The Enforcer Debate

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In recent years the NHL has made significant strides to protect it’s players through rule changes and increased suspension time.  Suspensions are getting longer every year, and new rules this year include players being forbidden from removing their own helmets during a fight, which they’ve already figured out as seen here.  Looks silly doesn’t it?  Like they’re politely removing each others helmets over tea before they punch each other in the face!

The disciplinary committee will be busy today after watching last night’s brawl between the Sabres and Leafs (click to watch), and the travesty of it all will be David Clarkson (who barely got into it) will almost certainly receive the longest suspension of everyone for leaving the bench.  Watch that video a couple of times and it seems pretty obvious the entire event was ignited by another player coming off the bench, he just did it during a shift change.  Take a quick look at the opening of the video and it’s pretty clear that John Scott, a giant at 6’8″, 270 lbs, was sent out with the clear intention to beat up somebody on the Leafs.  I don’t think it mattered who it was, but the fact that it ended up being Phil Kessel, who at that point had more goals in the game than Scott has had in his career brings the enforcer question to the forefront.  And so the question begs to be asked, if everyone knows that John Scott is nothing but an enforcer sent out to fight, shouldn’t the brunt of the blame and penalty fall on the coach and organization?

Shouldn’t Ron Rolston receive equal if not more punishment than David Clarkson?

As Damien Cox so profoundly pointed out here, hockey was not the only physical game being played yesterday, but where the old guard agree that hockey players need to be tough and also protected, others sports like football or rugby view fighting as a lack of toughness.  There are no offensive linemen who can’t block, run or tackle, but are instead sent out on the field to literally beat up the quarterback.  It would be ridiculous.  So why do we tolerate the same role in the culture of hockey?

The fighting debate in hockey has been going on for a long time and has many advocates with good points on both sides. However, there really is no debate as to whether enforcers should be allowed to exist in the league.  700 of the worlds most skilled hockey players should not have to worry about some angry giant like John Scott taking exception with one of their super stars.  If players aren’t able to compete on a regular shift throughout the game they should not be allowed to dress at all.  There are plenty of skilled players in the minors that can fill that 4th line position without losing any toughness or having a bench warmer take up space.  If the NHL really wants to stop incidents like last nights brawl, the first step has to be to penalize the coaches and organization who dress their enforcers.

Please share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree as I’d love to get some feedback on this issue.

Graydon Crowley

Canadian Hockey Enterprises

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2 thoughts on “The Enforcer Debate

  1. In the old days of course, star players took care of business themselves. Greats like Howe or Richard did not need on ice “bodyguards”. Not sure when this current enforcer system began, but Gretzky was seldom on the ice without one. And now every team feels the need to have some muscle to protect their star players. Why the Habs picked up Parros. So Prust wouldn’t have to carry the load by himself as he did last year, with a smallish quick team that got knocked around pretty good. And my guess is GM’s cringe at the thought of their high priced talent dropping the gloves. Things are certainly better than some years ago when the standard joke was “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”; but fighting will remain a component of NHL games until the league outlaws the practice altogether. Unlikely since it gets the fans going.

    • I hear ya Roley! Did you hear how loud the arena was during the brawl? It’s definitely exciting and there’s definitely a need for teams to protect their star players and also limit the number of fights their star players get into. That said, players like Prust, Parros and David Clarkson are able to add a lot more to the team than just being enforcers and can actually play the game as well as protect the smaller guys. I think my argument was having guys like John Scott on the ice, even in a pre-season game needs to be a thing of the past.

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