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Blackhawks season preview: New enforcers bring fighting spirit

The Hawks’ John Scott checks Rangers’ Erik Christensen inboards during game last seasMadisSquare Garden. | Bruce Bennett~Getty Images

The Hawks’ John Scott checks the Rangers’ Erik Christensen into the boards during a game last season at Madison Square Garden. | Bruce Bennett~Getty Images

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Five of the Hawks’ new players combined for double the penalty minutes in 152 fewer games than the eight players who left the team during the offseason.

Outgoing players                       

GMS PIM Majors

Jake Dowell 79 72 9

Tomas Kopecky 81 60 0

Troy Brouwer 79 38 4

Chris Campoli (Ott/Chi) 77 36 2

Fernando Pisani  60 10 0

Jassen Cullimore 36 8 0

Ryan Johnson 34 8 0

Brian Campbell 65 6 0

Totals 511 238 15

Incoming players * Led team                       

GMS PIM Majors

Daniel Carcillo (Phi) 57 127 13

Jamal Mayers (SJ)* 78 124 12

Sean O’Donnell (Phi) 81 87 5

Steve Montado (Buf) 73 83 3

Sami Lepisto (Phx, Clb) 70 55 1

Totals 359 476 34

Minimum 30 games
Note: John Scott led the Blackhawks with 72 PIM in 40 games with eight majors.


Updated: November 16, 2011 10:21AM

When considering the
motivation behind general manager Stan Bowman’s offseason moves,
Blackhawks fans need only to remember Raffi Torres taking repeated runs at Brent Seabrook, Kevin Bieksa jumping Viktor
Stalberg and an incensed Dave Bolland shredding his stick after taking a head shot from Dan
Hamhuis during the Hawks’ first-round playoff series last season against the Vancouver Canucks.

‘‘You could see it in the playoff series last year against Vancouver,’’ said winger-turned-center Patrick Kane, who was laid out by Alexander Edler 14 seconds into Game 2 of that series. ‘‘I wouldn’t say we got ran out of the building, but we kind of got it physically taken to us out there.’’

The Canucks enjoyed — relished, really — a hefty advantage in hits during the series against the Hawks, who had the third-fewest penalty minutes and sixth-fewest fights of any team in the NHL last season.

‘‘We were one-dimensional last year, with just me and [Jake] Dowell as fighters,’’ enforcer John Scott said. ‘‘We weren’t hard to play against. We didn’t make teams pay for coming into our zone. It was an issue.’’

One that was addressed — and then some.

Enter Daniel Carcillo, Sami Lepisto, Jamal Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, who combined for double the penalty minutes and more than twice as many fights as the eight players who played in at least 30 games that the Hawks parted ways with during the offseason. And they did it in a combined 152 fewer games.

‘‘There were some times last year when some teams might have looked at the Hawks and thought that when you got past Johnny [Scott], there wasn’t a whole lot there,’’ said O’Donnell, who had 87 penalty minutes with the Philadelphia Flyers last season. ‘‘You knew if you took runs at [Jonathan] Toews or [Duncan] Keith or Kane or any of those players, there’s not a whole lot that some of those guys could do about it.’’

Said Kane: ‘‘Last year we had some guys that could fight, but we didn’t really have a physical team overall. This year it seems like we’re going to have guys who’ll stick up for any little thing that’ll happen, and that’s good to have as a team. It backs the other team off of doing certain things.’’

Concern over fighting, head shots

The Hawks’ decision to get tougher comes at a time when head shots and fighting in general are coming under scrutiny.

The NHL suspended nine players this preseason for a combined 61 games, including 31 regular-season games, and doled out more than $700,000 in fines in an effort to punish head shots.

Chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan even seemed to signal a shift in the NHL’s stance toward fighting in a Sept. 30 interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

‘‘We’re definitely very serious in making advancements in studying blows to the head,’’ Shanahan told the CBC. ‘‘We have to also look at fighting. What the final decision is, I can’t tell you now. That’s something we’re obviously going to have to look at, but there’s no way we would ever deny that it’s not something we’re looking at closely.’’

