Enforcers, brawlers, goons and cheap shot artists—like them or hate them, they are still an integral part of the NHL landscape for better or worse. Whether it’s to get under an opponent’s skin, retaliate for an injustice or to build momentum after falling behind, penalties and fighting are a big part of a coach’s arsenal.
Many times during a season, the difference between victory and defeat comes down to which team can intimidate the other into submission. Having a player or two who can go toe-to-toe with the best of the NHL’s enforcers is crucial.
Here are my predictions for the top five candidates to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs in penalty minutes this season. When called upon to defend the team's honor, these guys know what it means to be tough.
When it comes to sitting in the penalty box, it is sometimes surprising just who racks up those penalty infraction minutes (PIM). It’s not always who you might think and for the "honorable mention" category, I have two players who fit the bill perfectly.
Mikhail Grabovski will get the most PIM this year for a top-six forward. If you pay attention to the stat sheet, it’s not quite as surprising as I alluded to.
Grabovski accumulated 30 minor penalties last year and spent 60 minutes in the penalty box. That was almost twice the penalties as the next top-six forward, Clarke MacArthur, who accumulated 37 PIM.
Grabovski only knows how to play at full speed and is the quintessential "gets under the skin" kind of guy. He should have no problem breaking last year’s numbers, and I see him racking up over 65 minutes of quality time in the penalty box.
Matthew Lombardi has been known to mix it up a bit as well. Though, with his recent history of injury, I would expect his ire to be curtailed somewhat should he get back into regular action this season.
Lombardi played five seasons with the very feisty Calgary Flames alongside Leafs’ captain Dion Phaneuf. Should he start to feel his old self again, it would not be a stretch to see Lombardi’s name among the Leafs’ leaders in PIM at season’s end, though I doubt he will drop his gloves.
If he’s healthy, I predict 55 PIM for Lombardi this year.
Mike Komisarek was third on the team last year with 86 PIM and eight fighting majors. I would have him higher up this list, but I expect his ice-time to be reduced this year with the addition of defenders Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles.
Komisarek has been known to lose his cool from time to time, and that won’t change this year. He will most likely supplement what ice-time he does get with even more aggressive play.
I look for him to get into eight fights again, but accrue only 75 PIM.
Jay Rosehill would be the top ranked penalty-meister by far if it weren’t for his limited time on the ice.
He spent 52 percent of his total ice-time in the sin bin. He made only 26 appearances last year and that number is not likely to increase.
One thing is for certain, though; If you see Rosehill’s name in the lineup, you know Coach Ron Wilson has some aggravation planned for the opposition.
I expect Rosehill to maintain his fight-per-period average and reach around 75 PIM again this year.
Mike Brown is a brawler who has some hockey skills as well. He is known for being a solid defensive player and can stay out of the box when needed.
However, when the opportunity presents itself, Brown has no fear of throwing punches. His nine fighting majors were second on the team last year and he will surely surpass that this season.
He will undoubtedly get more ice-time this year as a regular on the fourth line, and should reach the 90 PIM plateau with 13 fighting majors.
It’s not common in the NHL for a captain to also be a leader in PIM, but that is what the Leafs have.
Dion Phaneuf, the 6'3", 216-pound defenseman, is not shy when it comes to dropping the gloves. He was second on the team last year with 88 PIM.
In an interview with the Toronto Star from November 30, 2008, Leafs general manager Brian Burke promised, “We require, as a team, proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence. That's how our teams play, I make no apologies for that. Our teams play a North American game. We're throwbacks. It's black-and-blue hockey. It's going to be more physical hockey here than people are used to."
Phaneuf is exactly the kind of player Burke was referring to.
I can see him reinforcing Burke’s sentiments this year by hammering his way to a record 100 PIM while with the Leafs.
No real surprise here. Colton Orr is the very model of a NHL enforcer and the Leafs’ top goon.
Though he played in only 46 games, Orr still led the team with 128 PIM. He had just as many minor penalties as major—14 of each. I don’t see that trend changing any time soon.
Orr has a strong reputation for thuggery and a weak reputation for game play. When Orr is in the lineup, you know there is going to be a fight. I expect his ice-time to be reduced for similar reason as has been mentioned earlier, but his PIM production will not wane.
I Look for Orr to lead the team again this year with 120 PIM and perhaps as many as 18 fights.