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With signing of Jordin Tootoo, Blackhawks bring in a heavy hitter

Jordin Tootoo was back on the ice for Game 5 of Nashville's 2010 playoff series against the Blackhawks despite having 45 stitches near his left eye after he was hit by a puck the previous game. (Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

The Blackhawks have been lauded for building their organization on speed and skill, rather than brawn and bruising hits, but hockey, at last glance, is still hockey. Thus, Jordin Tootoo.

The Hawks have signed the tough guy to a one-year contract. Tootoo isn’t Andrew Shaw, the on-ice antagonist whom the Hawks shipped to Montreal in a salary cap move. He lacks Shaw’s offensive productivity. But where Shaw was a nuisance, Tootoo is a menace. He’s a fighter, having dropped the gloves 86 times in his career and amassed 982 penalty minutes.

Hockey is probably the only sport in which penalties are looked upon positively, at least as they pertain to enforcers. General managers take notice when a minor-league player leads the team or league in penalty minutes. It means he’s fighting. It means he’s sticking up for his teammates.

To many of you, it means that hockey is one messed-up sport. And some of you thought the Hawks were above this sort of thing. The Tootoo signing has been framed as the team’s attempt to add to depth to its roster. Just know that the Hawks had plenty of options through free agency but chose the guy with the clenched fist. That’s not coincidence.

Hockey still has a place for players who keep the peace with their dukes up, as contradictory as it sounds. That doesn’t bother me as much as it does others. The NHL refuses to get rid of fighting, even with the heightened focus on concussions. That refusal means teams have to respond accordingly. So perhaps Tootoo’s signing indeed is about having more competition for the Hawks’ bottom-six forward spots. More likely it’s about adding toughness to a team that gets outhit regularly.

One of these days, an opponent is going to think about making a run at Patrick Kane. Maybe Tootoo’s presence will make him think twice.