Does Washington Need a Watchdog?

Cup'pa JoeLate Thursday afternoon we learned that Colorado Avalanche roughguy David Koci, having gone head-hunting behind the net on Mike Green in the Capitals’ 6-1 smackdown of the ‘Lanche Tuesday night, was more or less absolved of any wrong-doing by the league — he was modestly fined, no suspension. So much for the league sending a clear message about respect by players for one another . . . color us unsurprised.

Time and again we’ve listened patiently to the game’s critics of enforcement and fighting suggest that were the league merely to rigorously sanction instances of egregious violence, there’d be no need for skating predators and pain merchants. So what are we to do with the league’s blind eye toward Koci? Shrug and wait for the next skilled Capital crumpled upon the ice from thuggery, apparently. Or should we?

Here we’re going to lay out our individual vantages on the issue, and invite you to share yours. It’s an emotional and heated topic without a clear-cut, easy answer—all the more reason to hear all sides. And it’s indisputably salient and important for the league as a whole, and the Capitals in particular.


The Caps don’t need an Enforcer — they need a Destroyer. Donald Brashear-esque enforcers are like WWII Battleships: deadly, imposing, but of limited use. Whereas destroyers are more nimble, just as deadly in a quick-strike capacity, but useful in a wide range of situations (in hockey, not just for heavy-weight fights and bench-warming).

When you hear Destroyer, think Dale Hunter… Matt Cooke with even more edge… and yes, Chris Pronger; scary, slightly crazy, sometimes dirty players whom the opposition truly fear, because you just never know who they’ll target or what they’ll do next. And not a drop-the-gloves kind of targeting, more the “You did something we don’t like to our star — now your star is going to regret it.”

Mind you, this part of the game is unfortunate, and the NHL needs to fix it. The league needs to do so by suspending players, and even coaches like the Avs’ Joe Sacco, for intentionally encouraging such dangerous play perpetrated by talentless goons. Yet, as clearly evidenced by the league’s inexplicable excusing of talent-free Koci’s goonery, the NHL mindset change will be glacially slow to arrive.  The Capitals are built to win now. Expect more liberties to be taken with the Caps’ stars, particularly in the playoffs, until there’s a Destroyer draped in Capitals colors.


In the modern NHL, where the salary cap puts constraints on virtually every roster move, signing, and trade, why would any team want to waste even $1 million on lousy non-talent? So with last season’s departure of six-minute-per-game, $1.2 million Donald Brashear (whom I admire very much), came an era where skill can flourish on all four lines and light the lamp on a regular basis. One fighter, Matt Bradley, is having a career season, scoring one more goal already than he did all of last season. Why, you ask? Leaving enforcer types off the roster makes the faster, skilled players a lot better because there’s more room to operate. You think fights give energy boosts to teams? I think any Capitals’ goal at Verizon Center does the job, and the guys in red have scored every game this season at home.


The question of whether the Caps need an enforcer is a moot point, because they already have one and his name is Alexander Ovechkin. Now he isn’t the typical enforcer in the traditional sense of the term, instead he enforces by putting the puck in the back of the net. When everything is said and done, sure it would be nice to get some physical retribution when teams run at Caps players, but isn’t a win so much sweeter? Why stoop to their level, instead take the high ground and just flat out embarrass them. In the end five minutes for fighting will feel good for a period, but two points and several goals by Ovie will feel so much better.


I don’t think that Washington needs an enforcer in the pure sense of the word. The Caps have no use for Danny Carcillo, David Koci, or Patrick Kaleta. One could argue that the Caps did just fine with dead weight on the roster in the form of Michael Nylander, so they could probably do fine with a thug taking a roster spot. The difference is, they would also take a spot on the game day roster. But it is clear that the status quo is not working as teams have been taking runs at Capitals, even after clean hits. While the Caps have countered with a lethal power play and taking the win, there is still the risk of serious injury. What if Green was out indefinitely with a concussion or another injury instead of probably playing tonight? Would the debate take a different tone?

Perhaps what this team needs is a little more grit. A little more toughness. A Dale Hunter type. Sure, Hunter racked up over 3,500 career penalty minutes. He also scored over 1,000 points. That’s not one dimensional. His playoff numbers? How’s 118 points in 186 games? Ask Philadelphia about his points.

One might say that these type of players have no place in today’s game. Perennial powerhouse Detroit begs to differ. Just this year they signed Brad May. Here’s what Dan Cleary had to say about May.

“Knowing what he does on the ice is a good, calming factor for everybody, knowing teams aren’t going to be able to take liberties on our good players and run around. It’s a great element that has helped us in the past with Mac (Darren McCarty) and Downs (Aaron Downey).”

Where is our Dale Hunter?


This is a longstanding and spectacularly spirited debate — I think it fairly brought down Twitter the other day — and the two sides are united by a keen interest in seeing the welfare of Washington’s players preserved and protected to the fullest extent possible. Bright and thoughtful people are seated on both sides of this issue. But what I find conspicuously missing across a wide cross-section of the anti- enforcers crowd is an acknowledgment of the since-the-game’s-inception role enforcement has played in our sport. If hockey — at the NHL level most particularly — has ever known a role for an enforcer on more or less every roster, and yet now all of a sudden has far less of a need for one, when precisely did the metamorphosis occur? And how? Salary caps suddenly altered the nature of our sport? Really?

