Should the NHL Banish Goons?

Posted: October 30, 2013 in NHL
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last Wednesday, October 23, the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres took the ice in the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry game of the week. The Bruins were up 4-2 in the later stages of the 3rd period, when John Scott took the ice, and made his impact on the game, in the only way he knows how (0:05 mark of the video):

The hit, as you can see, was blatant, late, cheap, and to the head. Scott was subsequently suspended indefinitely, until Judge Brendan Shanahan, and the jury of Player Safety can decide on an appropriate punishment for Scott. The verdict is in, the charge (pun aside) has been made, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets his suspension. One can only speculate where it will stand within the standards of the rest of the league.

I can make an educated guess, based off of John Scott’s player profile, that the suspension won’t be as “lenient” as, say, the Islanders’ Michael Grabner’s hit on Carolina’s Nathan Gerbe, which was 2 games.

Grabner is a speedy, gifted scorer, who has 77 goals and 124 points, and only 44 penalty minutes in 229 career games with the Islanders and Vancouver Canucks. John Scott, on the other hand, has played 187 games with Minnesota, Chicago, the New York Rangers, and the Buffalo Sabres. He has accumulated a grand total of 5 points (1 goal in 2009-10), and 324 penalty minutes. Even more so, Grabner averages 15 minutes of ice time per game, Scott only 7 minutes.

John Scott is only the latest addition to a group of so-called hockey players categorized as “goons”. Such a group includes guys like Cam Janssen (312 games, 11 points, 752 penalty minutes, average ice time of 4:47), Eric Boulton (617 games, 74 points, 1311 penalty minutes, average ice time of 7:06), and Derek Boogaard (277 games, 16 points, 589 penalty minutes, average ice time of 5:06).

These guys all have a number of things in common: Few points, few minutes on the ice, penalty minutes galore. These guys have very basic roles on the team: If a guy on the other team goes after anyone on their team, take them out. Simply put, these guys are mercenaries on skates, and they only cause havoc when put on the ice. Whether it’s a big hit or dropping the gloves, no matter the method, they try and inflict damage on another player, in some sort of negative reinforcement gone wrong.

That’s not to say the guy with the most penalty minutes is a goon. This season’s current penalty minutes leader is New York Ranger Derek Dorsett, who plays regularly as a fourth line energy player, and does drop the gloves from time to time, but doesn’t have a history of broken bodies in his wake. Another classic example is Ottawa’s Chris Neil, who has 213 career points, and is an essential part of his team’s offense, while also being on the protection squad.

Protecting a player is not to be looked down upon. Having those bigger guys who don’t mind dropping the gloves every now and again, can take the body, and also contribute offensively are rare commodities in the league, and sought at by everyone (look at the pay day David Clarkson got from the Maple Leafs).

But the way that the goons do it, where their sole role in the game is to become a wrecking ball with skates and sticks, should not be condoned. They don’t bring any hockey skills to the game, besides toughness and balance (they gotta stand on skates after all).

Heck, Donald Brashear, one of the most notorious goons in NHL history, took to MMA for a short period of time, and TKO’d some guy named Mathieu Bergeron at the 0:21 mark of the first round.

Goons don’t have much of a place in hockey. If they want to hone their skills of face-punching and body checking, they can try MMA or roller derby. But they are one of the biggest threats to player safety, especially like last week’s incident where John Scott took out an innocent skill player.

Scott’s suspension will be a hefty one. He’s a goon, and isn’t looked upon nicely by any analysts or experts. After that, who knows if he’ll ever see NHL ice time again. After this incident, for the real players’ sake, I hope that’s the case.

  1. Joseph Robin says:

    I’d like to point out that when you said that Scott’s suspension won’t be lenient “based off of John Scott’s player profile” you’re forgetting the fact that, according to the CBA, John Scott is NOT considered a dirty player or repeat offender, meaning that John Scott’s history will have nothing to do with the coming suspension.

    You might immediately point at the pre-season incident with him and Phil Kessel. But if you remember, Scott was not suspended from the incident and you can’t claim that we should treat Scott as a dirty player because that’s how we feel about him. At the end of the day, we treat Scott in the same exact way we treat Grabner with this. Solely based on this single incident.

    Additionally, these players that you mentioned aren’t necessarily “mercenaries on skates” as much as they are policemen on skates. You state how Scott has tied the laces for 3 NHL teams and let’s just say there’s a reason they are still in the league. Teams find it necessary to employ these players and John Scott has continued to see work in this league for a reason.

    They’re here to protect the star players.

    Although there have been many articles like this stating that these “goons” have no place in the league they fail to look at the other side of the argument. The fact that these enforcers exist means that the star players on the league have protection and the security to skate around without feeling as threatened. Wayne Gretzky, when being traded to the Kings, demanded that enforcer Marty McSorely be sent along with him because he needed that security blanket where he was going. And even though Steve Yzerman stated that he was against these enforcers in the league, let’s not forget that Yzerman had players like Bob Probert and Darren McCarty going around as his security guards.

    But my last point is perhaps my strongest.

    I’ll direct your attention for a minute to the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller incident:
    For the rest of the season, Sabre fans were furious that Buffalo didn’t retaliate that game or in the rest of the meetings that season. They demanded that they stood up for themselves and not get bullied around by the Bruins.

    So this past Summer the Sabres got John Scott.

    So now I ask you. Who are we to blame for the rise of the goon? It’s something that’s been a part of this game forever (heck, the Flyers won the Stanley Cup with a team full of ’em) and will continue to be.

  2. 5quarter says:

    A history of suspensions does not make a goon. The style of play, specifically one that doesn’t involve scoring as much as accumulation of penalty minutes in comparison to ice time and offensive value, makes a goon what he is.

    You seem to have missed the point, where I said protection of players is very important, and I’m all for it. But if you look at the typical scrapper in today’s game, you see a player who stands up for his teammate, but also can contribute offensively. You bring up guys from the past, but the game was different in the 80’s and 90’s, where player safety wasn’t as closely watched. The amount of enforcers in the NHL has diminished drastically since those years, because the game has been put under a more watchful eye.

    So by definition of the CBA, you are correct in that Scott is not a previous offender, but he’s much more likely to do something like this again than a guy like Grabner. Yes they seem to find work, but the demand for such enforcers has dwindled significantly since the times you brought up. It’s a good argument, but we are dealing with two different eras of the game.

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