NHL enforcers fighting a losing battle

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SANTA CRUZ, October 27, 2014 — Incidents of fighting in the NHL have been steadily declining for over a decade, as speed and skill have moved to the forefront as the game’s primary appeal. Predictably, as necessity for their services has diminished, players whose primary role is to fight are finding themselves pushed out of the league.

The proponents of fighting, and of the lingering need for an enforcer, will say this type player is invaluable as a deterrent to opponents taking liberties with a team’s smaller, or more skilled players.

Sunday night’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and the visiting San Jose Sharks went a long way towards debunking this theory. The game featured several fights and even a near line brawl, virtually unheard of in today’s NHL. The Ducks appeared to be the aggressor for much of the game, while the Sharks did not shy away from the rough going.

The tenor of the game seemed to go south when Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf jumped Sharks rookie defenseman Mirco Mueller, a Swiss player not prone to fisticuffs. Later in the game, Ducks enforcer Tim Jackman attacked Sharks defenseman Marc Eduard Vlasic, a much smaller player who seldom takes a penalty, let alone drops the gloves.

By the fight fan’s logic, these are the types of brazen attacks an enforcer is supposed to prevent. The presence of an enforcer is supposed to cause players to think twice before they jump a smaller opponent, yet the fact that Sharks enforcer John Scott was dressed and available on the bench did not appear to intimidate the Ducks at all. While he did engage Jackman in an earlier scrap, Scott found himself on the bench during most of the evening’s festivities.

The Ducks have assembled a roster of tough players who are also skilled and play regular minutes. When Ducks stars like Getzlaf and NHL leading scorer Corey Perry are dropping the gloves, there would be no reason for John Scott to be on the ice.

The Sharks players who found themselves engaged in fights all night acquitted themselves admirably, and fortunately nobody was hurt. However the fact that the Ducks showed no trepidation in randomly attacking smaller Sharks players, even as the Sharks’ so-called enforcer looked on from the bench, is evidence that the voices who advocate for the enforcer role are wrong.

The Ducks, under general manager Bob Murray, have put team toughness first. They are a truculent bunch, quick to trash talk, slash opponents behind the play, and run opposing goalies with regularity, all while scoring goals and winning most of their games. It is no accident that the two Ducks after Jackman with the highest penalty minutes so far are Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, two of the league’s more highly skilled offensive players.

Not only was John Scott not a deterrent to the Ducks last night, he was a non-factor. All he could do was watch from the bench as his smaller teammates were hacked, slashed, and jumped all night by a relentless Ducks team with toughness and attitude throughout its lineup. Scott may face a suspension for leaving the bench to join a third period melee, one which he was helpless to prevent, in a game he was unable to affect by his mere presence, as the fighting advocates would have us believe.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what hes up to by checking out his website.

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