Skip to content

The Big Question: Would you trade places with an NHL enforcer?

Dec 19, 2011, 4:52 PM EDT

NHL fight 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: Would you trade places with an NHL enforcer?

By all accounts, playing in the NHL is a pretty cool job. The money is great. You get a shot to win the Stanley Cup. And even if you don’t, you’re still treated like a king.

Fact is, not many of us will ever know how it feels to be cheered by thousands of people. Chances are, it’s a great feeling.

But how far would you go to make it happen? If your only route to the NHL was as an enforcer, would you take it? With all we’re learning about concussions, would it be worth the risk?

Here’s Predators enforcer Brian McGrattan’s take on the job: “It’s just what I do. If I had a problem doing it and I couldn’t function an everyday normal life then I wouldn’t do it.”

Unfortunately, McGrattan can’t be guaranteed he’ll lead “an everyday normal life” long after he retires from hockey. Granted, nobody can be guaranteed that, but McGrattan’s risk of concussion-related problems down the line is almost certainly enhanced given his vocation.

Former NHL player Keith Primeau is still feeling the effects of the numerous concussions he suffered playing the game. However, he doesn’t regret the path he chose.

“I feel extremely blessed to have the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League for 15 years,” Primeau told TSN, “and I can’t say that I would change that course.”

That said, this is the price he continues to pay: “The most notable, on a day to day is the headaches and the head pressure and stiffness in the neck and still a lot of vision. I kind of feel like I’ve got to shake my head sometimes trying to get my vision about me, which is obviously very bizarre. And then I’m still not able to exert any kind of physical energy cause then I get dizziness, light headed, and definitely fatigue.”

OK, so here’s the deal. You get a seven-year career in the NHL, from age 24 to 30. All told you’ll make $6 million. You’ll fight 100 times, mostly against heavyweights, plus all the scraps you had on the way up. There’s a 25-percent chance you’ll win the Cup, but you’re guaranteed one long playoff run to at least the conference finals. The reason you retire is unknown. Maybe you’re not good enough anymore. Maybe it’s an assortment of injuries. Maybe you get your face caved in.

Would you do it?

  1. haterzgonahate - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    i (like a lot of people) am confined to a desk for 8-10 hours a day. studies show, that regardless of how active your are.. sitting for prolonged periods of time throughout the day can lead to heart disease, diabetes, blod clots etc etc

    i’ll take my chance as an NHL punching bag. life is dangerous regardless of what you do!

    i’d also like to add, i had to quit playing hockey (competitively) when i was 18 years old in Junior A thanks to injuries… concussions being a big part of said injuries.

    my life seems pretty normal… although its not the way i planned it.

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Dec 19, 2011 at 6:34 PM

      Where ya play @?

  2. bcjim - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    Maybe, if I was 6’5″ 250# and a high school dropout with no other skills.

    But since I’m not those things, I’ll pass.

  3. taytay099 - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    I’d be worse at enforcing than Darcy Hordichuk.

  4. danphipps01 - Dec 19, 2011 at 7:07 PM

    Eh. It’s a matter of risk assessment, I think. I skydive, I climb, I snowboard, paraglide, et cetera. According to the guys who calculate life insurance payments, I take a lot of liberties, but in truth I really don’t. These things are pretty safe. Assuming you’re not a goddamned idiot, and I like to think I’m not, it’s not hard to avoid substantial risk in a lot of what people consider “extreme” sports.

    Contrast this with an NHL enforcer, who no matter how intelligent or safety-conscious he is, is almost guaranteed unpleasant symptoms later in life. The average lifespan of an enforcer is likely not dramatically better than the average lifespan of a pro football player, and for the same reasons. Six million dollars for guaranteed lingering injuries and a chance at Lord Stanley’s? It hurts a bit to say no to the chance at the Cup, but the role’s got too many drawbacks for my liking.