Shanahan has backpedaled from those comments in subsequent interviews and claimed his words were misinterpreted. But after the tragic summer the NHL community endured with the deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, there never has been more talk in the media ­— and in the league office — about the relevance of fighting.

Fighting’s place in the game

Fighting always has had a place in hockey, and the idea of getting rid of it is dismissed by players on a nearly universal basis.

Former Flyers tough guy and ‘‘Broad Street Bullies’’ enforcer Dave ‘‘The Hammer’’ Schultz said if the NHL really wants to look out for its players, it should eliminate the instigator rule, which tacks on a two-minute minor to the five-minute major for fighting if a player is deemed to have sought out a fight, and allow the players greater power to police themselves.

‘‘Today’s superstars are not getting protected, and they — as well as many other players — are getting their heads bashed in,’’ Schultz said. ‘‘If you took a run at [Wayne] Gretzky in the early days, [Dave] Semenko was there, and he was coming after you — even if he had to chase you all the way down the ice. But those days are gone.’’

As a result, former Hawks enforcer Dave Manson argued, it has gotten a lot easier to be an agitator or a pest and a lot less safe for superstars.

‘‘Back when I was playing, you’d fight for three reasons: to protect yourself, to protect a teammate or to change momentum,’’ Manson said. ‘‘But with the instigator rule, it basically took accountability away for players who want to give those cheap shots. You can suspend guys for 50 or 60 games, but that isn’t the answer. [Pittsburgh Penguins star] Sidney Crosby didn’t take too many shots when Georges Laraque was in the lineup; that’s what kept him safe.”

What’s left is a situation in which the enforcer’s role is being eroded, taken from the tough guys and left to the officials and the league through penalties and suspensions. But even then, Schultz said, the rules are being manipulated to protect players who are making the game less safe.

‘‘They’re calling the instigator rule on the wrong guy,’’ Schultz said. ‘‘The instigator is the guy that takes a cheap shot, not the guy who comes in to kick his ass.’’

Evolution of a fighter

That said, the instigator rule isn’t going anywhere, and the game continues to get faster. As a result, Carcillo said the type of player who fights is changing.

‘‘Guys that are just strictly fighters are going to be extinct soon,’’ Carcillo said. ‘‘If you can’t play the game and be a complete player, you won’t be here. You can already see those true heavyweights are on their way out.’’

Look around the league, and you can see what Carcillo is talking about. The number of fourth-line guys who get tapped on the shoulder strictly to go out and fight is dwindling.

The game has gotten too fast, and teams need their fourth lines to contribute — especially in the playoffs, where fighting is practically nonexistent. And if you’re not someone who’s seeing significant ice time, it can be hard to find a way to contribute, Carcillo said.

‘‘I was thrown into the role of being one of those guys last year, and it was tough because nobody wants to be that guy,’’ Carcillo said. ‘‘What do you do with three minutes a night? You go out there and hit guys and ask someone to fight, and they say: ‘Pshh, what the hell am I going to fight you for? You’re playing three minutes a night. Beat it. You’re not relevant.’

‘‘Whereas when you’re playing 12 minutes a night and you’re scoring goals, too, and making hits, guys have to respect it. They have to stop you, or you’re going to keep getting their guys off their game.’’

Carcillo said he and the others in the Hawks’ new crop of tough guys have the kind of skill capable of contributing against other teams’ top lines.

‘‘It’s not always about fighting,’’ Mayers said. ‘‘It’s about playing the right way and the other team knowing there’s going to be accountability for taking liberties. The new guys, like myself, bring that to this team, and hopefully that comfort allows our skill players to play their game.’’

That’s something Kane is looking forward to having back after it was missing from the Hawks last season.

‘‘It’s been something that’s been on the players’ minds and the organization’s mind since that Vancouver series,’’ Kane said. ‘‘Obviously, the organization did something about it, getting us those players in the offseason.’’

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