Some say that old time hockey is dead, but the idea behind an enforcer is still alive and well. When Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford signed Steve Downie to a one-year deal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could finally breathe easy. With Downie in the lineup, the Penguins’ superstars will be able to focus strictly on their game and know that if they are targeted by an opposing player there will be consequences.
Last year the Penguins lacked toughness, and their soft play was a big reason why they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Rangers. The 27-year-0ld Downie knows his new role with the Penguins and has vowed to make sure that Crosby and Malkin will be protected.
“I can guarantee there won’t be any liberties on those players this year,” Downie said Monday.
When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup is 2009, they had plenty of players who could play physical. On a roster that included Maxime Talbot, Matt Cooke and Hal Gill, Crosby and Malkin combined for 67 points in only 24 playoff games. If the Penguins are going to return to the Stanley Cup Finals, Crosby and Malkin need to be at their best once again. Downie’s addition is a large step at aiding that process.
Downie has already accumulated 766 penalty minutes in only 336 NHL games and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas of the ice, which is something the Penguins rarely did last postseason. He adds a dangerous element to the bottom-six forwards for the Penguins and can also produce some timely scoring.
Add in that Downie is reunited with Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet, and there’s no doubt that he’s a perfect fit in Pittsburgh. Under Tocchet, Downie set career highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) back in 2009-10 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Downie’s rare combination of grit and skill will make him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh and adds an element of toughness that has been lost with the Penguins since the departure of Cooke in 2013.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow.