It’s the Chicago Blackhawks question seemingly older than the NHL itself: ‘Do the Hawks need an enforcer?’ More recently, giving the giving the age-old inquiry a more relevant twist, many have asked, ‘Do these Hawks, led by young and slight super stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, need an enforcer?’
The answer for the past 13+ months has been simple – at least to the Feather: no. With big boys Matt Walker skating among the top-six defensemen on a nightly basis and willing – thought not necessarily able in each instance – combatants Ben Eager, Adam Burish and Craig Adams mucking and grinding on the fourth line, it seemed to many that a typical goon just wasn’t necessary. ‘It’s enforcer by committee,’ many would say. Sure, problems arose from time to time, but the group was just large enough to keep competitors honest.
But with the aforementioned Walker, Eager, Burish and Adams all either gone or missing in action due to long-term injuries, it seems only natural to ask, ‘With the “committee” gone, what now? Who’s responsible for filling the role this time around?’
This time around, the story’s a bit different. Big guys Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker and Troy Brouwer all play big, important minutes – and none is particularly adept with the fists – and the fourth line, where most enforcers lurk in today’s game, is home to a group of forwards I’d trust to babysit your children. (Would you let Derek Boogaard or Marty McSorley take your kid to Chuck E Cheese? ‘Sure,’ you’d say, ‘but only if Tie Domi chaperones.’)
Sure, Colin Fraser works hard; he’s mostly responsible; and, hell, he scored 17 goals in the AHL during 2007-2008, but he’s no more an enforcer than the man he was acquired for: Alex Zhamnov. Remember when Fraser was called up a few years ago? As is typical for youngsters, Fraser fought to open up the eyes of Hawks’ management; his fight opponent responded by opening up a gash above his.
Andrew Ebbett is cheap and offensively capable, but you’d be hard pressed to tell him and Patrick Kane apart from the neck down, ignoring any crabs. Needless to say, not only is Ebbett out of place on the fourth line, he’s about as scary as Hannah Montana with a fly swatter.
Finally, there’s Tomas Kopecky. All you have to remember about Kopecky is how Patrick Sharp went toe-to-toe with him last season. He’s also played punching bag to a few, more established bounders during his day.
It all leads to my point: especially without the dearly departed Jack Skille, the fourth line has taken a huge dip in all areas when compared to last year’s groups. This year’s trio is smaller, slower, less physical – and much less capable of keeping other teams honest using the fisticuffs.
So, with the trio falling well short of allowing Coach Q to roll four lines and, in so doing, failing to fill any role typically assigned to an NHL fourth line, why not think about bringing in a big goof to fill at least one of those roles?
I promise you one thing: he’ll come cheap.