As the Washington Capitals inch closer to free agency opening July 1st, there have been many speculations surrounding which cogs need to be fine tuned for next season to ensure a lengthier Stanley Cup run. It's generally accepted that the Caps should make a move for a defensive defenseman, and some even suggest making a run for a veteran goaltender who would start over the youthful tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. A topic that has dwarfed all others since free agency began last season though - when Donald Brashear was not issued an offer from Washington, and instead signed with the New York Rangers: Should the Caps target an enforcer?
To investigate this debate, one must break down the ask into its two distinct points:
- Do the Capitals need an enforcer?
- If so, who should they target in free agency?
As the Caps have not had a "true" fighter in the locker room since Brashear's departure, we need to determine if the Capitals lack of enforcement has hindered the franchise. Looking at each successive season since the 2004-05 lockout, the Capitals have seen their point totals increase, while instances of fighting majors have decreased.
2007-2008 Regular Season 33 - 94 points
2008-2009 Regular Season 28 - 108 points
2009-2010 Regular Season 20 - 121 points
Without being forced to pay - and dress - someone who will play marginal minutes the Caps have been able to free up space on the roster for players who excel at other facets of the game. Types of players like Matt Bradley and Jason Chimera, who have hockey skill but have shown grit and toughness, are still valuable to this team while deterring cheap shots and flagrant stick penalties. This toughness is what will win battles in the corners and in front of the crease, while still being able to contribute to the team in ways other than merely letting the top line catch their breath. Although not the sole reason for the jump in points, not extending Brashear could be seen as addition by subtraction.
It seems that other squads have followed suit, as the five teams with the fewest fighting majors placed in the top third of the league, while the bottom five placed in the second half.
|Rank by Total Fights||Team||Number of Fighting Majors||Regular Season Rank|
|30||Detroit Red Wings||19||7|
|1||St. Louis Blues||72||15|
|2||Tampa Bay Lightning||73||25|
Now- I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I want to see fighting abolished from the NHL. I am merely suggesting that there's a difference between a talentless goon who lacks self-control and a tough, hard nose skater. I do believe that a player, on or off the Capitals roster, should be held responsible for his actions, and needs to be aware of the repercussions that will come from disrespectful play, running a guy from behind, taking liberties with the other team's star player, or any other malicious acts. Also, as we saw during the playoffs, fighting can also be used to a teams' advantage to change momentum for a team who is losing or not playing well.
Some enforcers do have other talents, much like Colton Orr who sees minutes at the end of games and occasionally on the power play. If the Caps were to sign an enforcer during the off-season, it would have to be one of these types that do bring additional skills to the table. While I believe that Chimera and Bradley can hold down the fort, and don't believe that an enforcer should be near the top of the list of the offseason acquisitions for McPhee, here are three free agent enforcers that have some merit, and can be had on the cheap:
Arron Asham Age: 31 NHL Tenure: 10 years 2009-10 Salary: $640,000
- Plays a battling, grinding game.
- Can create space and turnovers to help generate offense for Washington's faster forwards.
- Has playoff experience, playing in 39 games the last 4 seasons.
Krys Barch Age: 30 NHL Tenure: 4 years 2009-10 Salary: $575,000
- Originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1998
- Known as a hard hitter, but has shown flashes of offensive abilities.
- Not really feared, but very underrated fighter and an energetic player.
David Clarkson Age: 26 NHL Tenure: 4 years 2009-10 Salary: $875,000
- Excellent checking and hitting abilities (third on the Devils' roster in hits during the regular season)
- Offensively sound, registered 56 points in 128 games the last two seasons
- Stronger skating abilities than most enforcers.