How Toronto May Have Started The Next NHL Arms Race

Jeff Hull@@HullatHomeContributor IIIFebruary 9, 2013

Toronto's Saturday game vs. Montreal was a violent affair.
Toronto's Saturday game vs. Montreal was a violent affair.USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs may have unwittingly started the next NHL arms race.

Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, for lack of an effective true checking line, has elected to create a fourth line in Toronto dedicated to physicality and, apparently, raw intimidation.

The Leafs' depth chart now bristles with players who are very comfortable dropping their gloves.

The most recent example was this Saturday's 6-0 drubbing of the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal.

The game was certainly over as a contest five minutes into the third period, when Korbinian Holzer's wrist shot gave the Leafs a unassailable 5-0 lead. Unfortunately for Montreal fans, that was not the end of the assailing that would take place on this night.

Fighting majors had already been given out to the Leafs' Mark Fraser and Michael Kostka earlier in the third, when all eyes fell upon Colton Orr, who had just had his stick tossed away by a Montreal player. 

Orr turned, raced into the neutral zone and attempted to deliver what clearly would have been vicious hit on Montreal's Tomas Plekanec. The near-miss touched off another flurry of flying fists, in which Toronto's Frazer McLaren and Orr were tossed from the game after pounding their overmatched Montreal opponents. 

Carlyle had the following at his postgame press conference:

There are battles taking place all over the ice and situations develop on the ice. We need to take care of our own out there and we need to take care of business....What are we supposed to do, are we not supposed to play the rest of our players the entire night?  If they think that, they have another thing coming, that isn't happening to our group.

Such a physically bruising defeat accompanied by a blowout on the scoreboard is the kind of outcome that stirs action by coaches and general managers. It is unlikely that Toronto will encounter a similarly passive Habs lineup when next they meet on Feb. 27. Pressure will quickly build in Montreal for a response.

The unnecessary show of force against an already beaten and battered opponent is exactly the type of display that will certainly draw the attention of Toronto's future opponents. Coaches in the Northeast Division, as well as those elsewhere in the NHL, will no doubt take notice of Carlyle's reinforced fourth line.

Toronto's coaching staff would surely argue that they are only using the tools they have, since they are not blessed with players fast enough to act as a true shutdown line against the opposition's top players.

But Orr's late-game run at Plekanec and the unmitigated beatdown that followed will be a visual that no NHL coach will want his own team to endure, especially in front of their home fans.

While Toronto's opponents begin to prepare to match its physical presence, they do so in an NHL that has returned to the ice with an already elevated level of aggressiveness. 

A first-period fight between Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo and Tampa Bay's B.J. Crombeen drew national attention recently for the series of late and violent punches that Rinaldo issued to his opponent after Crombeen was seemingly already groggy, defenceless and on his way to the ice.

Coach Carlyle may well be using the tools that he has available, but to the extent they find success, other NHL clubs will no doubt feel the need to respond.

The likely result may be a great spectacle for fans of old-time hockey, but for those who hoped the NHL's return might mean a faster, cleaner and more skilled game, a new arms race will come as a disappointment.

If more blood than usual begins to flow through the NHL's Northeast Division, the trail may well lead back to Toronto's performance on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. To follow the author on Twitter, click on the link below.