The Enforcer: A Dinosaur in the New NHL?

When I was a kid, the Saturday night fights weren’t on the boxing channel. No, I saw better action watching Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Dave Schultz, and Joey Kocur mix it up on the ice.

In the Lightning era, who can forget Rudy Poeschek, Enrico Ciccone, and more recently, Zenon Konopka? What kind of future, though, does the traditional Enforcer have in the new NHL?

Do teams need to waste a roster spot on a one-man Goon Squad who can’t find the back of the net with a compass? Or should every player be expected to man-up and defend their teammates in the heat of battle?

Bolts fans will remember Vinny Lecavalier fighting Jarome Iginla during the ’04 Stanley Cup finals, but did Tampa Bay or Calgary really want to risk losing either one of them to an injury just to make a statement?

And while no one who appreciates great hockey wants to witness a thug taking out another team’s franchise player with a dirty hit to the head, fighting has been a part of the sport since its inception.

Let’s be clear now that headhunting and hockey fighting isn’t one and the same thing. And that’s why only 53% of the 237 NHLPA members who voted in a 2012 survey wanted to keep the instigator rule, down 13% from the year before.

Human nature is always going to make fighting a part of hockey. It’s just the way it is; you take advantage of our star player, you’re going to pay for it. Fights can also serve as a momentum-changer in a close game that’s not going your way. And, heck, if we’re getting humiliated 5-0 in the first period, I just might be in a crummy mood and want to take a whack at the first opposing jersey I see.

If I’m a coach, though, I don’t want a player who can’t do anything for my team except drop his gloves. What I want is a bench of highly intense players who will use their skills and passion for winning to do whatever it takes for sixty minutes and earn the two points. If a fight happens, so be it.

What do you think? Do teams need a designated thug as an insurance policy for their better players? Or does the no clutch, no-grab new NHL demand that teams discover better ways to settle their differences?

Tags: NHL Nhl Enforcers Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Paul Busch

    Any study of the facts will show that fights do not change momentum or protect players. Statistics show that when fights per game increase, the non-fighting related penalties also increase. It doesn’t discourage cheap shots, it has the opposite effect. Several studies have also shown that teams are less successful during the regular season or in the playoffs if they finish near the top in fights per game. I have published several of those studies on my website –

    Fighting exists today because it’s become ingrained in the NHL culture. Yes it’s been around since the league began but it really took hold during the 70′s and changed from an emotional outburst to a dedicated roster spot who looked for any opportunity to engage their counterpart on the other team. The history of how we got here can be found in this article –

    I have played and watched hockey for over 45 years and have never thought fighting was part of the game. It’s a sideshow that attracts fans to the sport for the wrong reason. Instead of focusing on the speed, the hard hitting and the artistry of the players, we have fans who only watch to see marginal players drop the gloves.

    • Tom McQueen

      That was really great insight and thanks for sharing your take on the topic. I appreciate you.

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