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Did John Scott Spark an Arms Race Out West?

Steve MacIntyre

If you’re a hockey fan who pays attention to, or buys into the narrative surrounding the need for ‘fisticuffs’, then you know there’s often an ebb and flow in terms of whether a team carries an ‘enforcer.’ While back in the day each team had at least two dudes whose job was to police the ice, or buzz their team by dropping the mitts, in today’s NHL some teams don’t even have one ‘heavyweight’.

Of course, there are plenty of guys in the NHL that can chuck bombs as well as skate, score and hit, but they’re not your typical enforcer. Usually, the biggest and baddest fighters are capable of terrifying the opposition with their fists, but not much else. As a result, and in the interest of playing four solid lines, some teams elect to forgo the ‘heavyweight’ and start tossing around the ‘team toughness’ narrative. That is, of course, until the team’s best or small players start to get blasted by the opposition, and the GM starts making inquiries about a ‘goon.’

Now, as you’ve probably heard, the Sabres and Leafs had a full out donnybrook the other night, after menacing heavyweight John Scott went after Toronto star Phil Kessel. Scott claimed it was in retaliation for an earlier fight, where his teammate Corey Tropp was beat down by Jamie Devane. While some folks evidently flipped out after seeing Scott’s actions, it’s already having an impact around the league.

The Oilers have reportedly been humming and hawing for sometime as to whether they need an ‘enforcer’ to help protect Edmonton’s smaller and rising stars. Sure, they have willing combatant Mike Brown, but he’s not the type of fighter who throws the fear of God into men like Scott. As a result, the Oil picked up the hulking Steve MacIntyre off waivers, who has played for Edmonton in the past. Oiler GM Craig MacTavish was quoted saying about the pick-up (quote via Oilers.NHL.com):

“Watching the Leafs-Buffalo game last night and what happened to us against Vancouver it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that we’d gain some toughness or pick up some toughness,” MacTavish. “We’ve talked about it pretty extensively in the past three or four months. We know the player, we know what he’s capable of and we think there was a need here and that’s why we picked him up.”

“I think you need the deterrent especially with our team. That was further evidenced against Vancouver. They didn’t have their most complete lineup so I’m not naive enough to think that their lineup is not going to change but it’s a weapon that we didn’t have. Now that we have it, we’re thankful of that.”

MacTavish was referring to the fact that the Oilers’ Sam Gagner is out with a broken jaw, after Vancouver’s Zack Kassian’s stick smashed him in the face. Kassian, who’s been known to drop the gloves himself,  was suspended for five games due the reckless use of his stick. The Canucks’ Dale Weise was also suspended for three games, after tossing an illegal check to the head of another Oiler star in Taylor Hall.

So, just like that, the Oilers have one of the most feared fighters in the NHL, and MacIntyre is returning to a division which already features a punishing heavyweight in Calgary’s Brian MacGrattan. Could this mean that the Canucks’ Tom Sestito will see more playing time? Probably. Could other noted pugilists see more ice time in the Pacific? Don’t be surprised.

If fights frazzle your nerves, however, don’t worry. Recent history also shows that often these ‘arms races’ eventually turn from stocking players who can drop opponents, to those that can take regular shifts.