Goons Are Stupid

Following a rather… eventful weekend of NHL pre-season hockey, it appears that the fighting/enforcer debate has raised its head once again after a brief lockout-created reprieve. Some love the fact that fighting plays a prominent role and believe that enforcers have a legitimate purpose on NHL rosters. Others believe that fighting is a barbarian act allowed in the NHL, and that the enforcer is a pointless waste of space. I fall somewhere in the middle.

I understand why the ability to fight in the NHL can be seen as important. Despite my strong feelings towards the reduction of concussions, and my awareness of how horrible and life changing they can be, I get that in a game like hockey, you need to protect yourself sometimes. I don’t enjoy the sport because of the fighting, nor have I ever found myself disappointed leaving a game because I didn’t see a fight occur.  In fact, what I hate is the role, and the belief that an enforcer, also referred to as a “goon,” has a prominent place in the game.

Enforcers don’t protect anybody

How can I prove that?  It’s simple – no coach who wants to keep his job long term should or will consistently play an enforcer with the star players he should be “protecting.” In fact, pretty much the only time a goon will see the ice is when the other team’s goon is out there. Why? So they can skate out to the middle of the ice, take off their helmets (because who really cares if they sit out an extra two minutes), tug at each other’s jerseys, try to throw a couple punches, and then fall down (likely because their skating ability is sub par). When an enforcer even attempts to fight a note-worthy player, he is ridiculed and shamed for breaking “hockey code”.

Need proof? Let’s go down the list of some players that I would consider rather important to their teams, and see how much time they actually spend on the ice with their “great protectors”.

Steven Stamkos. I’d say he’s pretty good. Plays on a team with B.J. Crombeen, how happened to lead the NHL in major penalties last season. How much time did they spend on the ice 5 on 5 together? A whopping 39:14.

Phil Kessel. He’s gotten in a little hot water for his reaction to a threat this weekend right? He’s one of, if not the most important player on the Leafs. Definitely someone worth protecting, and the Leafs had not one, but two enforcers on their team by the names of Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr. He spent a total of 9:18 on the ice with Frazer, and 1:31 with Orr.

Henrik Sedin. One of what the Canuck-haters out their like to refer to as the “Sedin-sisters”. Surely he would need some protecting if that’s how he’s known around the league. Tom Sestio played a "tough guy" role with the Canucks last year, yet he played a mere 3:24 of 5 on 5 time with Sedin.

Sidney Crosby. Recent victim of the concussion bug, a huge piece to the turn around of the Penguins franchise, and quite possibly the best hockey player on the planet.  He plays in a division and in the same State as a team that is KNOWN for their rough play and is likely the target of every opposing player’s hits, bumps, slashes, spears, etc. If there is anyone in the league that needs defending from a line mate, it would be this guy right? Well, you guessed it. He totaled 25:16 with the Penguins top fighting forward in Tanner Glass last year.

The reality is these goons are spending their time playing minimal minutes on the fourth line.  On many teams, this is a line that could be exploited by opponents, leaving your team playing the majority of a game with three lines. That can’t be an ingredient for long-term success.

Enforcers Make Your Best Players Worse

You want to know the best part of that huge 25:16 of ice time Glass spent on the ice with Crosby? No goals were scored for the Penguins while it was going on.

Surprised? Me neither.

This rather obvious thought was first brought up and proven to me last season the The Leafs Nation Cam Charron, who wrote this article highlighting the fact that Nazem Kadri was being dragged down offensively while he was on the ice with Colton Orr. Therefore, I decided to take a look at how Jets star Evander Kane performed with and without Chris Thorburn.







With Thorburn






Without Thorburn






In every aspect, just like Nazem Kadri, the tough guy has brought the star down when they are on the ice together. So even if having him out there “creates more room” for Kane to work, he surely cannot take advantage of it. Why is that? Likely because he is playing with only one teammate capable of keeping up with him, while the other patrols around struggling to keep up. (Poor Kaner, even without Thorburn he hasn’t exactly been playing with stars his whole career).

Maybe it’s more than a coincidence that the absolutely dominant and eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks had absolutely no players in the top 30 for major penalties last year.

So Why Keep Fighting?

Because hockey is a tough game, and the real fights are NOT done by enforcers. The useless, talked about, staged fights are the fights that no longer belong in this game. They also just happen to be the fights that these goons tend to find themselves in. The fights that come from raw emotion, anger, defense of teammates, and aren’t thought about are the fights that I believe should stay in the game, and also happen to be the most entertaining. Players like Shawn Thorton, Milan Lucic, David Backes, and dare I even say Evander Kane are the tough guys that are valuable assets. These are the players that can fight and defend their teammates, but also provide something more to their team. The players that coaches don’t have to limit to 5:00 minutes or less of ice time to be successful, but can also go out and keep up with the skill their teammates have.

It’s an overall team toughness that makes the Blackhawks, Blues, Bruins, Sharks and Kings such admirable and difficult opponents. Not the one or two face punchers that ride the pine all game.


One day I do believe that fighting will be removed from the NHL. The scrums, face washes, and hits will remain, but the dropping of gloves will eventually be phased out. In fact, rules are already in place that will allow it to happen. For now though, it remains a vital part of the game, and teams have to prepare for it. Just stop preparing of it by paying enforcers. Your team will be better off.