A look at the decline of fighting and extinction of the NHL enforcer


Mowich
#1
John Scott’s time in the limelight over all-star weekend may be the most obvious last gasp of the professional enforcer in the NHL. Over the past number of years we have been witnessing the rapid extinction of a role hockey “purists” have historically deemed essential to the sport. This is one of the more obvious shifts that analytics has pointed to, as more and more teams realize the players playing the “tough guy” role have provided limited impact and hampered on-ice performance.

It isn’t that fighting on its own is dying out – though there has been a massive 45 per cent decline in fighting majors over the past decade. Players who play a rough and tumble style of play and get into physical altercations aren’t being forced out of the game. There just isn’t any room left in the league for a skater whose sole role is to intimidate opponents physically from the bench while he skates for maybe five or 10 minutes in the entire game, providing minimal value to the on-ice performance of his team.

In the very recent past, virtually every NHL club carried a tough guy on their roster who fought more than once for every 60 minutes he played. As recently as eight seasons ago, there were 40 skaters in the league who fit this description and they were playing 1/10th of the ice time league wide. Now there are less than 10 regular skaters in the league that match this description, and despite playing a similar role, their total ice time amounts to slightly over 1/50th of what’s available league wide.

Much of this is also likely due to teams realizing the imbalance carrying such a player on the game day roster entails. If you play that player 5-10 minutes less than average, it means you’re playing your stars more. This may sound beneficial, but a team with a more balanced lineup should have fresher stars later in games and during the playoffs.

If you carry a one-dimensional enforcer, you’re also carrying a skater who is amazingly unlikely to produce any offence for himself or his teammates, even if he is defensively adequate. Believe it or not, NHL enforcers on average are actually fairly typical of NHL skaters in terms of defensive ability (perhaps yet another indictment of the ability of NHL teams to filter defensive performance).

In the past two years we have seen many of the leading enforcers from the past decade wind up on waivers before heading down to the AHL. This season for example, in addition to the John Scott story, we’ve seen Brandon Prust waived by Vancouver and Brian McGrattan spend most of his season in the AHL after signing in the off-season with Anaheim. Only three skaters in the entire NHL with more than 1.0 fights per 60 minutes on the year have played 300 or more minutes. The way the game is trending there may be none in that group a year from now.

Based on the number of transactions on the waiver wire this season, it appears NHL teams are in a bit of a holding pattern for the time being. They will likely continue to carry skaters with the ability to fight at a moment’s notice so they can insert them into the lineup for games where they think it is necessary. This would most likely be against teams who boast physical skaters that have a wider role in the game than just dropping the gloves, but will quickly do so if called upon.

THE LESSON

Now that fighters and the fights they exist for have become a rarity with less than one bout every three games played in the NHL this season, the necessity of carrying fighters on an NHL roster is limited. Theoretically, this should open up roster spots for useful players with other specialized skill sets, such as power play specialists – something the NHL could use more of in its current era of excruciatingly limited scoring.


Stephen Burtch (external - login to view) February 14, 2016, 12:27 PM

A look at the decline of fighting and extinction of the NHL enforcer - Sportsnet.ca (external - login to view)
 
gopher
#2
Good article - but see my post in the hockey thread as Dylan McIlrath may prove to be the exception to this general rule.

As for me, you've seen my posts where I have expressed my misgivings about hockey fights. But the Rangers did right to get an enforcer like him to get revenge for Simmonds' cheapo against defender McDonagh who is still reeling after that sucker punch he gave him.
 
mentalfloss
#3
The decline in violence is happening everywhere - even in hockey.
 
JLM
+1
#4
Quote: Originally Posted by gopherView Post

Good article - but see my post in the hockey thread as Dylan McIlrath may prove to be the exception to this general rule.

As for me, you've seen my posts where I have expressed my misgivings about hockey fights. But the Rangers did right to get an enforcer like him to get revenge for Simmonds' cheapo against defender McDonagh who is still reeling after that sucker punch he gave him.