  5. killerpgh - Dec 19, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    With the info you gave that rules out the islanders so I would do it in a heart beat. 6 million in a Guaranteed contract. Sure beats all the wear and tear I put on my body now working construction for 60 grand in a good year.

  6. arsement - Dec 19, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    Umm… yes, hands down, sign me up.

    Are you kidding?

    I grew up playing hockey and like most kids I thought I’d play in the NHL. I work at a desk behind a computer. The trade-off between risking head trauma vs. the paycheck is a no-brainer for me… of course I’d switch places with an enforcer.

    The economic/financial freedom an NHL salary insinues is more than most people make in their lifetime… the thought of not having to go to work in the morning, dropping everything to go to an exotic place, etc, is the reason I’d do it.

    But I live in the real world and am happy doing what I do :)

  7. alexb64 - Dec 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    Genetics gave me the ability to throw a rather blunt left hand. I went to college to get a bachelors & masters and now currently earn a nice salary for my chosen profession. I don’t use my pugilistic abilities at all because all they would earn me is jail time & a bad reputation. In the NHL (this is of course assuming I also had the other essential skills to be an NHL player) I look at a guy like Colton Orr or Jody Shelley and think, yeah I’d be the designated goon/enforcer for even league minimum which is higher than even my maximum, tenured salary could be & plus I’d still get the time off in the summer. The unfortunate fates that some enforcers have met aren’t any more guaranteed than the chances of me getting killed driving to work some morning either.

    I love what I do, but I’m not gonna lie. The chance to earn big money to play sparingly & fight and try my best to get out before I do serious damage would be a gamble I’d take/

  8. warpstonebc - Dec 20, 2011 at 1:36 AM

    I put in a lot of time and money into my child’s minor hockey experience. I have no designs on him playing pro hockey. However, if that was on the cards, I’d sooner he take all that we invested in him and walk away from the game rather than become an enforcer.

    No one grows up dreaming to be an enforcer.

    It’s a role that is necessarily adopted by players with marginal staying power in the pros. I’d sooner my son simply went back to school at the point in his career than get stuck in the professional hell of an enforcer who’s always on the verge of being on the wrong end of a two-way contract or catastrophic brain injury.

  9. michiganhockey11 - Dec 20, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    After playing in my youth, high school and travel, I would jump at the opportunity. After getting a bachelors, a masters and sitting in a cubicle all day, I’d do it.

    “It’s a role that is necessarily adopted by players with marginal staying power in the pros.” Not so. People often forget that there were/are enforcers that have good skills. Probie had great hands and put plenty of pucks in the net.

    • michiganhockey11 - Dec 20, 2011 at 8:36 AM

      Who wouldn’t want a 6’4 235lb defenseman?

  10. rebel21das - Dec 20, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    I would in a heartbeat……..what a silly question

  11. michiganhockey11 - Dec 20, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    Every freaking kids dream that plays hockey is to play in a NHL game regardless of the role.

  12. goalscr - Dec 20, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    I did this role back in the 70’s in the IHL and CHL when hockey was hockey. My first season of pro hockey after I played college hockey,I complied 355 PIM, played with Stan Johnathan in Dayton and made about $400 a week. I also beat the crap out of Mike Milbury, Paul Stewart and Val James just to name a few. I also played without a helmet and in my four years playing in the minors I never sustained a concussion.
    When we played we had more of a respect when we hit each other. Also our equpment was much heavier, ie: elbow pads and shin pads. BUT it was also softer.CCM elbow pads were made out of horse hair and leather. In today’s game the elbow pads are made out of light plastic, BUT it is also much harder.The shoulder pads are like football shoulder pads.When we played most of us wore just shoulder caps.
    The biggest thing is the speed of the game and the size of the players. When I played I was 6’3 205lbs.
    Taking out the RED LINE was a huge mistake, this causes players to hit at top speed now.
    Anyway, if I was born today I would do it all over again.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches