Friday, January 6, 2012

Burke Sees into the Future of the NHL: Role of Enforcer Diminishing, But is it for Better or Worse?

Brian Burke had the painful task this week of putting team favorite Colton Orr on waivers, which he cleared and then assigning him to the Leafs farm team, the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL).  This obviously didn't sit well with him, as he went on a tirade in a press conference about his concerns with the direction of the NHL, and the role of the endangered enforcer.  It is widely known that Burke is a supporter of the enforcer role and that NHL players should first police themselves before the league gets involved with a disciplinary role.  So it’s not a surprise when Burke makes the comments he did about “rats” taking over the NHL landscape, therefore making it easy to dismiss his comments because, well, that’s just Burke being Burke.  But Burke makes a compelling argument that with the role of the enforcer being slowly extricated from hockey, players no longer have to worry about retribution for cheap shots.  This not only means more pests, but a general lack of respect for other players.  The “lack of respect” is what many NHL analysts attribute to the rash of high-sticking penalties and illegal hits.  Maybe this lack of respect is what Brendan Shanahan, current NHL disciplinarian, should be focusing on restoring.

  Not to say that back in “the-good-old-days” players weren't making cheap shots or breaking rules, but they would have to atone for their actions by answering to not only an enforcer, but also the whole opposing team.  Since Todd Bertuzzi ended the career of Steve Moore in March of 2004, there was a backlash against reprisals and vigilante justice.  Bertuzzi was merely trying to do his job; he just took it to another level, which had terrible consequences.   Since then there has been an uprising of water bugs in the NHL, players who are all bark, but no bite.  I agree with Burke when he said it makes him sick to his stomach.  It’s painful to watch players like Carcillo and LaPierre run around agitating, jawing, taking cheap shots then complain to officials when anyone takes a run at them.  The role of agitator could be very useful, when done properly, in order to draw penalties, but there has to be a certain level of dignity when executing that role.  Darcy Tucker did it perfectly in his days in the blue and white.  Tucker would make clean, hard hits to his opponents, talk dirt with the best of them, but would also back it up as he would never back down from an opponent.  Now players like Steve Downie are able to slash and elbow and be held accountable only to the NHL. 

  I’m sure by now Shanahan has had enough of making videos explaining suspension, it just doesn’t seem to be getting through to the players.  I have never seen this many suspensions by the half waypoint in an NHL season.  It seems like every time a player is hit, it is being questioned whether or not that hit warrants a suspension.  So now the question lies in what can be done to limit suspension, encourage tough, physical play but also to discourage cheap shots?  Maybe putting fear back into opponents by reinstating the enforcer role, but that seems like we’re just backpedaling and not moving forward as the NHL evolves.  Personally, I believe that coaches and players need to be more accountable for their actions.  Coaches should be stern with their players about not diving and taking cheap shots, as well as veteran players should teach younger players about respect and playing clean.  Players and their coaches take not enough responsibility.  Brendan Shanahan or anybody else who has his job will ever be able to fix it with just suspensions as hard as they may try.  Take Carcillo for example, he’s had nine fines or suspensions over his career.  Financial punishment doesn’t matter to players who make millions of dollars.  Let’s put the onus on the players, it starts and ends with them. 

T. Andrew Corbét

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