Some teams are now going without any.
CALGARY, Alberta — The days of Paul Laus, Peter Worrell and Darcy Hordichuk are no more. For the first time in their 13-year history, the Panthers have no enforcer on their training-camp roster. And they're not alone.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who had as many as a half-dozen tough guys during their "Broad Street Bullies" era 30 years ago, let Donald Brashear sign with Washington this summer. Edmonton let Georges Laracque, reputed to be the best of the breed, sign with Phoenix, even though Laracque said he would take $200,000 less to remain an Oiler.
Why the trend? Many general managers believe that the speed and skill of the so-called "new NHL" makes it impractical to reserve a spot - even on the fourth line - for a player who can fight but can't contribute offensively and keep up defensively.
"If you're going to have a guy on your team he's got to be able to play," Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe said. "We have team toughness, so we think we'll be all right."
The Panthers' coach and GM, Jacques Martin, feels the same way. "I don't think our team needs one," he said.
Some of his players aren't so sure [...]
Gratton favors having an enforcer whose main responsibility is standing up for his teammates.
"It allows everyone to play bigger," he said. "During the course of an 82-game schedule you're going to get in certain situations and create certain rivalries, and it's always nice to have it."
Now, having an on-ice policeman is considered a luxury.
"It's frustrating when you go into games and guys are challenging you because they know they aren't going to have to deal with anyone else," Gratton said [...]Enforcers, going... going...
...Just Tuesday, longtime Toronto tough guy Tie Domi, 36, retired after finding no work this season. Calgary has let go of Chris Simon, and Chris Dingman, whose role in Tampa Bay last season included protecting Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, is unemployed, too.
"If you're going to have a tough player, he's got to be able to play," Dudley said. "Because in today's hockey, you really don't need to fight if you don't want to."
Statistics bear that out. In 2003-04, before the rules changes that put an emphasis on skill and speed, there were 0.64 fights per game. Last season, that number fell to 0.38. The number of games with fights fell from 506 in 2003-04 to 357 last season. Games with more than one fight dropped from 172 to 80.
Still, as Jokinen said, every team has to decide whether it has room for an enforcer. Not having one, he said, "puts a lot of pressure on our bigger guys, the guys who can fight but who aren't known as fighters.
"You want to keep your best players on the ice. When your toughest players are also your best players, that's tough."