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Ulmer: Looking at the Dynamics Of Two Players

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Two men, two corners.

Darcy Tucker, once one of the most reckless players in the NHL, is in one. The New York Islanders’ Chris Simon, the thug’s thug, is in another.

Both are men who must play a game that is barely under control, with the emphasis on barely.

So far this season, neither has.

Once, there wasn’t all that much difference between Darcy Tucker and Chris Simon. Simon was bigger, he fought more often and racked up more penalty minutes. But he wasn’t afraid to turn a game around any way he could. The seven suspensions he earned before buying a 30-gamer this week, is proof enough of that.

Tucker has shuffled his brogues across on the carpet at NHL headquarters. He attacked the Ottawa Senators bench in 2003 and got five games. He left his feet to hammer Sergei Gonchar in 2002 and got two games. He went unpenalized for what many will view as the charge of charges: the hit that separated the luckless Sami Kapanen from his consciousness in the final moments of the Leafs last playoff game in 2004.

Along the way Tucker carped, dove, cussed and antagonized. He was a spectacular pain in the butt, and wholly loved in Toronto because of it. He could stand outside the rules, or the existing code of the day, and change the direction of the game.

Tucker spoke about his maturation in the wake of his dust-up with the Rangers’ Sean Avery who has spent a career ungoverned by the players’ code.

“I think I’ve learned from my mistakes over the years and I’ve made a conscious effort to try to be better and not take it over the line,” Tucker said.

And he has. You hit your early thirties and you lose your taste for acting outside the pack. You don’t want to invoke the censure that comes with it, even if your rebellion was what defined you. You’re not fighting for something new. You just want to keep what you have.

You can talk about a knee injury that cost him seven games, but I think there is more to Tucker’s three-goal-season than that.

Darcy Tucker wants to win as badly as anyone I’ve ever met I think he wants to make a difference as much as any player in the Leafs dressing room.

 I’m just not sure he knows how anymore.

After a 24-goal season last year that featured 15 power play goals, opponents took notice of his habit of stationing himself low for one-timers. The Leafs power play, not coincidentally, has since stalled.

Tucker has made the transition from pest to sniper. Now the goals aren’t coming and he has renounced his chippy ways. So you tell me, what does that leave?

Tucker didn’t have a shot as the Leafs lost 3-2 in Carolina, Tuesday. His last goal came eight games ago.

I would still take one Darcy Tucker over a million Chris Simons. You know a man is past help when he breaks his own record for length of a suspension.

Simon is a good man and a profoundly troubled one. But his character isn’t why the Islanders re-upped him this season. They took him on because he was scary and his presence seeped into every game no matter how much he played.

They kept him not because of the good, but because of the bad and if they take him back after his 30-game expulsion, that will be why.

Chris Simon has shamed himself and the game. Darcy Tucker went the truer away.

Who knew you could lose your path by going the right way?
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