

The role of Stu Grimson in this will be to teach these youngsters to patrol the ice. Both players will at least get a training camp with Grimson and Brennan may stick this season. Grimson possesses a lot of what this new enforcer needs- he is very articulate and smart and he seldom takes bad penalties (the playoffs a couple of years ago being an anomaly). Grimson also lives by the code of the enforcer- this makes his teammates safe from payback hits and cheap shots.

How much can a 35 year-old forward help the Kings system? The answer may in the amount of penalty minutes Brennan and McGratten don’t accumulate. If players stay away from our forwards, they are doing the job that Grimson is teaching them. After all, an ounce of prevention…