Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jordin Tootoo And The Diminishing Role of Enforcers.

Last week prior to playing the Calgary Flames, the Red Wings called up Jordin Tootoo from Grand Rapids. The move made sense; Gustav Nyquist and several other forwards were injured, Tootoo’s playing style brings a much-needed physical edge, and just about anyone is better than Mikael Samuelsson right now. The Wings won with Tootoo in the line up, not much of an accomplishment against the Flames. The Wings proceeded to win against the Toronto Maple Leafs two days later, with Tootoo netting an assist in the effort. But alas, Nyquist was getting activated off the Injured Reserve, and someone had to go. Given that sending Samuelsson is over 35 years old, sending him to the minors provides no cap relief, so Tootoo was sent back to Grand Rapids and Detroit got dropped by the New York Islanders like a bag of dirt.

But what does all this say about enforcers with the Detroit Red Wings, and on a greater scale, the NHL?

Detroit is tied for last in major penalties takes this year with 5, according to ESPN, which is quickly becoming my most favorite site for stats to back up my ideas. They’re tied with Carolina and New Jersey. They were 29th in majors last year (15 major penalties) and 30th in the league for several seasons before then. At least for the ones that I can easily find records for. Conclusions? Detroit doesn’t fight much. They were dead last in penalty minutes the year they most recently won the cup (2008 had 937) and the following year they had 12 major penalties, last in the league by a long shot. If I can come to this conclusion, people that make decisions in this league have to be able to as well. If a successful team in this modern era of NHL hockey can do that well without much fighting, maybe fighters aren’t quite as useful as they used to be?

Sure the Wings are winning with Tootoo in the lineup lately. This could be similar to the contributions we all remember from the Grind Line. If not, educate yourself, they’ll be at the Winter Classic Alumni Game and it’ll be awesome! Anyway, compared to the teams that brought glory to the city of Detroit in 1997, 1998, and 2002, the current Red Wings team is comparable. The captain Henrick Zetterberg is comparable to The Captain Steve Yzerman. The russian sniper Pavel Datsyuk is comparable to russian sniper Sergei Federov. Goalie Jimmy Howard is comparable to Chris Osgood or Mike Vernon. But who’s comparable to Darren McCarty? (Note: I said they were comparable, not ‘exactly the same’, calm down old timers!)

There’s a considerable difference between McCarty and Tootoo, however. Let’s start with the stats. Counting only NHL games, McCarty had 288 points in 758 games (0.3799 per). Not really a serious offensive contributor but it was good enough to seal up the last game of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997.

He also had 1477 penalty minutes, almost two per game. The man definitely dropped the gloves, 174 times to be exact, almost once every 4 games. Compared this to Jordin Tootoo, who’s never been renown for his offensive contributions. 538 games played so far with 134 games and 808 penalty minutes. (0.2491 points per game, 167 fights which means one every three games or so). What does this mean? McCarty and Tootoo aren’t nearly the same player. McCarty does more for offense without fighting quite as much. In short, McCarty can do more than fight. Tootoo not so much.

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This is to say nothing for the fact that McCarty and Tootoo’s NHL eras were so different, they might as well have been on separate planets. At age 30, Tootoo probably has a few good years left in him, although where he’ll end up spending them is anyone’s guess. McCarty was 30 for the 2002 cup and the start of the 2002-2003 season. Concussions weren’t quite as well understood during his career. No one had dissected Bob Probert’s brain and discovered how much it had degenerated after his career. And there certainly wasn’t a lawsuit levied against the NHL for concussion-related protocols.

This isn’t to say one era is better or worse, but things are what they are. We can all be honest here and say we enjoy watching fighting, even if it’s usefulness is up for debate. But fighting is probably on it’s way out of the NHL. Certainly not next season, maybe not the next five seasons, but it’s on it’s way out.  So if it’s so dangerous, why would NHLers want to keep it in the NHL?

Could you look across your cubicle or your line at the plant and vote for something that would cause your co-workers or your buddies to be out on the street? Because that’s basically what you’re asking NHLers to do when you ask them if they should ban fighting. Tootoo is but one on a long list on names that would need to find a new career if fighting was banned. Mike Brown, John Scott, Colton Orr, Cam Jansen, Krys Barch, Aaron Asham just to name a few. These are all players that, more or less, only serve one function in the NHL, and that’s dropping the gloves. Can we really blame any NHL player for being hesitant to say “Yes, please ban fighting and put my teammate out on the street.”

I like watching Tootoo in the Wings uniform and I hope he finds his way back on to the roster in one form or another. Unfortunately, he may be the last of a dying breed. Fighting is on it’s way out of the NHL, so with it will go players like Tootoo. Again, I’m not saying it’s wrong or right, it’s just how things are. And for better or for worse, the NHL of the future won’t contain things like this:

 

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