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The Big Question: Is there still a role for the designated fighter in the NHL?

Oct 17, 2011, 5:43 PM EDT

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 15: Cam Janssen #25 of the New Jersey Devils fights Brian McGrattan #23 of the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on October 15, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Big Question will be a weekly feature on PHT where we ask a question, provide some background and ask you, the reader, to weigh in with your opinions.

Today’s question: Is there still a role for the designated fighter in the NHL?

The role of the enforcer has been debated extensively recently. (And now it’s going to be debated again!) More and more people seem to believe designated fighters are a luxury teams can’t afford. The fourth line shouldn’t just be a dumping ground for brawlers that skate on their ankles. If you can’t play the game at a high level, you shouldn’t be in the NHL.

The other side of the argument is an old one. If you don’t have an enforcer, your best players are going to get abused. Oilers tough guy Darcy Hordichuk has likened his role to “having a gun in your house.” You might not need it, but it’s a good thing to have in case a rampaging killer busts down your door, or something like that.

Hordichuk, a noted master of the simile, also said having an enforcer is “like having a Hells Angel” on the team.

“They know I’m there,” he said. “Everyone kind of calms down. Everybody thinks they’re a tough guy until you poke one of them in the ear.”

Of course, this was before Hordichuk tried to stick up for Taylor Hall by charging after Vancouver’s Keith Ballard on Saturday night. Ballard threw out his hip, Hordichuk went flying, and now Hordichuk’s got a sore knee.

Message: sent.

On the other hand, consider what happened Saturday in Nashville. The Devils were trailing the Predators, 2-0, when New Jersey’s Cam Janssen dropped the gloves with Brian McGrattan and fought…for like an hour.

“We’re down by two. I thought we were playing good, but just to give that extra spark. I thought it was the right time,” Janssen told the Star-Ledger. “In a building like that, when you’re not at home, you really have to pick your spots, especially with a big guy like that. I figured that was the right time, so I did it.”

The Devils ended up winning, 3-2, in a shootout.

Obviously Janssen didn’t singlehandedly win the game for his team – he didn’t even play three minutes – but according to New Jersey coach Pete DeBoer, the fight gave the team a much-needed kick in the pants.

“I think it really lifted up our team a lot,” said DeBoer. “You hear that said, but that fight really got our bench going.”

So, is there still a role for the designated fighter in the NHL? Your input is requested below in the comments section…

  1. Nowhere Man - Oct 17, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    M-E-H meh.

    I think it’s ridiculous. I don’t mind guys who can play AND chuck them but staged goon fights are stupid. Stupid like rock.

    The whole concept is weird now. A player on your team ran a different player on my team. Wanna fight? Wanna huh? How’s that a deterrent. Like Matt Cooke running guys but he doesn’t fight so someone else has to. Not much of a deterrent to Cookie unless you’re Evander Kane.

    No place no mo’.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 17, 2011 at 6:45 PM

      100% agree. I have no problem if a guy makes his living fighting in addition to contributing to his team’s offense, defense, or both. Having a goon that gets more PIM a game than time on the ice when he’s not scratched in favour of a capable player is not a good thing. The NHL should look into how they can get those guys out of the game and into a UFC cage where they belong

    • bcjim - Oct 17, 2011 at 8:18 PM

      Also agree. I love a good fight but players should handle their own business.

      Ideally, get rid of goons (though it is unclear how this would happen) and ALSO get rid of the 3rd man in penalty, its too extreme and leads to retaliation or a staged fight. Occasionally, a player needs to be defended (MSL, lets say, or your goalie), but it has to be by someone ON the ice. I have no problem with that.

  2. killerpgh - Oct 17, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    The days of players like Trevor gillies are over. And they should be. The new “goons” of the NHL are player who have atleast some hockey skill. Player like Prust of the rangers who can kill penalties and fight (unless it’s Jordan Staal with a love tap) or even Engelland of the Penguins who can be a legit 6th d-man and play 10+ minutes a game and fight with the best of them.

  3. theolgoaler - Oct 17, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    Like it or not, the logical result of the NHL’s attempts to reduce concussions will be an end to bare-knuckle fighting… getting hit in the head isn’t good for anybody; “run” one of ours, and sooner or later, one of ours will run you — when you least expect it!

  4. polegojim - Oct 18, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    Yes, absolutely there is still a role for the ‘designated fighter’

    Yes – several comments above attempt to be ‘politically correct’ with a cute and soft spin…but you’re actually saying – Yes- to The Big Question.
    Yes – anyone can drop the gloves, see Datsyuk… but you don’t want your most skilled guys making it a habit… or even more than one a year.
    Yes – an ‘enforcer’ simply means someone who is bigger/better at fighting. It doesn’t mean they have no hockey talent. They make a BIG IMPACT. They’re not goons, they’re Sheriff’s

    Just say YES and stop apologizing for it. Your mother isn’t reading this.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      You can be an enforcer in the sense Marty McSorley was one, that’s fine. We’re saying guys like Gillies that barely get any ice time and are expected to fight when they do play a shift have no real purpose. If the league wants to fix this problem with fighting they should just ditch the instigator rule. This ‘mad dog’ fighter, as Cherry calls them, didn’t really exist when that rule didn’t as well

      The current system where player A throws a cheap shot on player B so player C fights player D doesn’t make any sense. The guy throwing the hit has to answer for his actions with his own fists, not have the team goon do his dirty work

      • polegojim - Oct 18, 2011 at 4:40 PM

        I agree that the fight should find A…. but maybe not with B. Sometimes the tough guys run at the super-skilled to TRY and get them out of the game via a fighting major.

        That’s a tactic that escapes many in this subject theme.

        Bring on C to even it up with A, or whichever letter of alphabet will make the greatest point. Just be prepared that A’s buddy might not let it happen. What do you do? Drop the gloves.

        I’ll tell you the other rule that should be instituted is not only dropping the gloves, but dropping the VISORS. Most injuries are to hands, coming across visors and helmets.

        If you’re gonna throw down, then lose the helmet and visor, and throw down. THAT might curb some of the more stupid fights.

  5. tbcrow - Oct 19, 2011 at 6:25 AM

    Designated fighters is such an old concept. I have more than enough respect for the men that did it in the past, but in today’s game there just isn’t a place for it.

    Hypothetical, you watch a couple fights, everyone is mad, there are some minor “I’ve got your jersey””No I’ve got your jersey” scuffles, and the crowd is in the game.

    Hypothetical 2, someone is absolutely feed up with Player A’s behavior, so Player B in open ice catches an edge and creams his ass.

    9 times out of 10, Hypothetical 2 will get your team more motivated, the crowd more into it, and send a much stronger message.

    I’m all for a designated something, but it needs to be a designated skating brick wall, instead of having a player on the bench with a tattoo on his forehead that says “I’m here to break the rules, go to hell if you disagree”.

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