The Obsession With Protection

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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Maybe the philosophy changes if they get a new coach! So let’s hope that happens.

    It is a dumb tactic anyways, having an enforcer that is going to play 2-5 mins a night and basically is cement with fists makes no sense at all. Essentially you start every game playing one man short vs your opponent. How exactly is this a recipe to win games?

    There used to be a time that the 4th line was used as your developing line. At least one vet as a forward or alternatively some experienced d men while the rest of the line provided youth, energy, hits and the occasional goal.

    This would allow the potential for the unexpected goal or momentum change that the opponent was not prepared for. Since attention will be focused on the top two lines the 4th line can surprise anytime. Add a little offensive flair and who knows you got that timely goal in the third that gives you the win, or that surprising shift that wins you a playoff game.

    Oilers have none of that when you ice hordichuck, macintyre etc…you end up benching the 4th line.

    Also the nature of the kids doesn’t mean the enforcer can do anything about it anyways. Ebs, Hall, Nuge are not shy to muck and fight for the puck and take an extra shot in exchange for an offensive play. That’s their dna, so they are going to get hit as simple as that. They also can make the opponent play for that hit if it creates a powerplay.

    Like everything else – it will just take time – once they grow into their bodies they won’t be knocked over anymore and absorb more hits. The sedins were mops for the first five years in the NHL.

    • DSF

      And the 3 kids are just an accident waiting to happen.

      Can you imagine how they would fare in a playoff series against the Kings or Bruins?

      They’d be all in triage by game 2.

  • Clyde Frog

    Wait, Laraque could also score against the Avalanch! He wasn’t completely one-dimensional…!

    But yes; when we had him, we hated the fact he wouldn’t Boogard it up. For an enforcer to be truly effective does he need to be paired with a Clutterbuck? Or does he just have to be fast enough to truck the opposition?

    I don’t think there is an easy answer to how to move forward on enforcers or pests.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Who are the tough guys on the present Oilers team: [Tough meaning:. Hit hard and often, hard on the puck, and not afraid to drop the mitts once in while when needed] [ Enforcers need not apply.. Hordichuck].

    Sutton, Eager, Peckham, and Smid to a degree.

    Throws the odd body check.. Jones, and Petrel.

    Thats about it… There is zero toughness on the top six at this point.

  • YES!! Agreed DSF! Props to you sir.

    I especially like the part about Horcoff, and may I add Jones in there as well.

    The Oilers are the softest team to play against in the NHL.

    There is not one player on the Oilers who scares anyone in the NHL including Hordichuck who plays a grand total of 2 minutes a game.

    Get players that can take the fight to the other teams, initiate instead of react, hit instead of getting hit, take a suspension or two and get a tough guy that can play more then two minutes a game.

    Was Hordichuck really an upgrade over S.Mac?

  • Spydyr

    Jonathan/dawgbone the point is Laraque was ‘the man’! Nobody wanted to mess with him! The type of helacious runs we saw Boogard (or other boneheads) take at Hemsky (and other Oilers) just didn’t happen when he was here! That’s the type of deterrent the Oilers need & George could play a lick when put on the ice. Not sure what his TOI was with the Oil but he could contribute in a positive way!

  • The implementation of the instigator rule has made the enforcer almost ineffective. I would also bet that it has resulted in increased headshots or other dangerous infractions. Self-policing is out the window and if the NHL keeps that instigator rule then gradually, I fear, the enforcer role will fade away to be replaced by general team toughness.

    Maybe I’m wrong but I’d like to see a study of injuries and suspensions before and after the instigator rule was implemented.

  • Reality Check to the head

    Until the oilers are in the class of Detroit in which they make the other team pay for their dumb penalties, I think the Oilers need a player who can skate by the other bench and let every player on the other team know that they are accountable.

    But the player has to be able to skate and actually play real minutes.

    • Wanyes bastard child

      Umm, we were first in the league for PP for quite some time and I think we finished 2nd or 3rd at the end of the year. In fact, didn’t we do better than Detroit?

  • I havent got time to read commentz as im heading to sleep but how can you know Sarich’s hit would have “probably ended up as nothing”…. That dude was about to steamroll Hall (it wouldnt have been a headshot however). The redemtion for Sarich shouldnt have just been for the Hall hit, it should have been for the fact that Sarich ran around that whole night and was the only player sparking that team. The oilers needed to do something about him that night, period.

  • Reality Check to the head

    @waynes bastard

    Detroit still drew 10% more penalties (around 30 more). It also seemed to me that Edm stopped getting calls in the last quarter of the season (not sure why, maybe the refs were prepping players and fans on what to expect in the playoffs). While the Oil had a better percentage, the players need to get the opposition into the box to actually do damage.

    Back to my point. Someone has to be able to be the nuclear deterrent for the young guys. He also need to be able to skate and hold their own. Alot to ask for.

    I know that Big George wasnt always the best enforcer, but numerous times he would skate by the other teams bench/tough guy/pesk and give a warning, and that was all that was needed in most situations.

  • Reg Dunlop

    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.

  • Reg Dunlop

    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.

  • Reg Dunlop

    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.

  • Reg Dunlop

    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.

  • NewfoundlandOil

    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!