Newly signed Penguin forward Steve Downie had some strong words for the other 29 NHL teams in regards to their less-than-civil treatment of superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the past.
“I can guarantee there won’t be any liberties on those players this year,” Downie said.
Downie, 27, knows his role. He knows his job. And he knows why the Penguins inked him to a 1-year, $1-million deal.
NHL teams will do whatever it takes to get Crosby and Malkin off their game, especially in the playoffs. Sometimes that strategy includes crossing the line of sportsmanship (see NY Rangers defenseman Marc Staal cross-checking a defenseless Crosby in the back of the neck).
The Penguins hope Downie’s presence will act as a deterrent for such antics.
“Whatever team I’ve played on, I like to go out of my way to stick up for my teammates,” Downie said. “Every team needs a couple of guys like that.”
But Downie isn’t just in the protecting business. He’s also willing to stir the pot with the opposing team, something the Penguins have lacked since the free agent departure of Matt Cooke.
Downie has made a career of playing with an edge. That’s how he’s managed to accumulate 766 career penalty minutes in just 336 NHL games. And he’ll add a tough element to the Penguins’ bottom-6 forwards.
“I’m a physical player, I like to go in the areas most people shy away from. I pride my game on that,” Downie said. “I like to take the body. That’s just what I plan on bringing to the team and (I want to) help contribute as much as I can in any way possible.”
Downie will be reunited with Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet. The two were together in Tampa Bay during the 2009-10 season when Tocchet served as Lightning head coach.
Tocchet was very instrumental in Downie’s development, particularly at the beginning of his career. Downie enjoyed his best season under Tocchet, setting career highs in goals (22), assists (24), points (46) and penalty minutes (208).
“He really helped me progress in my younger career,” Downie said. “He really knows how to communicate with everybody. That’s what I like about ‘Toc.’ He communicates great and he’s a great teacher. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Downie suffered a concussion last season with Philadelphia and has suffered from hearing problems all his life due to a disease known as otoscelerosis. He had surgery to correct that in the offseason and says his health is peaking.
“I’ve had a couple rough years with the body, but I haven’t felt this good in a couple years, so I’m just excited about how my body is feeling and how I am mentally,” Downie said. “I’m preparing myself like I always do and I’ll be ready to go.”
And when it is time to go, he’ll be going to Pittsburgh.
“Obviously they’ve been one of the best teams, if not the best team, my whole career,” Downie said. “ When you get a chance to go to Pittsburgh, it’s pretty tough to turn that down.”