I think hockey games should be won or lost solely on the strength of hockey skills, just as boxing or wrestling matches should be won or lost solely on the strength of fighting skills.
 
talloola
+1
#5
I love todays hockey, fast skating, lots of skill, with very big players who can skate well, along with
some small ones sprinkled throughout the league.

yes, the fighting 'by enforcers' has almost disappeared, and that is good, those particular types
of players usually don't have much skill, and really don't fit in any longer.

nhl hockey is such a highly skilled, fast skating game, full of physical contact, legal bodychecking,
by large men who all are very competitive and all want desperately to win.

when one puts all of those aspects together there is bound to be spontaneous outbreaks of temper now
and then, it is just human nature, and I understand that. maybe someday fighting will be banned
altogether, and it will only be because the nhl becomes too afraid of lawsuits, as we all now know
much more than years ago, the dangers of blows to the head, over and over. people say that the nhl
can't continue 'allowing' such things to happen, but actually they don't, as fighting is a penalized
activity, and comes with a 5 minute fighting major, so players go at it, knowing it isn't allowed, so
does that get the nhl off the hook, I don't know, even if two players who fought were thrown out of
the game, fighting wouldn't totally stop, because fighting isn't a calculated move, it is the result
of high emotion over a few seconds of physical play between two players.

even in international hockey, which is much more physical now than early on, fighting isn't allowed,
but I notice the officials spend quite a bit of time encouraging two players who are starting to
fight, to back off, they don't quickly throw them out, they give them a chance to cool it quickly
before they penalize them, and often they get roughing penalties, to spare them from match penalties.

what I don't like in todays game, is the huge reaction by players when one of theirs receives a good
bodycheck, a clean bodycheck, far too much reaction and uproar, and players trying to get revenge,
which is rather new in the game, good bodychecking is a big part of the game, and shouldn't be
something that brings the other team to the brink of fighting, it is legal and a big part of hockey,
and always has been, when it goes over the line of being legal, fine, and hopefully the official
has seen it, and reacts accordingly, and that should be it.

the fire and spirit of the physical part of hockey is needed, it is a big part of the game, and if
bodychecking was taken out of the game, it would become just another game, would lose much of the
interest of most of the fans, the game would be much easier to play, the highly skilled players would
have their own way far too often, as there wouldn't be any hazards to deal with, those hazards are
important and need to be there.

yes, goodbye enforcers, they were embarrassing to the game, today a highly skilled, fast skating player
can also look after himself most of the time, and the officials are there to balance things.


what I do know, is that the game is better now than it has ever been since I began watching and
enjoying over 60 years ago.
Last edited by talloola; Feb 15th, 2016 at 01:27 AM..
 
MHz
#6
It should have happened years ago IMO. I'm not ready for touch football though.
 
damngrumpy
#7
When the fights and enforcers are gone and we are left with wimps
like Gretzky I will find a new sport to watch. I hate the European stuff
of pass shoot and figure skate. Am a Montreal fan the other team I
like was when the Flyers were the Broad street bullies that was cool.
The politically correct, the lawyers and the folks who spout about
social license will soon ruin hockey like everything else
 
JLM
#8
Quote: Originally Posted by damngrumpyView Post

When the fights and enforcers are gone and we are left with wimps
like Gretzky I will find a new sport to watch. I hate the European stuff
of pass shoot and figure skate. Am a Montreal fan the other team I
like was when the Flyers were the Broad street bullies that was cool.
The politically correct, the lawyers and the folks who spout about
social license will soon ruin hockey like everything else


Does a wimp score 50 goals in 39 games? I don't think so!
 
