In a vacuum, In the Game’s “Enforcers” series of trading cards is a pretty bright way to shake up a rather stagnant industry. After all, it’s difficult to top the love that NHL tough guys tend to receive. Of course, when you consider the context of a tragic summer of enforcer deaths, a creative idea becomes a divisive matter of taste, as venues such as 680 News and Puck Daddy discussed.
To give you the rundown, ITG is releasing the “Enforcers” set in mid-January 2012. Many of the cards feature a “bloodstained” effect, there are game-worn jerseys from fights (aping an industry standard that goes back many years) and historic fights are trumpeted with images and sometimes memorabilia from both enforcers. Take a look at some of the most provocative cards, via ITG’s blog.
(Here’s one video of Worrell vs. Chara, if fight videos are you thing.)
Perhaps the most controversial inclusion will be Wade Belak, one of the enforcers who died last summer. Click here for the card that includes Belak (H/T to Greg Wyshynski.)
ITG’s owner Brian Price responded to some of the criticisms, including a 680 News caller who believes it is “completely appropriate” and that the cards promote violence.
“I guess it’s just a timing issue right now, with the unfortunate deaths of a couple of players, maybe some related to injuries on the ice but others related to other things,” Price said. “We are not glorifying violence whatsoever. We are playing tribute to a group of hockey payers who have a specific role in the sport.”
(It’s kind of hard to believe that blood-splattered effects aren’t an example of glorifying violence, but that’s just me.)
What do you think about the enforcer cards? Do you think it’s a brilliant campaign, an example of bad timing and taste or maybe some combination of both? Let us know in the comments.
Brian McGrattan certainly knows how to get noticed upon making his return to the NHL. The AHL single-season penalty minute record holder and newly acquired Nashville Predator got to suit up against the Coyotes in the Preds 5-2 loss to Phoenix, but it didn’t go quite the way McGrattan was hoping for.
With McGrattan being a fighter and the Coyotes having Internet superstar Paul “BizNasty” Bissonnette roaming on the ice there ready to drop the gloves, McGrattan was hoping to get famous on BizNasty. Bissonnette wasn’t having it though. Buddy Oakes of Preds On The Glass hears from McGrattan about how BizNasty wouldn’t have a go.
McGrattan is known as one of the toughest enforcers in hockey. During the game he tried to use his physical game to no avail. “I tried a couple of times but if you don’t have a taker then you can’t take yourself out of the game trying to do that the whole game. You ask once or twice and if nothing’s there you try to do other things.”
The guy that wouldn’t participate was Coyote tough-guy, Paul Bisssonette. McGrattan said, “He didn’t even look at me.”
Things in the AHL might be a bit more brutal with fights and shenanigans, but in the NHL when your team is up, and up comfortably, the chances are that an enforcer taking a fight while his team is up big will get him benched. Bissonnette did right by his team not taking a fight and potentially getting the Preds fired up and back in the game.
McGrattan may have been out of the NHL for a bit, but even he’s got to know that no one will dance with him when things are out of hand.
For better or worse, fighting is a part of hockey. It entertains fans and also allows teams to “police” the game. Yet while it’s true that few people stay in their seat for a fight, it’s a shame that so many enforcers don’t leave their seats on the bench until it’s time to march off to a boxing match on ice.
With that in mind, it seemed worthwhile to see if there are semi-regular fighters who can actually play. I put together a short list of the league’s best “mini-enforcers”: players who were involved in at least 10 fights per season in 2010-11 and 2009-10 but still managed to bring a nice offensive boost to the table. (Fight totals via Hockey Fights.com.)
Ryane Clowe: 12 fights and 62 points in 2010-11; 11 fights and 57 points in 2009-10.
Steve Ott: 10 fights and 32 points in 10-11; 11 fights and 36 points in 09-10.
Brandon Prust: 18 fights and 29 points in 10-11; 25 fights and 14 points in 09-10.
Chris Neil: 12 fights and 16 points in 10-11; 13 fights and 22 points in 09-10
Other noteworthy players
Defenseman Theo Peckham is a little newer to the NHL, but he averaged more 18 minutes per game and engaged in 10 fights last season. Steve Downie and Milan Lucic aren’t usually in the 10 fight range, but they’re willing to drop the gloves and have much higher ceilings as scorers than anyone but Clowe. Zenon Konopka can do one thing beyond fighting: win faceoffs. Derek Dorsett might be worthy of an “honorable mention” alongside Neil as guys who fight a lot but can sprinkle in a bit more offense than usual.
When you look at that list, it seems like most of the players can be labeled as pests who fight a bit more than usual or enforcers who get a light amount of points. Clowe stands out in that group, though. He fought the likes of Paul Bissonnette and Jared Boll last season, but also showed how much of an impact he could make while playing focused hockey by scoring 15 points in 17 playoff contests in 2011.
Perhaps there’s a current player who provides an even better combination of fighting ability and on-ice usefulness, but if there’s only one player that future “mini-enforcers” could be modeled after, it might just be Clowe.