Even the Big Bad Bruins know when to eject the enforcer
Something happened in Boston during the NHL offseason. Did you catch it? It was met with criticism and a degree of ire from Bruins’ fans. In a hockey city that prides itself on blue collar sports and the Big Bad Bruins moniker, letting Shawn Thornton walk and eventually sign with Florida, with no attempt at replacing the role of “enforcer” was a clear message; a message for Bruins’ fans and hockey fans alike; the culture has changed, and it has changed for the better.
The abysmal performance by the Bruins in last seasons Eastern Semifinals – in which the President’s Trophy winning Bruins were outplayed and outclassed by the Montreal Canadiens — led the B’s brass to a harsh reality. Fighting majors are a fun stat for fans in the midst of a pissing contest, but they don’t equal wins. And even the small role that fighting does play in the shifting of momentum of a particular game, does not need to be filled by an “enforcer”.
“But but…the Bruins won a cup by ‘bullying’ the Canucks. The Bruins won the President’s Trophy with the second most fights per game during the regular season!”, said fictional Bruins fan that I just made up to set up my next paragraph’s.
Let’s just throw some statistical facts out there to squash any evidentiary argument in favour of the “enforcer” you may have.
Winning is the bottom line and fighting has no direct impact on this. The Toronto Maple Leafs led the league in fights per game in each of the last two seasons. The Leafs have a winning percentage of 0.49 in that span. Chicago ranked 27th and 28th in fighting majors over the last two seasons. In fact, Toronto has three times the amount of fighting majors that the Blackhawks do since the 2012/13 season. Chicago also has 43 more points than Toronto does over the last two seasons.
Fights do not equal wins. But maybe they’re responsible for a shift in momentum?
There are two combatants during a fight. So whose team gets the momentum after the fight ends? The team of the player who won the fight? How do you win the fight? Punches landed? Knockdowns? Who’s judging? You’ll constantly hear hockey commentators champion a fighter whose team scores shortly after the fisticuffs. NESN’s B’s broadcaster, Jack Edwards — who I’m a fan of — is one of the worst offender’s. Here’s the thing, two players just fought. Doesn’t it stand the chance that one of the two teams involved might, you know, SCORE A GOAL afterwards? To credit the fight itself is simply a baseless attempt at grasping at a dying component of an otherwise thriving game.
The point has been made by plenty of “pundits” but it bears repeating, in the most important moments of the most high stakes games, what is the rarest of occurrences? You guessed it.
Sure, the LA Kings tied for the playoff lead in fighting majors on route to another Stanley Cup. But they only finished with four fights, and they all occurred in the first round against the San Jose Sharks. Which means the Sharks tied them for the league lead and subsequently didn’t make it out of the first round.
How did the Detroit Red Wings ever make it to back-to-back finals in 2008 and 2009 while at the bottom of the league in fighting majors? How on earth did they find the momentum necessary to overcome their opponents without an “enforcer”?
It’s not to say that having size and strength can’t win you games. Fighting and physicality does not go hand-in-hand. I would argue that the mere threat of being hit by a full speed Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara is far more intimidating than the threat of a potential fight. You have a choice not to fight – you don’t have a choice to be hit.
Fans may even argue that fighting eliminates the threat of the dreaded “cheap shot”. Of course, if you’re a Bruins fan, the shortest of memories will lead you to discover another baseless argument. Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, Marc Savard… all three of those players were (and are) on teams with “fighters” on them. Why didn’t it save them from nearly career ending “dirty hits”? And in Savard’s case, his career could not be saved by the simple presence of an “enforcer” teammate.
Of course there is the “eliminate the instigator rule” argument which can be heard weekly with access to CBC and Coach’s Corner. But now you’re talking about regression in a sport that’s come a long way over the last decade alone. You’re in favour of a hockey league in which there is a John Scott, Shawn Thornton and Colton Orr on every line. Not to pick on Thornton, but (this is a Bruins page) he averaged 8:47 of ice time per game last season. To his credit, he played more than John Scott (6:45) and Colton Orr (5:22), and on a much deeper team. Do you really want players that aren’t talented enough to play a regular fourth line shift on a bad team riding shotty and playing 20-plus minutes with the Crosby’s, Kane’s and Stamkos’s of the league?
Sure, the NHL “enforcer” still finds a home. But they have become few and far between.
The organization mandate has become increasingly clear — we would love ourselves a good fighter, but he better be able to play, as well.
That brings us back to Boston. Adam McQuaid, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara are three of the toughest players in the game today. And all three could arguably be a key contributor on any NHL team. The latter two, prominent contributors. Yet, search any Bruins message board and you’ll find a variation of a familiar cry:
“Who do we get to replace Thornton’s fighting majors?”
“Who do we get to take on John Scott so he doesn’t injure any of our guys again?”
In leu of an answer, I’ll make a statement: If you’re game planning around an opponent’s player who plays 10% of the game and averages 0.03 points, haven’t you already won?
Tags: Adam McQuaid Boston Bruins Buffalo Sabres Chicago Blackhawks Colton Orr Enforcer Florida Panthers Hockey Fights John Scott Los Angeles Kings Milan Lucic Montreal Canadiens NHL Shawn Thornton Toronto Maple Leafs Zdeno Chara