Two players eye each other before the faceoff, both knowing why they were put out there at the same time for. They give each other a subtle nod acknowledging what their role is, and what is about to happen.
The puck drops followed shortly by their gloves, sticks, and elbow pads. They engage in a brutal battle in hopes of giving their team any advantage they can.
That was the role of the enforcer, and thanks to the modernization of the game, we find them becoming extinct at the NHL level.
With so much emphasis on youth and speed, the lugging enforcer has gone the way of the dinosaur, with many evolving their game to adapt the best they can to remain in the league.
Still, some hold true to what got them to the NHL, and their maybe no better example of this than Jared Boll of the Ducks.
The former fourth-round pick broke into the league back in 2007 and immediately made an impact with his fist, tallying 27 fighting majors and registering 226 penalty minutes. In his first four seasons, Boll fought 95 times (while playing in 293 games).
It was no secret what kept Boll at the NHL level, as in those same four seasons, he never tallied more than 14 points in a season.
Standing at 6’3”, and right around 200 pounds, Boll didn’t stand out as a true ‘heavyweight’, like Georges Laraque or Brian McGrattan, but that didn’t slow him down. He was more than willing to throw down with any in the name of his team.
But as the game gravitated towards being more speed based, as well as it being near impossible for Boll to continue his pace he began his career at (he fought once every three games the first four years in the league), his impact saw a spike decrease.
He hit a low in his last two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he fought once every five games. With the majority of the true ‘enforcers’ being forced out of the game, there were fewer takers for what Boll did best, and with his limited offensive upside, his outlook was cloudy at best.
Then came the summer, where the Blue Jackets decided to buy out Boll’s contract, which just had one year left on it. Columbus will now pay just over league minimum for this year and next just so than Boll will not play on their roster.
At this point, a lot of players in his position probably don’t get another chance in the NHL. Not only has Boll gotten that, but he is sticking around doing it the same way he made his name.
Signing a two-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks, Boll is currently the NHL leader in fighting majors with five (in 19 games played). While that is certainly nowhere near the pace he once carried, he sits right on pace for what the league is certainly offering.
Since the 2000-2001 season (as far back as hockeyfights.com goes back), fighting is on pace to once again be at a record low, currently matching last year’s total of .28 fights per game.
Boll has sparked the Ducks into doing, what historically has been, what they do best. Anaheim has always been at their best when they are at their most physical, fist included. Back when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, they led the NHL in fighting majors with 71, which was 24 more than the team with the next most.
While they certainly aren’t on the same pace as they were then - and there isn’t an exact correlation between fights and wins, they finished with a league’s best 42 last year - the Ducks could certainly push their total to a close reminder of those days.
At their current pace, Anaheim could finish with nearly 60 fighting majors. Of those, Boll is at a pace to where he could finish with 20 fights for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.
The time will come where Boll and the last few of the players hanging around that are known solely for their fist are completely out of the league. What that means for fighting, in general, is a topic for another day, but until that comes you can expect Boll to continue to play the only way that he knows how.
Happy Thanksgiving to each and everyone who takes the time out of their day to read ‘Grinders Gazette’. I know I have done this before on another website, and wanted to bring it to Grinders Gazette this year.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, a look back at everything I am ‘thankful’ for, with of course a sportish spin. I originally got the idea from Dejan Kovacevic, the former columnist from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, now the owner of DKPittsburghSports.com.
Despite being a hockey website, I included all sports, well just because I can.
I’m thankful for;
That the future of hockey, talent wise, seems to be in more than capable hands. Could argue that it is in better hands than when it came out of the lockout in 2005-2006. Whether it be Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews - don’t forget Jack Eichel - there is no shortage of teenage phenoms that appear poised to provide hockey fans with plenty of excitement for the coming years.
The new direction that the game of hockey seems to be turning - pure speed. While there is plenty to work to be done on the finer points of the game, the way the game is being played you can’t deny it is fun to watch. How about that overtime between USA and Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey? That was beyond exciting. If the game is heading that way, how can you really complain?
That despite the fact the game is turning into more of a younger, speed-based game, void of the plodding ‘goonies’ of the old days, there are still some players who made their ‘bones’ by being just that (working on something about that right now, more on that later). Guys like Deryk Engelland and Jared Boll, while not the biggest roles, still have spots on NHL rosters, and while fighting is clearly down, it is always good to see a good old fashion scrap in between players flying up and down the ice.
I am beyond excited about Vegas getting their own team. Vegas Golden Knights. That is so awesome the league hasn’t given up on trying to grow the game in unconventional markets. A lot of people probably want this franchise to fail already, just to prove a point, but here is hoping they are wrong.
To EACH and EVERY player who has ever laced it up, and give their all each and every night, putting their body at risk for our entertainment, a simple ‘thanks’ doesn’t seem enough. The heart and soul you pour into every shift prove each night as to why I love the game so much. Without that, I’d be writing… about nature? I don’t know, what do people who don’t follow sports write about?
On to things other than hockey,
That the Pittsburgh Pirates got the ultimate ‘wake up call’ in not making the playoffs this year. More so, hoping that it is a humbling experience. I get that what they have done has worked, and worked really well, but it was clear that this year they may be bought too much into their own hype, and it cost them a playoff spot.
