Friday, 6 July 2012

A Superficial Look At UFAFs

With some recent big name UFA signings out of the way, I thought it would be a good idea to take a superficial look at UFAFs – those would be unrestricted free agent fighters.   Several teams added toughness for various reasons but some didn’t bother to look for new players who could add any scoring or those who would keep the team off the penalty kill.  Although they considered size and reputation, they may not have thought much about what negative impact the UFAF will have.

I get the toughness angle.   Montreal didn’t like being referred to as a team of “Smurfs”.   Buffalo suffered psychological damage when Milan Lucic concussed Ryan Miller.   This perception by team management starts the musical chairs, where some enforcers are no longer needed by their current team and they hope to find a seat with another.  Some general managers look for power forwards, someone who isn’t afraid to stand up for the team while contributing some points, while others just settle for a goon.

Let’s take a few UFAFs who recently signed with new teams.  The figures below show how many minutes each would play before taking a penalty – both in total PIM and non-fight PIM (all fighting related penalty minutes removed).

Scott, who has never scored more than 6 points in a single season going back to Junior Hockey, could skate for almost a full shift before taking a penalty.  Haley barely steps on the ice before being whistled down for an infraction.  Prust, who in my opinion could be a better player if he had more discipline, plays a lot more minutes but still incurs a penalty at least once or twice a game.  If you remove the fighting related penalties then these three could play an entire game, or more, without sitting in the box.   That makes sense for Scott and Haley who are really one-dimensional players and usually get in the game for a specific reason, to deliver some retribution for a perceived injustice.  They don’t play enough quality minutes to earn play related penalties.  But Prust is different.  If he dropped the gloves less often he could be a real contributor to Montreal as a power forward.  Perhaps getting away from the Rangers, who led the league in fights, will see him return to almost 30 points in a season.

I wonder if the general manager, when considering adding a Scott or a Haley, is looking beyond their size and weight.   They should be asking other questions.  Can this guy give us some quality minutes on the 4th line?   Can he kill penalties?   Will he contribute 20 or 25 points and take pressure off the other lines?   Will they be a liability in terms of undisciplined play?   How many more penalties will we have to kill?   How many more points do I have to find to make up for the inevitable PPG we will give up?   What other player, one with hockey skills, will play less minutes or be displaced entirely because we have added this enforcer? 

If we look closely at the Lucic – Miller collision from last year, several things stand out for me.  First, that type of collision is not common and you might see that type contact once or twice in an entire season.   Second, any hockey fan who has watched Lucic in a game knows that he plays on the edge.   If he’s in that same situation my money is on him running Miller in the exact same way.   John Scott’s towering presence won’t change Lucic’s instinct to cause mayhem.   And it’s also a sure bet that Scott will be in the line-up when Buffalo plays Boston for the first time next season.   Third, hockey is a fast paced sport where decisions are either made consciously in milliseconds, or unconsciously through emotion or automatic reaction based on thousands of past shifts.   No one who has played hockey will tell you that they are thinking about who is sitting on the bench when they are in the thick of the action.  So Buffalo added Scott, a player widely acknowledged as having zero hockey skills, to atone for a situation that will likely never happen again and even more likely would not be prevented if it did.   But the very next game against that opponent, he’ll be sent out to take revenge.

It’s a stretch but I’ve read articles that compared teams using enforcers with countries that have nuclear weapons.  No one wants to use them but they believe that they need to have them just in case.   I’d like to believe that the NHL and NHLPA are coming to their senses and over time, hopefully a short time, the fighters will be decommissioned and the enforcer mentality will pass.


  1. Do you think the Sabre fans feel the same way you do? Why don't you find their twitter account and poll the fans? The ones who are paying hard cash. Did you watch the first round of the playoffs? Lol.

    1. Again, a stunning reply Mr. Maguire. Your logic is unassailable. Or at least I assume it is, since you didn't actually provide any.

      As always, your "ilk" fails to consider that *of course* current hockey fans tend to like fighting - if they didn't they would be less likely to *be* fans, since there is fighting in the NHL now. You ignore how many people avoid the game because of fighting. You know, the ones who like *hockey* but dislike UFC.