For me this question is answered easily by the nature of our game. No other sport asks of its athletes what hockey does. Collide with one another, on every shift, at upwards of thirty miles per hour. Do so within the confines of unyielding dasher boards and increasingly inflexible plexiglass. Be built like NFL safeties and linebackers. And for good measure, carry a weapon in your hands. The nature of our game strongly suggests that nightly there will be violence; having one or two independent sets of eyes at ice level monitoring the drama is hardly deterrent; and decades’ worth of circumstantial evidence is highly suggestive that when a game’s violent tensions are addressed in culminating fashion by a slow dance involving heavyweights, most often order is restored. The cheap stuff comes to a screeching halt.

The cold hard reality is that non-sanctions like that for David Koci are par for the NHL course. This is a league that has ever wanted and nurtured ‘the buzz’ associated with toeing the line on socially unsanctioned, frontier-style retribution. It’s part of what distinguishes the NHL from all other sports. It isn’t going anywhere. And if you aren’t adequately prepared for engagement with it, you are vulnerable.

This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Colorado Avalanche, Matt Bradley, National Hockey League, NHL, NHL Rules, Washington Capitals and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Does Washington Need a Watchdog?

  1. Jim says:

    It’s not an enforcer so much as a player who can also fight. Bradley, god love him, can’t fight worth a lick, and Erskine already has a fragile melon, so I’d prefer him to stick to his core duties. Say what you will about Carcillo or Laperriere (why are they on the same team?) they can play hockey AND fight better than most. I, for one, would have loved to pick up a guy like that in the off season. Screw the deadline. The Caps need a real man in the lineup pronto. Ovechkin is a great checker but he doesn’t drop the gloves. Heaven forbid Laich, Knuble, Clark etc. would fight on occasion (sarcasm). Still, Koci is like 8 feet tall. We need a guy who can and will fight anyone.

  2. vt caps fan says:

    I gotta agree – the caps don’t need an enforcer – they need someone who can go with the big boys if need be. Erskine is a decent example – but in a perfect world Laich or Steckle would be that guy – also in this perfect world Dale Hunter would still be in his prime – but in reality you can’t ask someone to be a fighter. They either are or they are not.

    Build the team for the playoffs. Playoff hockey doesn’t have much fighting. It needs toughness and that’s what we should focus on.

  3. Patrick says:

    I don’t think anyone believes we need to teach Mike Tyson to skate or anything like that. I think that we could address this need with a big, physical, defensive defenseman who has no fear of dropping his mitties once in a while. An angry Erskine-type with a clean bill of health, might be in order. Could we find a raw meat eating caged beast somewhere? I am sure that George Mcphee already has that on his Christmas wish list.

  4. Ted says:


  5. Well, @ TED, that’s also important — and while the Caps are 24/30 in SHG Goals Against, that’s still only 4 goals they’ve allowed while a man up. A problem, but not the topic for this thread.

  6. d_fens_65 says:

    It’s a waste of a roster spot and money to have an enforcer.

    1. What the heck would Brashear done to Koci, after the hit?
    IMO: Nothing Koci was out of the game. Even if not ejected he doesn’t play so you can’t “Retaliate”
    2. Do you think if the caps had him he would have stopped Koci from cheap shoting Green?
    IMO: No
    3. Do you think The Donald running O’Reilly afterwards would be a good thing?
    IMO: No and that would do nothing but encourage the next Koci.

    Now I wouldn’t mind a Burrows, or Clutterbuck type player who brings skill along with their PIM. Grit maybe, Goons no.

  7. “Grit, no goons” sums up perfectly… and a seriously gritty/nasty customer, not just toughness (of which the Caps have plenty already).

  8. Eric says:

    You had me at “Dale Hunter”.

  9. ThunderWeenie says:

    Well, it has been a loooooong time since I last commented here…so, first off, hi to old friends and new ones.

    I agree with the “grit, not goons” philosophy. Hockey is a physical game, and you need players who are capable of hard, aggressive plays that both keep skilled players from being bullied and separate opposing players from the puck.

    But somewhere along the way, “physicality” and “toughness” became synonomous with “fighting”. With all due respect to Jim’s posting earlier, I think that is a fundamental error and one of the greatest myths of modern hockey.

    What you certainly don’t need is that bullcrap staged fighting where these palookas text each other days in advance and set up a fight in order to “send a message” or “get the team fired up”. This nonsense gets everyone cheering and makes everyone feel good for about 30 seconds, but does not win hockey games.

    So I say forget the “raw-meat-eating caged beasts”. A aggressive skilled player like Clutterbuck is the type you should go after, IMHO.



  10. Patrick says:

    Sorry, got carried away with the description, Thunder.
    Since last year’s playoffs I have often felt that they needed a D man like I described above though, too many liberties upon our tenders, and stars. The front of our net is a battlefield the Caps NEED to dominate somehow and I believe this could be accomplished if we could insert another, healthy, Erskine bookend.
    Crosby would be evicted from his “office”, and Carcillo and company would have a more evenly-matched dance partner, (no offense Brads but somebody has to take care of your new family).

  11. Goon says:

    Today one of your defenseman, the next time maybe Ovie. Policemen/Goon’s keep others on the ice honest… I can’t actually believe that Koci only got a fine for his hit.

  12. Patrick says:

    I’m still waiting for Campbell to say that his e-mail got cut short and Koci is out for 10.

  13. NS2NOVA says:

    It’s not the Caps that need an enforcer, it’s the league. Specifically someone to replace Colin Campbell and his randomly generated supplemental discipline. How in the @#$% can he justify letting Koci and Ruutu both off with the hockey equivalent of a disapproving look.

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