TenPenny
+3
#9  Top Rated Post
Quote: Originally Posted by damngrumpyView Post

When the fights and enforcers are gone and we are left with wimps
like Gretzky I will find a new sport to watch. I hate the European stuff
of pass shoot and figure skate. Am a Montreal fan the other team I
like was when the Flyers were the Broad street bullies that was cool.
The politically correct, the lawyers and the folks who spout about
social license will soon ruin hockey like everything else


In case you weren't aware, the point of hockey is to score goals. If you think skating and puckhandling and shooting are wimpy, then I think you're watching the wrong sport. You seem confused.
 
Curious Cdn
+2
#10
Quote: Originally Posted by mentalflossView Post

The decline in violence is happening everywhere - even in hockey.

Maybe, just maybe, the epidemic of suits surrounding concussions is acting as a chill. This is a workplace safety issue and if people die from it, managers could go to jail.
 
JLM
+1
#11
Quote: Originally Posted by TenPennyView Post

In case you weren't aware, the point of hockey is to score goals. If you think skating and puckhandling and shooting are wimpy, then I think you're watching the wrong sport. You seem confused.


Yeah, I don't think a guy has to fight to prove he's a man!
 
JLM
+1
#12
Quote: Originally Posted by TenPennyView Post

In case you weren't aware, the point of hockey is to score goals. If you think skating and puckhandling and shooting are wimpy, then I think you're watching the wrong sport. You seem confused.


Yeah, I don't think a guy has to fight to prove he's a man!
 
Jinentonix
+1
#13
The pure enforcers are definitely on their way out. Coaches are looking for players called "10, 10 and 10". That basically means a player who scores at least ten goals in a season, racks up at least 10 assists in a season and has at least 10 fights in a season.
Coaches still want their tough guys, they just want tough guys that can contribute more to the team than just an enforcer role.
 
talloola
+1
#14
Quote: Originally Posted by JinentonixView Post

The pure enforcers are definitely on their way out. Coaches are looking for players called "10, 10 and 10". That basically means a player who scores at least ten goals in a season, racks up at least 10 assists in a season and has at least 10 fights in a season.
Coaches still want their tough guys, they just want tough guys that can contribute more to the team than just an enforcer role.

yes, and something I point out often, that really doesn't seem to resignate with most, is the 'size' of todays
players, yesterdays players were lesser in talent, lesser in fitness and lesser in size, todays players are
much better athletes, much healthier, better trained, better equipped all over, goalies are huge now, eg.
john garret looks like a little doll compared to almost all of todays goalies, so when it comes to looking
after oneself physically, todays players are much more ablebodied, stronger, faster, and aware.

those so-called broad street bullies of the sixties would be skated over, knocked over, and unable to
handle themselves today very well, and when bobby clark tried to spear someone as he often did, that player
would be long gone before he could do anything. many of those players were good, but in todays game, not
good enough, because they would be unprepared to compete at the level of the game now.
my daughter and son in law, whom both are very hockey saavy, went to a canucks game not long ago, had tickets they won, right on ice level, and the first thing they
both said, is how huge the players look going by at high speeds, and found it amazing how they can, at the size they are, go that fast, but also in full control
of their skating, banging and twisting and turning on a dime, and most of all
stick handling and passing at the same time.

I heard gretzky comment on todays game some time ago, he said that todays players are
so big and so fast that he would have trouble in the game today.
at the time gretzky played, he was a good enough skater, very talented, and most of
all, 'smarter' at the game than almost every other player.
Last edited by talloola; Feb 16th, 2016 at 12:31 AM..
 
gopher
+1
#15
Quote: Originally Posted by JLMView Post

I think hockey games should be won or lost solely on the strength of hockey skills, just as boxing or wrestling matches should be won or lost solely on the strength of fighting skills.


Precisely what I have written on this forum in the past.

Unfortunately, the lords of the NHL choose not to allow that. Therefore, they decreed that someone like Simmonds may take a cheap shot on an unprepared player like McDonagh and go unpunished - this compels the Rangers to get an enforcer to take revenge. Of course this could have been prevented by suspending Simmonds for two weeks as happens in MLB. But they just won't do it.
 
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