The Obsession With Protection

Jonathan Willis
May 16 2012 11:33AM

There’s a theory here and elsewhere that NHL teams need enforcers, not just because people find it fun to watch one guy hit another guy in the face, but because without enforcers players are going to get hurt.

I thought Lowetide had a nice backhanded comment at thought philosophy over at his other site this morning:

The Edmonton Oilers are probably going to spend a lot of money on someone like Jordin Tootoo this summer. We know that the management group in place subscribes to the theory that protection is required and that’s the reason RNH fell into the boards and hurt himself.

We’ve discussed in the past how there really isn’t any such thing as protection. Players get hit – and not just hit, hit in ways intended to cause injury – all the time regardless of how much muscle there is in the lineup.

But the other point is that injuries often turn out to be the result of bad luck, ruts in the ice, a mild hit that went wrong, or a 100 other things as frequently as they’re the result of somebody headhunting.

When we stroll down the Oilers’ injury list this year, we see that borne out. There’s no enforcer on the planet who can make Ryan Whitney’s knee or ankle better. Ben Eager’s recurring back problems aren’t going to get fixed that way. Darcy Hordichuk isn’t going to pound that rut in the ice into submission for having the temerity to take out Nugent-Hopkins. I’m also relatively confident that Andy Sutton’s groin injury would not have been prevented if only the Oilers had indulged in a little more pugilism.

Sure, there were a few examples of hard hits. Sarich on Hall probably would have resulted in nothing if Hall hadn’t fallen over with Sarich en route, but that’s one people feel should have been avenged. Ditto for Nash on Peckham (digression: though it probably would have been helpful if Peckham hadn’t been allowed to play two minutes after getting spread-eagled on the ice).

Personally, I think those hits are going to happen no matter what. Sarich is going to hit guys; it’s what he does. Nash is going to try and rub out guys in the corner when they have the puck; that’s one of the things he’s paid for. Anyway, the hits on Corey Potter and Alex Plante are the two that really stand out to me as particularly egregious, though again there’s no particular evidence than an enforcer (or another enforcer, or a different enforcer, or an enforcer who can play, or toughness in the top-six, or any of the other 100 variants of the ‘muscle in the lineup’ idea) is going to stop that sort of thing from happening.

But even if they did stop the hits on Potter and Plante, and even Hall and Peckham too, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would still have been injured this season. Same for Ryan Whitney. Same for Ben Eager. There’s no way around that.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Reg Dunlop
May 17 2012, 12:44AM
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Watching the Rangers in game 1 blocking shots reminded me of what Al MacInnis said. He liked to see defenders sprawl to block his shots so he could burn one at their head. Much fewer shots blocked. This applied to the smaller, less protective equipment era, and the same could be said about players running each other in this era. You were much more likely to hurt yourself if you attempted a hit at full speed or tried to block a shot.

No one wants hitting removed from the game, except oiler mgmt who assembled a no-hit league team. However, and this may seem backward, limiting and standardizing protective gear would DECREASE injuries. Would Kessler whack someone if he wasn't invulnerable to a retalitory slash that would break his wrist?

Having a thug won't stop Sarich from running Hall but if he has soft elbow pads and a soup can for a helmet, and if Hall learns to bring his stick up to protect himself, then it may not happen.

With players so much bigger and faster today, apart from increasing the ice surface size, halving the effectiveness and size of equipment is one solution to try.

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#52 Reg Dunlop
May 17 2012, 12:49AM
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On an unrelated note, if the choice is between young, high maintenance, smokin-hot Whitney and the used up, cracked out but desperate Whitney, for a 1 nighter which one do you choose? The latter would be more fun.

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#53 NewfoundlandOil
May 17 2012, 07:13AM
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Spydyr wrote:

In a game late in the year.Cannot remember against who.A player took a blatant run at Nuge. As Nuge was yapping with the offending player Eager skated right by and went to the bench.

On that play Eager jumped the shark for me.Trade bait if anyone is willing to take him.

I am sure examples like this occur all the time. You don't see guys on either teams drop the gloves every time a skilled player takes a knock (dirty or clean). That being said I do recall that game and see your point.

Regardless, RHN and others do need to start looking out for themselves (the sooner the better). It's a tough league but these "kids" have been playing hockey and taking contact for a long time. Not convinced that their strategy or the teams should be to have big brother come to the rescue every time they are slighted. This will not be a winning formula.

I also question the wisdom of trading guys after one year, only to be replaced by the next experiment that doesn't pay immediate dividends. How many times have we seen this?????

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#54 Spydyr
May 17 2012, 07:37AM
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NewfoundlandOil wrote:

I am sure examples like this occur all the time. You don't see guys on either teams drop the gloves every time a skilled player takes a knock (dirty or clean). That being said I do recall that game and see your point.

Regardless, RHN and others do need to start looking out for themselves (the sooner the better). It's a tough league but these "kids" have been playing hockey and taking contact for a long time. Not convinced that their strategy or the teams should be to have big brother come to the rescue every time they are slighted. This will not be a winning formula.

I also question the wisdom of trading guys after one year, only to be replaced by the next experiment that doesn't pay immediate dividends. How many times have we seen this?????

Trading a third or fourth line winger that is not doing his job.To bring in one that will.Don't see any issue.To get better you have to replace people not playing their roll.Eager is a perfect example of this.

If you don't make changes it is hard to improve by just letting players get older. As for saying Nuge should fight his own battles at 18 years old and a buck eighty soaking wet is asinine.

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#55 Cody
May 17 2012, 09:29AM
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I agree you don't want an enforcer that cannot skate or is a liability everytime he is on the ice. You want a high energy, hitting machine, that will fight when needed. You need a true heavyweight that can go with other heavywieghts and preferably win the majority. The most important thing is someone willing to fight anyone that takes a cheap shot at one of our players.

Anyone that wants Nuge or Eberle fighting their own battles is not very bright. They are not going to hurt or scare anyone and are likely to get hurt while trying to protect themselves. Standing up to someone and having them kick the tar out of you does not scare or deter them.

Having a heavyweight break their nose and embarrass them on national tv may deter them. it does not matter who we have though if we have a coach that will not let them do their job. When Hall got hurt, Hordichuck asked the coach if he could go, and Renney said no because we could still win the game.

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#56 Jay
May 17 2012, 09:44AM
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That is why you don't draft frail (RNH's) or injury proned players (Hall); rather, you draft durable players, that may be slightly less skilled, but which you know will be in your line up day in and out. Sequin and Landeskog for this reason, would have been better choices.

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#57 NewfoundlandOil
May 18 2012, 09:20AM
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Fair enough on the Eager front.

My opinion remains however that our skilled players will need to routinely defend themselves (and I was not referring to fighting)if they are going to be respected.

If that's assinine we're in trouble!

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