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Fighting The Urge To Add An Enforcer

With the unpleasant images of Saturday night's Matt Bradley/Cam Janssen/Quintin Laing incident still fresh in our minds, the Olympic break providing ample time to discuss ways to tinker with the team, and the trade deadline looming, it seems only natural that Capitals fans starting wondering whether the team needs an enforcer.  The fact that a number of notable pugilists including Georges Laraque, Donald Brashear, and Brad May should all be available for a very low price (as low as nothing, really) only makes the prospect more appealing.  Despite this, George McPhee and the Capitals front office ought to resist whatever temptation they might have to go out and pick up an enforcer because justifying the roster and salary cap space one would command isn't worth what they'd bring to the team, a fact that says more about the value of having a true heavyweight on the roster than it does about what it would take to get one.

For starters let's take a look at the incident that spurned this post: Janssen's hit on Matt Bradley.  In theory the presence of a Capitals enforcer would make Janssen think twice about laying that type of hit, for fear of swift and severe retribution.  In practice, that's not the case.  Why?  Simply put, guys like Janssen (or going back a little further, Colton Orr and David Koci) aren't afraid to fight.  Guys like Janssen like to fight.  Hell, guys like Janssen need to fight to keep their NHL jobs.  Giving them the opportunity to do that doesn't exactly sound like a strong deterrent.

Undoubtedly there are people who will read that and think it misses the point - that the league's heavyweights won't be deterred by the goon sitting at the end of the bench, but the middleweights, frequent hitters, and the pests of the world will.  This claim too is dubious.  Take, for example, the case of Cal Clutterbuck and Steve Ott from the February 2nd game between the Wild and the Stars.  Clutterbuck, as he usually does, started the game off landing a big hit on a Stars player, later fought Ott (though whether this was direct retribution was unclear) and lost handily.  Later in the game Clutterbuck had another big hit, this time on Stars leading scorer Brad Richards.  Ott fought Clutterbuck again, and won again, though that's mostly irrelevant. 

The point is that despite being beating handily in a fight with Ott early in the game, Clutterbuck was still willing to go out and hit the Stars best offensive player even with Ott on the ice.  Again the fact is that the threat of a fight simply isn't an effective deterrent.  Players like Clutterbuck, Dustin Brown, and Ryan Callahan are going to keep hitting opposing players every chance they get because it's what they do as hockey players.  By the same token, guys like Sean Avery, Alex Burrows, and Matt Cooke are going to keep playing the agitating role because it's what they do as hockey players.  It's how the help their team win, and the threat of a fight with a better, more experienced fighter simply isn't going to change that; if it were, most of the guys wouldn't have made it to the NHL in the first place.

There's still one rationale for keeping an enforcer on the roster, and that's to keep the majority of NHLers in line.  After all, most of the guys in the the League can't stand toe-to-toe with the elite enforcers, aren't hitting every chance they get, and don't see agitating the opposition as major part of their job description.  Could the presence of an enforcer keep guys like Daniel Briere and Ryan Whitney - guys who have a history of using their sticks liberally, but not dropping the gloves - from getting in an extra shot or two on Caps players?  Sure - but the team doesn't need a top tier pugilist to do it.  This is where team toughness comes in to play because even though guys like Brooks Laich, Shaone Morrisonn, and Mike Knuble aren't going to be able to stand their against the League's best fighters, they have the attitude and ability it takes to keep the lightweights from taking any liberties.

So, ultimately, the heavyweights aren't going to be deterred, the middleweight hitters and pests aren't going to be deterred, and the lightweights are already going to have more than they can handle if they take a cheap shot, what good could an enforcer possibly do?  And if the guy isn't going to do any good, why would the Capitals need him?