I made it almost two full weeks without breaking one my New Year's resolutions. The first to go? Don't read articles written by Jim Matheson. I have no one to blame but myself for this. There was a copy of the Edmonton Journal laying around in the lunchroom, and I saw the title - Eakins Mulls Gazdic's Line Options - and I instantly knew better than to read it but I couldn't help myself. And because I read it I think you should suffer too. From the article:
Maybe if Gazdic is out there late in the first period Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks, fourth-line winger Brandon Bollig doesn’t take a healthy run at Hall along the boards, with Hall’s shoulder taking the brunt of the hit just before Ben Smith’s tip-in goal. It was a clean, hard hit — but a hit, nevertheless.
The replay of the Ben Smith goal and the hit Matheson is talking about can be seen below for those who might have had better things to do on Sunday night. I'll admit that Matheson is right about one thing - it's not a dirty hit. But the idea that Gazdic's mere presence on the ice would have prevented the hit is complete nonsense. The theory that players of Gazdic's ilk provide an on ice deterrence against hits is one of those things that is generally accepted by the media and fans around the league but has no basis in reality. Derek has written about this before, as have many others, and to me it's common sense, but still there are guys like Matheson who think the opposite because Dave Semenko played on a line with Wayne Gretzky 30 years ago (he brings this up in the article as well).
Maybe there was a time when the Gazdic's of the NHL provided a real deterrence, but I think that time is now nothing more than a dot on the horizon in the rear view mirror. Do you think Gazdic would have been deterred from throwing the hit he did on Duncan Keith earlier in the period - a hit which was also clean - if Bollig had been on the ice at the time? I've unfortunately watched Gazdic play a lot of hockey this season, and I don't have any reason to think he would have done anything differently if Bollig had been on the ice. Why then in the reverse would Bollig be deterred? He wouldn't be, it's as simple as that. Gazdic does not proved a deterrence. Period.
The most alarming/distressing thing in the article isn't the drivel about enforcers though, instead it's a quote from Dallas Eakins:
There have been nights where I’ve thought of moving Luke up with Nuge and Hall or Eberle. As our team gets stronger, I think you’ll see Luke’s minutes move higher in that regard because his skating is getting better and he’s way more comfortable with the puck ... he’s not going to anchor down a line.
This season there are 373 forwards who have dressed for half their team's games. Gazdic's Corsi% ranks 368th overall. He might not be the biggest anchor available but he's in the conversation for sure. Crazy ideas from the media about Gazdic and the value he provides are one thing, but if Eakins is serious about that quote then I am more than a little concerned.