The National Hockey League has seen its share of violent altercations throughout its years of existence. In fact, until fairly recently, fighting was an integral part of the sport. Much like every team has its star player nowadays, back then every organization also had its star enforcer whose role would essentially be to protect the team's more "valuable" players. But as the game gets increasingly faster and the players develop a bigger baggage of skill-sets, individuals who are idolized solely for defending their team's colors are becoming a rare bread.
In an interview with Mike Commito on Thursday, newly acquired Ottawa Senator Nate thompson used competitor Matt Martin as a reference to explain how the role of enforcers has been evolving:
“You look at a guy like he’s kind of the prototypical enforcer now. He’s a guy who will fight anybody but plays a lot of quality minutes and usually leads the league in hits every year. …That’s where I think the enforcer role is going. You’re not going to see a guy who’s going to play two or three minutes, fight, and be done for the night. We’re in a time now in the league where coaches are using all four lines to win, so every guy has to be able to play.”
When questioned in regards to whom was the toughest guy in the league to drop the mitts against, Thompson gave lots of merit to Calgary Flames' Michael Ferland:
“When I think of the toughest guy in the league I think of Ryan Reaves. I think everybody would probably agree. But pound for pound? …I fought that (Micheal) Ferland kid from Calgary and he’s a pretty tough kid. He can chuck ‘em pretty good, so I’d put him in that category.”
His praise of the latter's punching power may have to do with the fight both players had on April 2nd, 2017:
Regardless, his perception of the role's evolution offers us insight into what the tasks of such a player actually are. It also further strengthens the idea that fights in hockey are here to stay, something that is certainly not going to gain everyone's approval. It worth questioning whether the increase in speed and the decrease in physical altercations may be one of the explanatory factors as to why there seems to more violent injuries in today's NHL.