There has been a lot of discussion on whether or not the Washington Capitals needed an enforcer this season. I understand, I really do. Old school Canadian hockey is full of hard hits, pummeling fists, and bloodied players. There was a time when that was what many people exclusively watched hockey for; the fights. To this day, many still do. I suspect quite a few European players balked at coming to play in the NHL in the past because of the fighting. For the most part, they don’t play that way over there; or didn’t back in the day, maybe that’s changed.
I will admit; watching all in-balls out hockey fights can be difficult for me. I don’t watch boxing, and I don’t like seeing those heavy hitting, blood drawing, face disfiguring fights during a hockey game. Scrums are one thing, all out fisticuffs are another. Maybe I’m being a stereotypical female here, but I don’t get off on the sight of blood. What I do get off on is watching skilled players finesse a clean check to the boards. I can see why some fans enjoy hockey fights, there are times when payback seems to be the only choice. But, do we need players whose sole purpose on the rink is to be an enforcer anymore?
Let’s look at a recent example of a situation where the question of the Caps not having an enforcer once again reared its head. It wasn’t that long ago; Caps vs. Tampa on 1/12/10. After all was said and done, Ovechkin was the one who was criticized for NOT fighting when Matt Bradley jumped in to protect him from Steve Downie. I appreciate what Brads did to protect Ovi during this clusterfuck of a game. He stated afterward: “We have a guy like that going after our best player; obviously we can’t let that happen.” But, you don’t have to be an enforcer to protect your teammates. There are plenty of players who are not enforcers jumping into that role on an as-needed basis. Yes, tempers flair and scrums break out, nasty hits are made and penalties; hopefully; doled out. Teammates do need to look out for each other. You know what they say, there is no “I” in team. (Yeah, yeah, there is a “me”, I know the joke). But the reaction to that incident brought more cries for an enforcer, and more people drooling for hockey fights.
From nhl.fanhouse.com, this quote: “According to the folks at hockeyfights.com, Ovechkin has been involved in one regular season fight in his dominating NHL career. And quite honestly, it wasn't much of a fight. On Tuesday night during Washington's 7-4 loss in Tampa Bay, we were so close to seeing what Ovechkin can do with the gloves off ... until Matt Bradley went and ruined the fun.”(Just as an aside, the comments to that posting are as telling as the last sentence of that quote. I have a feeling if Ovi did get into a fight, he would lay someone out. He is bigger, stronger, and more mature than he was back in 2006. As much as I don’t like hockey fights, that is one I would probably watch, but that still doesn’t necessitate having an enforcer. Maybe that's why Brashear was traded to the Rangers, Ovi and the Caps don't need that kind of protection anymore and can fight their own battles.)
The days when hockey only appealed to men are over. You see women fans and people bringing children to games. For all intensive purposes, it looks like the NHL is trying to cultivate this new market of fandom and seems to be responding by cracking down on the types of fights and penalties that the enforcer would be most responsible for. The NHL is also trying to protect players from the disastrous consequences of the type of career ending damage an enforcer can inflict.
I know I’m going against the grain when I say we don’t need an enforcer. North American ice hockey will always have scrums, bad hits, and fights. It is the nature of the beast and one that will not be exterminated easily, if ever. But designate players to be that particular beast? Maybe it’s time to make a line change.
One final note: When we meet up against the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow, I’m sure several Caps players will have targets on their backs. You know who I’m talking about, right? So I may have to invoke my prerogative to change my mind about enforcers. If what could happen actually does happen, I will be screaming along with the rest of you and humbly submitting my apologies, hat in hand, foot in mouth.