In a sport where the players are enclosed in a rink of cold, hard ice, physicality is inevitable. Players crash into the plexiglass boards as checks are thrown. Gloves are discarded as two opponents prepare to engage in a fight.
Enforcers are the players with the responsibility of protecting their teammates through physical play, by checking or picking fights with enemy aggressors. In recent years, the role of the enforcer has become less important as physical play in the National Hockey League has decreased.
Physical play is on the decline
Hockey has almost always been characterized by a style of play where teams match their opponents violence. Fights happened often, sometimes even escalating into bench-clearing brawls.
This is no longer the case.
According to hockeyfights.com, the percentage of National Hockey League games where players participate in a fight has decreased from about 40 percent to 25 percent since the year 2000.
Gone are the days of teams such as the “Big Bad” Boston Bruins, a team that earned its nickname for the brutality of its play.
Instead, the fourth line of forwards are becoming “productive offensive line while also managing to be an incredibly effective shutdown line,” said Paul Wheeler of Stanley Cup Chowder.
Michael Haley, a new brand of enforcer
San Jose Shark’s forward Michael Haley is an example of how enforcers fit into today’s NHL. With zero goals in 31 games, Haley may seem like a questionable addition to the fourth line of the top three Pacific Division team.
Despite this, Jake Sundstrom of Fear the Fin credits Haley as, “…one of the best grinders in recent memory…”
While Haley leads the team in fights, he also proven to be an effective agitator, drawing penalties against the other team.
Recently, Haley has shown he’s more than just a fourth line goon with a pass that earned him his sixth assist of the season.
The era of physical hockey, with its physical play and constant fighting, is at an end. However, players that were once enforcers still have a place in the NHL.
It just requires having more skills than fighting.