Yesterday, Jae (TheDeathmaster) wrote a blog (here) regarding Steve MacIntyre and the role of the “enforcer” in hockey. I actually disagree with his point of view, so I decided to write up my opinion and open the blog up to a friendly debate, as we both are making legitimate points. Steve “Smacker/Big Mac” MacIntyre is one of those players in question. Mac doesn’t play a lot of minutes. He doesn’t contribute much in the way of playmaking, forechecking, goal scoring. So where does he fit into the team exactly?
Well, Mac’s job is simple: when someone messes with a teammate, Mac is going to make that person wish he never made that choice.
Back before the season began, Mac made it clearly known that he understood his role on this team. He stated in an interview regarding Sidney Crosby’s pending return: “My job is to make sure his transition back to hockey goes smoothly.”
Well, that day came, and went, and will return again on Thursday. But MacIntyre has yet to lay a hand on another player in a Penguin uniform (not including his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton jersey). In fact, Mac has barely seen NHL ice since he signed with the Pens over the summer. The Penguins let go of Eric Godard, our former enforcer and then turned around and spent even more money on Mac for him to play even less time than Godsey. What exactly did that accomplish? Nothing.
As the season has worn on, I have become more and more a believer that the role of Enforcer is all but extinct in the NHL. I am not on the “end all fighting” train, but I do believe that it is a waste of a roster spot to have a person who will ultimately earn less than 5 minutes of ice time per week and who’s trademark “skill” is pounding someone into the ice to teach them a lesson.
Last season the Pens fought more than any other team. Godard was in the mix, but Deryk Engelland, Mike Rupp, Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy threw down probably the most of any of the Penguins. Engo was viewed as our big guns last season, and to a point this season, however Engo has perfected his game so that he is no longer a healthy scratch and a go to guy to sit in the penalty box. Engo is legitimately contributing to the Pens success on net this season while still brutally hitting and deterring opposing agitators from engaging a Penguin in fisticuffs.
While the Pens may have lost some toughness with Rupp going to the Rangers in free agency, they also are not the goons that they were last season. Matt Cooke cannot fight because it may mean his last day on NHL ice and the rest of the group have found that responding to dirty hits and instigators with goals is far more productive than responding with penalty minutes and game misconducts.
And honestly, who is going to mess with Sidney Crosby if Arron Asham is on the ice?
There is a fundamental difference though between what Mac can bring to the Pens and what Asham brings. Asham brings grit, points, and strong motivation when in clutch situations, on top of his ability and willingness to throw down with anyone in the league. Just two weeks ago, Dallas’ Steve Ott refused to engage Asham after instigating him prior to a face off.
My point here is this: With so many other players willing and able to fight who bring a wider set of skills to the table, why would we activate one player who will spend the majority of his time on the bench? Especially in the playoffs. If heaven forbid there is another injury, does anyone have any faith that Smacker can fill the hole?
My opposition to an enforcer has nothing to do with head shots or injuries, but honestly, given what has happened to Wade Belak and Derek Boogaard, is this a trend that we want to continue in the NHL? Having a man’s entire career depend upon his ability to throw a haymaker? Send them to MMA if that is their pleasure, but let’s reserve roster spots for players who can bring home victory on the score board. Fighting isn’t going anywhere, but there are plenty of talented guys out there who can block both a shot and a punch.
We would LOVE to hear from you! How do you feel about fighting and the role of the enforcer in the NHL?
*** Update*** Smacker has been suspended by the AHL for 4 games. Information here.