Kickin' It Old School With Zenon Konopka

When you think about the Tampa Bay Lightning, it's more or less impossible not to think about the blizzard of deals that new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie engineered this offseason to help get the team off the mat and out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. ↵

↵On top of #1 overall pick Steve Stamkos, the Lightning also added free agent forwards Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Vaclav Prospal and Radim Vrbata, as well as trading for defensemen Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros. But while the Lightning may very well have put together the best top six forwards in the NHL, the name in camp who has caught my attention is another free agent center, Zenon Konopka. ↵

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↵If you're asking who that might be, I can't blame you. Konopka, who is already 27, went undrafted coming out of major junior, and didn't make his NHL debut until the 2005-06 season with the Anaheim Ducks. Though he played 23 games for Anaheim that season, he never made it back to the NHL with the club, eventually getting shipped to Columbus, where he appeared in a mere nine games over two seasons. ↵

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↵Still, he made the most of his time with Columbus, finding a way to get into a pair of fights in one night against Matt Walker and Barrett Jackman of St. Louis: ↵

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↵That meant that Konopka had to make his name in the minors with the team's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, where's he'd piled up 264 PIMs and 33 goals in roughly a full season's worth of work over the last two years. That combination of grit and (albeit minor league) goal-scoring was enough to earn Konopka a two-year two-way contract with the Lightning, where he's gone out of the way to make an impression with his fists. ↵

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↵Safe to say, Konopka knows full well why he's in camp, which is probably why he picked a fight with 6'5", 255 pound Evgeny Artyukhin -- something that left the big Russian admittedly perplexed. Later, Konopka would get into tussles with another 6'5" defenseman, Matt Samby, as well as veteran Shane O'Brien. One of those fights was started with Konopka unloaded a big hit on winger Vaclav Prospal in a scrimmage, something that led Konopka to promise that he would never hit franchise cornerstones Martin St. Louis or Vincent Lecavalier the same way. ↵

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↵But where Konopka really shined was Monday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, where the center got into not one, not two, but three fights, finally earning himself a game misconduct after tangling with Pittsburgh's Adam Henrich. With the three fights, Konopka shot into the lead for fighting majors this pre-season with four as compiled by our buddies at HockeyFights.com. ↵

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↵All the fighting has drawn the approval of new Lightning head coach Barry Melrose, who cited Konopka's play as an example of how the team's "big centers" are going to need to play if they want to stick with the team. ↵

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↵Now, does Konopka have a serious chance of sticking with a Lightning club that's more or less completely stacked up front? Probably not, but he is a shining example of why so many fans follow the NHL and worship players like Konopka. Sure, he's short on skill, but he makes up for it by playing a fearless style that fans can't get enough of. So when you hear the league talk about how offense is at the heart of reviving the game's popularity, think about Konopka, and how plain old blood and guts greases the gears in the game just as efficiently. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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