The Raw Charge staff tosses around the question of whether or not the Lightning need an enforcer in the lineup.
Hockey's traditional enforcers were on NHL rosters to stick up for his teammates, and to keep players honest. The enforcer was there to implement punishment against misconduct. The roster spot, emphasizing brutality and vigor was a necessity for years.
But the National Hockey League's newest incarnation of an enforcer, Enforcer 2.0, isn't necessarily defending, but is throwing punches and agitating, trying to dismantle the opponent and spike momentum to get the game in shape. Enforcer 2.0 is essentially just a gritty pest.
As it stands today, the Lightning are a sleek bunch of offense-driven good guys, who aren't getting their punches in. Stats-wise, the Bolts are ranked 25th in the league according to fighting majors, with eleven, and average 0.27 fights per game. (For the ridiculous stat, the Bolts average 227.08 minutes between fights, which is about once every 4 games)
Don't get me wrong, there have been a few scruffs here and there, including Tuesday's fight between Steve Downie and Matt Hendricks. But Downie, for all of his gusto, is really more of an agitator than a true enforcer. Most nights, you won't see a fight, and it seems like if you blink, you'll miss it.
So, we ask, do the Lightning need an enforcer?
Read thoughts from the Raw Charge staff (and add your own) after the jump.
John Fontana: No, no, no, no, no.
Don't think of this from the fighting standpoint, or from the angle that the Bolts need someone to "Defend/stick up" for their players. Everyone gets caught up in the fisticuffs and forgets the logistics. The situation needs to be thought of like this: Guy Boucher's system doesn't afford the luxury of a pugilist or someone who is over-aggressive and contributes less to the team because his skill set is throwing checks and beating guys up.
At times in Boucher's system, the Lightning play a total of 11 forwards and 7 defensemen. Tell me, where does that afford the team a guy who is only going to play a scant number of minutes? The team plays the aggressive and high tempo 1-3-1 hybrid system, and most guys who are willing to drop the gloves aren't known for their speed.
The traditional enforcer, or even a more gritty forward (a la Zenon Konopka) doesn't fit in how the team is set up.
Cassie McClellan: No. They've done perfectly fine without one for the first half of the season, and there's no reason to believe that that will change for the second half and playoffs. Besides, the role of the "traditional" enforcer is disappearing, anyways. I put traditional in quotes since that role was invented for Wayne Gretzky. Before Gretzky, star players fought their own fights. And that's what the NHL is trending back to, once again.
The Lightning, or really any NHL team for that matter, do not need a traditional enforcer in today's style of NHL hockey. With a game that focuses on speed and skill, I don't think the Lightning need an enforcer in their line-up. Of course the team still needs tough guys that would be willing to drop the gloves every so often when a questionable hit is thrown or be willing to get in a fight to fire up his team, but these days the player needs to be able to contribute by doing more than just fighting. In my opinion, overall team toughness and having offensive players on all lines make up a better team rather than a team that has a fourth line with an enforcer that is not expected to contribute offensively.
Nolan Whyte: I would say the results speak for themselves. Ignoring Wednesday's collapse against the Penguins (and a few other blow-out losses), the Lightning are still having a best-ever season to this point in the schedule, and have a realistic shot at gaining home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. They've done it without a one-dimensional player in the form of a "traditional" enforcer.
It would be easy to turn this question into a referendum on whether or not it was wise for Steve Yzerman to let Zenon Konopka walk after setting new team high for fighting majors and penalty minutes, but that would rather be missing the point. Zeke was a popular and entertaining player, but the question remains: did he help the team win games?
It would not be fair to say the team is now performing better without him on the roster. That is only one small factor in the transformation the lineup underwent in the offseason. But it would be fair to say that although Zeke racked up fighting majors like a squirrel gathering acorns, rarely did those fights actually alter the outcome of games.
I hold the typically hypocritical Canadian stance in that I hate violence in hockey, but I still like to watch hockey fights. I can't rationally justify fighting and I'm embarrased to admit liking it, but the simply truth is I enjoy them. I want to watch. But I also recognize that they are largely sideshow material and do not really affect the outcome of games. It's rare that a fight actually affects momentum. If anything, they provide a distraction, or mollify fans who are ornery about the homeside getting spanked. But you can't show me the stat that positively correlates fights and wins, can you?
Yzerman came from Detroit, and the Red Wings haven't wasted a roster spot on a pure enforcer since Stu Grimson in the '90s. Stevie would rather have players who can skate, and I'm down with that. And Lightning players have dropped the gloves this season: Kubina, Downie, Malone and others have had to step up, but those guys are players first, and the fights were never show-fights.
Bottom line: you can't argue with wins, and the team is winning now. And you can't tell me they'd be winning more if they had a pure fighter on the bench instead of workers like Dana Tyrell, Sean Bergenheim, Adam Hall, or Nate Thompson. Which one of those guys would you sit so Konopka could play?
Meredith Qualls: For me, hockey is entertainment, and I like watching hockey fights. I enjoyed the Zenon Konopka fisticuffs, even if he wasn't the "traditional enforcer." But looking at the Lightning this year, it's clear that they're doing just fine without one. This year, we're seeing the Bolts walk away from fights, instead of pressing them. Even Steve Downie seems somewhat reserved, and overall, has been one to step away from the conflict.
If I want to watch a man fight, perhaps I should tune into WWE Smackdown here and there.
So what do you think? To enforce, or not to enforce?
Enforcing links (just for fun!):
Last year, Mike Chen at From the Rink made the point that enforcers now have to be able to play hockey as well.
Perhaps we are trading enforcers for super pests?
And finally, the NYT suggests that perhaps it would be better to "turn the other cheek" (shocker, I know).