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Banning fighting?

Thursday, January 11, 2007
Not in my NHL (ha ha! ... get it?). And apparently not in 94% of the world population's NHL, either.

Those poll results coming from's SportsNation poll currently going on at the NHL section of the website.

I know that recently, the issue of fighting has been brought up more and more, with examples such as John Buccigross bringing it up in his most recent weekly offering at, and Christy from Behind the Jersey writing an entry on the issue back in late November, as well. I suppose it makes sense that this is a big topic in the post-lockout era, where fighting has gone from "main event" (or at least something close to expected daily) to something of a rarity. You don't need statistics showing how often players are fighting on a weekly basis to know that the rate that the gloves are dropped are down.

The bigger question that this brings up, however, is what happens to enforcers? Consider, for example, Columbus' own Jody Shelley, who is one of the more well-known pugilists who is still active in the league at the moment. How much ice time does he average? Not a lot, to say the least. Looking at the game-by-game stats for Shelley, he has only once crept over the 10:00 mark in ice time, and that was back in late November against the Blues. Keep in mind that even though Shelley is a fan favorite, he still hasn't produced a single point this season in 39 games.

Other enforcers on other teams are going through the same difficulties. Andrew Peters, who just recently partook in some light-hearted self-ribbing (credit to Sherry at Scarlett Ice) at his lack of play time with the Buffalo Sabres, has more or less done just the same as Shelley in terms of ice time, save that he actually has a point this season (an assist against the Capitals a few games back).

So the big issue is what to do with the role of enforcer. Do you scrap it altogether? That's definitely a possibility. If these 'enforcers' can't cut it in the NHL if they are unable to use their fists, then even if they help to enforce "The Code", they still can be a liability to their team, especially in an NHL that is starting to embrace stricter penalty calling on skate draggers, and a more wide open game.

On the other hand, maybe instead of going to the other extreme and finding a small, spritely player who can add speed to a team, the best option is to go for players who are instead hybrids; players who can not only skate and shoot the biscuit with moderate success, but can also drop the gloves and give someone a total pounding if they have to ... and sometimes like to.

Let me use an example: Alex Svitov. Svitov was drafted in the first round of the 2001 draft as the third overall pick. Now, truth be told, it's hard to believe that Svitov will ever become as good as his draft ranking would say he should be, but that's neither here nor there. Svitov is big, is able to think ahead when it comes to plays around him, and is able to use that body of his to punish opposing players both when he's back on defense, and when he's in the offensive zone. Given that he's 24 years old he still has plenty of time to break out, and at the halfway mark of the season it looks like he'll be able to at least add a dozen points to his current 11 if he is able to pick things up under Ken Hitchcock, which he has done.

But beside his possible stock in offensive prowess that has yet to be tapped, he is also a pugilist of the first degree when you consider all of the fights he has gotten in to so far as a Blue Jacket; able to fight just as savagely as Shelley can, being only an inch shorter and about a dozen pounds lighter in all.

Svitov may not be the perfect example of a modern day hybrid offensive-enforcer; someone who is a modest threat with the puck, and a great threat with the fists. But your third or fourth line bruiser doesn't have to be another Rick Nash while at the same time having the powerful punch of a Marty McSorley. Remember that these hybrid players are going to be hopefully replacing one-trick shows such as pure enforcers, who can do nothing but fight.

I love fighting. I won't deny it, and I am unabashedly unapologetic when it comes to my enjoyment of seeing two players go at it, with fists flying every which way to land blows to the opponent's face. Which is why I hope that the next generation of fighters are the type that can score as well as scrum. If more players like Svitov come along (and better ones at that), maybe the people who moan and groan about enforcers being obsolete due to their one-dimensional nature in the game will shut their yaps.

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  • At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Drew said…

    It's been interesting to see how the fights have been doled out this year for the CBJ. In the past, 90% all went to Shelley and the rest were scooped up by Tyler Wright, David Ling, and maybe a rogue Duvie Westcott.

    Now, as you pointed out, Shelley isn't getting the ice time necessary to be involved even in this aspect of the game.

    So we have more 'regular' players like Svitov and OK Tollefson out there pounding the flesh and holding their own.

    I love Shelley as much as the next guy, but it's kind of nice to see the change.

  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger Tyler said…

    for sure. As you wrote, Shelley's good for fighting and not much else. I wrote about this once in the Jacket Times. So I'm glad to see that other players who are more productive overall like Svitov and OKT are taking some of the hand-to-hand combat duty.
    I think the era of the enforcer is about over... Can't say I mind much either. I'm not a big hockey-fight guy. I prefer the finesse and skill aspects of the game over the brute force.

  • At 1:41 PM, Anonymous nancy said…

    Latin is what’s known as a dead language. That’s because no one actually uses it (with the exception of my Medieval English professor who uses it to argue with her husband). Living languages, like English, change because people use them. We’re seeing the same thing with the evolution of hockey. I’m with Drew; Shelley’s a great guy, but he’s not the future of the game.

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