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Will Caps fans see more of Big John under Adam Oates?
Fighting is a major part of the NHL, but not all teams readily participate in the fisticuffs.
The Washington Capitals are one of the less active teams in the league in this regard. They finished 26th in the NHL in team fighting majors during the 2011-12 season.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Washington Capitals' general manager George McPhee actively supports the use of an enforcer, a player whose primary and often sole purpose is to fight. McPhee was a fighter himself when he played in the NHL.
But McPhee has had a philosophical difference with each of his last two coaches regarding the use of enforcers.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau, a speedy winger with no fighting majors to his name during his NHL career, disagreed with McPhee’s philosophy. Thus, Boudreau did not fully utilize the enforcers at his disposal.
During the 2010-11 season, D.J. King was severely restricted by Bruce Boudreau. King, who had 27 fighting majors in his four-year NHL career prior to joining the Capitals, fought a mere six times while playing in only 16 games.
The next season, D.J. King played in only one game and did not drop the gloves. He was summarily assigned to the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Once Boudreau was fired, the role of enforcers did not change much. This was a huge surprise, considering the head coach that replaced Boudreau was Dale Hunter.
The owner of the second-most penalty minutes in NHL history did not coach that way. Hunter had an excellent chance to employ a legitimate enforcer during the season, and he passed on it.
Joel Rechlicz played 44 games with the Hershey Bears during the 2011-12 season and finished second in the AHL in penalty minutes for the entire season.
Rechlicz was one penalty minute shy of the league leader—while playing 30 fewer games. But with the Caps, Rechlicz played a total of six minutes in three games, and he accrued more penalty minutes on the bench than on the ice.
Now with another new head coach, it will be interesting to see whether or not McPhee’s philosophy is carried out.
Adam Oates was decidedly non-violent in his 19-year NHL career, fighting only two times. However, Oates’ most recent coaching job was with the New Jersey Devils.
Last season the Devils finished 11th in the league with 39 team fighting majors and had three individual players finish in the top 40 in fighting majors.
The Capitals and their fans will quickly find out how much of that aggression was influenced by Adam Oates.
McPhee did not acquire a legitimate enforcer in the offseason for Oates to employ. However, John Erskine is still on the roster.
Erskine has 25 fighting majors since joining the Capitals in 2006-07. But his role was drastically reduced last season, and he appeared in only 28 games.
If Oates emphasizes the use of enforcers, then John Erskine could return to prominence with the Caps.