Everyone was pretty uncomfortable with the outcome of last
Saturday's Wednesday's bout between Dave Dziurzynski and Frazer McLaren, including McLaren himself. But based on reports from TSN's Bob McKenzie, it may have inspired Ottawa Senators' GM Bryan Murray to quickly find someone besides Chris Neil or Zack Smith to drop the gloves for the team:
OTT looking for a physical player, preferably one who can drop the gloves with some authority.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 8, 2013
This was immediately met with derision online, and some very good points were made: Specifically, the fact that the Sens have far more pressing needs than fighting right now. They need goals. But I think that ignores some realities of the team's roster today, the modern-day NHL, and the personnel currently employed in Ottawa's Northeast Division. In my mind, those realities make it reasonable--perhaps even necessary--for Murray to seek out and acquire an enforcer for the Sens, as long as the price paid to get him is minimal.
Although the Dziurzynski incident was at the top of everyone's mind, it's not the only reason for this decision--it's just the most obvious. My thinking, and that of Jeremy Milks over at Black Aces, is that had Ottawa had a more established fighter in the lineup, McLaren would have chucked knuckles with that guy; the fight would have, in all likelihood, been relatively harmless and settled nerves off the bat. Instead, it was Dizzy far out of his weight class and comfort level, and the results were as predictable as they were sickening.
Neither Chris Neil nor Zack Smith are in that category; they're not in McLaren's weight class. And they're valuable, useful players who actually provide much-needed offence for the team, so it's not ideal to have them fighting in the first place.
Beyond fighting, Ottawa's been outplayed physically in the last little bit. Recent games had Matt Martin of the Islanders, Harry Zolnierczyk of the Flyers, and Milan Lucic of the Bruins running around pasting Sens players all over the ice. The presence of an enforcer in the lineup wouldn't have prevented Zolnierczyk's hit on Mike Lundin, but I'm of the opinion that fights can release a bit of built-up tension in a game so it doesn't boil over into questionable hits and other infractions. At the very least, it takes goons off the ice for five minutes.
At the beginning of the season, none of this would have mattered. Ottawa had such a fast, skilled team that opponents would ice their enforcers at their own risk; had Toronto played McLaren while Ottawa had Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza on the ice, the Sens would score and that would be that. Case closed. A remotely respectable powerplay would be a good deterrent, too, but the Sens have exactly four powerplay goals in their last 14 games. That's not punishing other teams for their transgressions.
But Ottawa doesn't have that skilled roster right now. The Senators aren't potent enough to make opponents pay the price on the scoreboard, so opponents can regularly play their enforcers against the Sens, and those guys will either throw dirty hits or fight against players who aren't ready to take them on. And that's why I think it's a good idea for Ottawa to pick up an enforcer for the remainder of the season.
This argument, I'm fully aware, is far from infallible. But I think it's Big Stick ideology: The Senators used to have a big stick in the form of a potent offence, and that served them well. But they don't have that stick any more, so they need another one. I'm of the opinion that the presence of an enforcer on your roster, a so-called "nuclear deterrent," is an effective way of either defusing the aggression of opposing teams, or at least re-directing it away from our skilled players and onto the physical guys who are fully prepared to take the heat. That's not a theory that can be proven, but it's my opinion, and it's upon that point that this case is made; if you disagree with that, you'll probably disagree about the need for an enforcer.
But my goodness, look at the makeup of the Northeast Division: McLaren and Colton Orr on Toronto, Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher on Montreal, John Scott, Steve Ott, and Patrick Kaleta on Buffalo, and Lucic, Shawn Thornton, and Brad Marchand on Boston. Put them all together and you've got a goon squad that would compete with the Federal League's Syracuse Bulldogs, and this is what the Sens are up against.
Is it an arms race? Yes, I'd say it is. Is it a good thing for hockey in general, or the Senators specifically? Not even remotely. But I don't want the Sens to carry a knife into a gun fight, so if gun fights are on the horizon, Ottawa needs better weaponry.
Personally, I'd prefer it if there were no enforcers on the Senators roster or the NHL in general. I'd much rather see hockey players who are actually capable of playing the game at a high level filling out the lineup card. But it's an unfortunate reality that enforcers are present, and they're especially present in the Senators' division, so the team's got to be able to defend itself. Refusing to acquire an enforcer based on principles is simply cutting off your nose to spite your face, and completely ignores the very real existence of serious physical threats in our division and around the league.
This is especially true for the Senators right now, given the inexperience throughout the team's roster. Ottawa's players are all still developing and learning how to play the game; I don't want that development stunted (or, worse, completely derailed) because some jackass with the opposition is running around like a 220-pound chicken with his head cut off. I want someone on the Sens roster to take on all comers, and hopefully defuse the threat in as safe a way as possible.
That's just for this year, though, and it's strictly based on the situation the Senators find themselves in right now. Next year, with the return of some serious skill to the roster, the Senators won't have to worry about it. Opponents will be afraid to put their enforcers on the ice, because the Sens will be formidable enough to make them pay on the scoresheet.