Does the Tampa Bay Lightning need an enforcer or is team toughness enough?
In the comments section of Monday's blog post about the trade that sent Simon Gagne to the Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman Matt Walker and a fourth-round 2011 draft pick, there was a good debate about the Lightning's lack of an enforcer and if in this day and age a team really needs one.
The Lightning has lost some toughness this summer by not re-signing Zenon Konopka, who last season led the team in penalty minutes and the league in fights, and trading Walker, who, with his bum hand showed toughness more in grit than fighting. And even though he did not fight that much because his face is being held together by titanium plates, Todd Fedoruk, who was bought out, also is gone.
And an argument can be made the team hasn't really had an enforcer-type since Andre Roy. But is that really an issue? We know captain Vinny Lecavalier can take care of himself as can Ryan Malone and Steve Downie, though you don't really want your top-six guys fighting. And there is still plenty of time to fill out the roster if general manager Steve Yzerman wants to go that way.
But conversations with Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher didn't make it sound as if adding an enforcer was a burning desire.
"We'd like to have some toughness, but I believe a lot more in team toughness," Boucher said. "If we have the puck, more often than the other team, we’ll nee d a lot less toughness. The other team will be running after us instead of us running after them."
Said Yzerman: "I want to improve the skill level and the ability of the team with players who compete hard. Guy uses the term 'first on the puck.' That’s the kind of toughness he wants. He wants guys going in there playing all out. We’re not going to emphasize having to fight. I think it's an over-emphasized part of the game. I think guys who compete hard and are willing to do whatever you have to do to win are more important. Just use Marty St. Louis as an example. He competes hard and is as tough as there is because he’s willing to do whatever he has to do to win a hockey game. That’s the kind of toughness we’re talking about."
Boucher said he isn't necessarily opposed to having an enforcer on the team. But he added, "It always depends. I've had teams with enforcers. I've had teams with no enforcers. I’ve won with both. The reality is you need an enforcer, in my book, if he can play the game. If he can’t play the game it just makes somebody unhappy not playing much. It also prevents some other guys who could bring a lot of stuff on the ice. I’m all for enforcers if they can hog a lot of minutes during the game, use them for penalty kill or against top lines. I don’t like guys sitting on the bench. I use everybody. I use all my four lines. I use all my defense. Everybody has got a role on the team. And when a guy has only that role I don't feel comfortable about it."
Either way, it sounded as if Yzerman's list of things to do has a few more things to be checked off before he gets around to adding an enforcer.
"You have to be a big, strong, physical, competitive team and we’ll look to add," he said. "The one thing I would say is I’ve kind of analyzed this every which way, and there’s no way in one year, but even over time, that you can necessarily have everything you want as a team. Every team out there, you can’t address every issue, and for myself, I can't address every need the team has in one offseason. Eventually, you just run out of funds to do that."