(Cross-posted from Driving Play)
Discussions that bash enforcers are the lowest hanging fruit in the hockey blogosphere. If you're reading this, you either think that A: having an enforcer on your team is dumb or B: I or anyone else is dumb for suggesting otherwise . It's tough to not think either A or B if you expose yourself to any talk about hockey.
I've resigned myself to being a fan of a team that's going to carry at least one 'enforcer'. The players seem to like having guys like that around, and while I'm no longer a fan of the scheduled scrap, where the commentator talks about how these guys 'know their job' or whatever while both guys decide to whale on one another for what seems like no good reason, it does still give me a vicarious thrill on those very rare occasions that a fighter from my team straightens out a pest who's been taking liberties with our non-fighters. We don't see much frontier justice on the East Coast - it's more about lingering resentments and therapy bills out here. Still, I do not understand having two enforcers on the roster when the NHL roster limit is only 23 players - the roster is simply not large enough to carry around players who, when push isn't coming to shove, quite simply hurt the team any time they step on the ice.
Two enforcers are can be worked around for most of the season if a team carries a 22 man roster and always dresses at least one enforcer. This way, a GM always has an extra spot open in case a forward gets nicked up and is day to day - he can call up an extra forward who he actually considers a hockey player. He doesn't have to use emergency recall, which is allowed only if the team does not have a healthy roster of at least 12 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goalies that the NHL considers the minimum. Judicious use of injured reserve means his coach is never forced to play both enforcers, though he might choose to in a rivalry game, or to make an example of a real hockey player, or possibly just to throw caution to the winds. As long as he keeps 22 men on the roster, the coach's hand is rarely forced unless he's on the other side of the country from his AHL team.
This is not the case after the trade deadline, however. After the deadline, while there is no longer a limit to the number of players a team can have on their roster, a team is only allowed 4 non-emergency recalls from their AHL team from now until the end of the playoffs. So let's say our example NHL team is going with a 22 man roster and a top 9 forward gets injured after the trade deadline. A player from the 4th line is promoted into the top 9 and either the coach has to dress both enforcers, dress a defenseman as a forward, or the GM has to waste a non-emergency recall to bring up a forward who can play hockey. If the team's out of the playoff race, using a recall is no big deal, but if the team figures on making the playoffs, it's going to want the maximum number of available bodies if and when it does get into the postseason. This scenario is precisely what's happened to the New Jersey Devils over the last few days, and yesterday they lost 1-0 on a goal that was scored while their 4th line, made up of 2 enforcers and a waiver pickup, was on the ice. Would it have made a difference to have a real hockey player out there? Who knows - perhaps not. It certainly couldn't hurt to try, though.