Point/Counterpoint: Heavyweights are unnecessary in the new NHL

Point/Counterpoint is a new series that argues both sides of a topic relevant to the Philadelphia Flyers. This week, Dain S and Jim discuss whether the heavyweight enforcer is needed in today’s NHL.

Point by Dain S:

Muhammad Ali. Mike Tyson. Those names inspire awe and conjure up images of the “baddest man on the planet,” the heavyweight champion. In hockey, the heavyweight enforcer has also been a fixture of the NHL since the 70’s when the Flyers constructed a team filled with tough guys and skill players, changing the game forever while winning consecutive Stanley Cups.

However, in today’s NHL, the heavyweight enforcer whose only job is to fight is disappearing. Most teams have a “middleweight” fighter who also  plays a regular shift and can actually play a little. Players like George Parros and Paul Bissonnette are entertaining but do little to deter chippy play by the opposition or protect their superstar players.

More often than not, they will square off with the other team’s heavyweight and have a fight that does little to determine the outcome or effect the flow of the game. Heavy enforcers are not necessary in today’s NHL, because if the other team doesn’t have one, which some teams do not, they will often not even dress for the game. Bissonnette, for instance, has played in only 7 of the Coyotes’ 18 games and has one one fight and averages 6 minutes of ice time a game.

The new fighters in the NHL are multi-purpose players who are part agitator, part pest, part fighter and part dependable 4th line player. Steve Downie, Dan Carcillo, Zach Rinaldo, and Derek Dorsett are a few of the new breed of fighter in the NHL who have more to their game than just fisticuffs. They tend to play a regular shift and can actually shift momentum with a big hit or a well timed scrap that happens organically during the course of play, rather than a planned scrap between two fighters.

Counterpoint by Jim:

I suppose it’s difficult to argue a point that Hockey Patriarch Wayne Gretzky already came down hard on, but I’m looking at this from the perspective of a middle aged hockey fan…from Philly.

I grew up on these goons. Dave Brown was one of my favorite players growing up and I’m sure I’m not alone with that sentiment. And yeah, while I’m sure Mr. Brown sometimes accidentally found the back of the net, most of the time he might as well have jumped onto the ice without a stick. Yet, there was always some palpable electricity generated amongst the fans watching when he was on the ice.

While I wasn’t lucky enough to have seen the Broad Street Bullies live in action, I’ve seen enough of their exploits in replayed footage to feel some local pride, whenever their name is brought up.

Let’s face it. It’s Old Time Hockey and we love it. The popularity and re-watchability of the movie ” Slap Shot” isn’t attributed to Paul Newman’s baby blues or Michael Ontkean’s strip tease. It is every word that the Hanson brothers said and everything they did.

If the role of The Enforcer has evolved into a more well rounded Hockey Player then we, as fans, are worse off for it. Good drama entails that a good Villain exists and then the hero needs to vanquish that villain. I remember hissing at the likes of Dale Hunter and Matthew Barnaby and when one of our enforcers stepped onto the ice in response, it was a good thing.

So while the NHL may be heading into ” Three Musketeers” territory, I’ll still yearn for a ” Snickers.” Hockey goons are the nuts and caramel that add a needed flavor and texture to an already great sport.

  • Rondeezee86

    Great article, but I have to agree with Dain. Guys like Shelley are practically useless while guys like Rinaldo and even to some extent Simmonds can handle the fisticuffs as well as netting a goal or assist. I love fights in hockey and hope they never remove it completely, but the heavyweight in todays game is taking a roster spot from that could be filled otherwise.

  • Rondeezee86

    Great article, but I have to agree with Dain. Guys like Shelley are practically useless while guys like Rinaldo and even to some extent Simmonds can handle the fisticuffs as well as netting a goal or assist. I love fights in hockey and hope they never remove it completely, but the heavyweight in todays game is taking a roster spot from that could be filled otherwise.

  • Rondeezee86

    Great article, but I have to agree with Dain. Guys like Shelley are practically useless while guys like Rinaldo and even to some extent Simmonds can handle the fisticuffs as well as netting a goal or assist. I love fights in hockey and hope they never remove it completely, but the heavyweight in todays game is taking a roster spot from that could be filled otherwise.