That the Pirates at least DISCUSSED trading Andrew McCutchen. If it were actually to happen at some point, it will likely go down as one of the most unpopular decisions in Pittsburgh sports history. But it is something that had to be done, and something that should be revisited this offseason. For what McCutchen has done for the team, and city, no return might seem like enough, but it needs to be explored.
That the Pirates are so deep in the outfield, when you actually think about it - McCutchen might be the third best on the roster. On top of that, Pittsburgh has one in the pipeline that could be better than all of them, Austin Meadows.
That Mike Tomlin is the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s face it, whatever your opinion is of the football team’s head coach, the organization can do A LOT worse. Might he have to throw a couple of his coaches under the bus depending on how the season turns out? Possibly. But some fresh air might not be the worst of ideas. Six Lombardi’s skews the views of some fans in just how hard it is to actually win one. Tomlin’s winning record speaks for itself. You can break down any stat to play in your favor one way or another, but in the end, he has a lot more ‘Ws’ than he does ‘Ls’.
That the Steelers finally used a first-round pick on a cornerback and are letting him develop the only way that a player at the position should be allowed to - leave him on an island to fend for himself. Has it cost them some big plays? Certainly. Will that pay dividends down the road? Definitely.
And maybe most importantly, a HUGE thank you to you, the reader. I have done this for a quite a bit of year now, and one thing that has never changed is my complete amazement that anyone would take time in their own day to read anything that I write. For doing so, I am forever grateful. You make this possible.
I hope everyone has a great day, enjoy their time with their families and while I would love to see the views on this explode if it doesn’t I will know people are spending their holiday the correct way.
There is no arguing that the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of eight of their last ten contests.
After a come from behind win against the Washington Capitals, the Blue Jackets now have a signature road victory and was able to stretch their winning streak to four games.
Owning a 10-4-2 record, the Blue Jackets own the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and have played the fewest amount of games in the Metropolitan Division.
Still early in the season, we will undoubtedly see some teams drop out of the playoff picture at the same time others surge and make a final push to make the postseason. Columbus has been a part of that before, riding a hot Sergei Bobrovsky (who ended up with the Vezina Trophy) just short of a playoff bid (tied for the eight spot).
While they have put themselves in a good early season position to not have the need to see such a surge, there remains some concerning factors when it comes to the Blue Jacket’s start.
Even with Bobrovsky having a strong start to the season, Columbus’ success has come through the offense, as they have the second highest scoring team per game in the entire NHL. They also have the league’s best power play, operating currently at 31.8% after a two goal effort against the Capitals Sunday afternoon.
It’s not the numbers in general that should be concerned, it’s how they got to them that screams regression.
Columbus as a team has averaged 3.38 goals per game through their first 16 games of the season, but have done so while generating the fewest amount of shots on net in the league. In terms of shots on goal per game, the Blue Jackets have only averaged 26.5, nearly two full SOG than the next place team.
Being outshot on a consistent basis isn’t good long term. Columbus currently ranks 28th in Shot-Attempt%
That means they are scoring at an incredibly high rate - 12.7%, second in the league to the New York Rangers. Going back the past five years, according to sportingcharts.com, the team to lead the league in shooting percentage has hovered right around the 10% mark. The Toronto Maple Leafs had a season with a 11.47% mark, but the other four finished in between 10.07-10.67%.
Odds say that Columbus will come back down to earth when it comes to their scoring.
Same with their power play efficiency. While they have the highest percentage in the league, and have scored the seventh most power play goals overall, they have also generated the fewest man advantage opportunities.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Over the last five years, again using Sporting Charts, the top power play team in the league has operated in the 21.6-26.8% range. The 31.8% Columbus is currently converting at, is the same mark that the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens finished with, the highest mark in the history of the game.
Those Canadiens had Guy Lafleur and Jacques Lemaire, with Steve Shutt scoring 16 power play goals.
This Columbus squad is not that Canadiens squad.
Columbus, under John Tortorella, are an intriguing team to watch going forward. They have the talent to justify them sitting where they are at in the standings, and even if they do regress could remain a threat in the East.
We will have to see how they do respond to any regression, as that will hold the key whether or not they remain in the playoff picture or fade off, but as the numbers suggest there is no doubting that the time will come for their offensive numbers to take a step back.
Wennberg Riding Team’s Efficient Start
Maybe no other player on the Blue Jackets is enjoying the success the team has had on the power play than Alexander Wennberg, who after two more points with the man advantage is now tied for the league lead.
Of his 17 points scored this season, 10 have been with a man advantage. His game winning power play goal against the Capitals was his first power play marker, on what was his first shot on net.
His 14 assists overall is tied for the NHL lead, and of the players he is even with (Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane are two names you may be familiar with), he has by far taken the fewest shots on net.
When Columbus traded Ryan Johansson to the Nashville Predators, they were hoping Wennberg would take that next step forward into becoming a number one center. After 32 assists (40 points overall) last year, he is well on his way to surpassing that this season.