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Vancouver Canucks: Would It Actually Make a Difference If They Had an Enforcer?

OTTAWA, CANADA - DECEMBER 10: Matt Carkner #39 of the Ottawa Senators exchanges words with Dale Weise #32 of the Vancouver Canucks as they areseparated by linesman Pierre Champoux #67 during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on December 10, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images
Joel ProsserCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2011

There has been a lot of talk about the Canucks needing to improve their toughness. Of course in the Stanley Cup Finals, we all saw the Bruins taking liberties with the Canucks.

And in many recent games, other teams have adopted this tactic.  

The Ottawa Senators were running Canucks at every chance, throwing head shots and elbows. Cody Hodgson left the game with a suspected concussion, and both Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows also suffered head shots at the hands of Chris Neil and Nick Foligno. 

So in what seems an eternal debate, Canucks fans are calling in to radio shows and demanding the team get an enforcer. 

But would that actually make a difference? 

What the Canucks need to do is to deter other teams from taking runs at their stars, and there are three main strategies for this. 

The first strategy, which is the Canucks' current choice, is to absorb the cheap shots, and make the other team pay on the scoreboard.

But this strategy only works if the Canucks are scoring on the power play AND the referees actually call the game properly.  

In the Stanley Cup Finals, we saw both components fail, as the Canucks couldn't score on Tim Thomas, and the refs decided in mid-June to stop making calls. 

The second strategy is the one espoused by many fans, which is to get a heavyweight enforcer.

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 10:  Milan Lucic #17 of the Boston Bruins has words with Maxim Lapierre #40 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Five of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 10, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo b
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The theory is that the thought of getting pounded in a fight would deter any potential troublemakers from running the Canucks' stars. 

But this strategy failed on a couple levels in today's game.  

First, people like to bring up the good old days, and mention how Gretzky never got touched because of McSorley, but they also forgot there is an instigator penalty now.  

If someone like Brad Marchand runs Henrik Sedin, but then refuses to drop the gloves when challenged, the enforcer is in trouble.  

Either they can't do their job, and therefore are a waste of roster spot, or they take the instigator penalty (and possibly a suspension), and end up putting the other team on the power play.

Ask the Bruins how many times they asked Matt Cooke to dance after the Savard hit.  

Remember how many times Marchand was challenged during the Finals and he just laughed and skated away, knowing the Canucks couldn't afford to take an instigator penalty.  

Or go back further into Canucks history, and remember Steve Moore. He laughed and refused challenges with Naslund lying bleeding on the ice,  and then refused again in subsequent games.

When someone did eventually jump him, willing to take the instigator penalty, we all know what happened.  

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 19: Referees try to break up a fight between members of the Chicago Blackhawks including Ryan Johnson #17, Chris Campoli #14 and John Scott #32 with members of the Vancouver Canucks including Jannik Hansen #36, Maxim Lapierre #40 and T
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There is also the problem of finding an enforcer who can both win most fights and also do more than just throw punches.

If you can't find someone who fits this mold, you end up with a goon who wastes a roster spot and only plays three minutes a night. And they aren't much of a deterrent if they aren't on the ice often.

If the Canucks could find someone like a Milan Lucic or a Brad May, that would be great.  

But how many legitimate heavyweights are there in the NHL that can also take a regular shift and play 10 minutes a night without being a liability? 

Remember what the Canucks said when the Hawks dressed John Scott, a goon who can barely skate, in the 2011 playoffs.  

To a man, they said they'd be willing to let fight Scott if he instigated, knowing they would end up with a power play.  

But if Scott wasn't willing to instigate, and he wasn't, then as Kevin Bieksa quipped, the Hawks wasted a roster spot dressing a pylon that the Canucks would just skate around. 

The enforcer is only a deterrent in the playoffs IF the other guy is honourable enough to stand up and fight. And stupid enough to not realize that he can draw more penalties by not dropping his own gloves. 

The third strategy is what I like to call the "Chicago way" for lack of a better term. If they run your star, you retaliate and injure theirs. It works about like nuclear deterrence, neither side wants to escalate because no one wins.  

Of course, you have to be ruthless enough to deliberately target the opposing stars, and also be willing to take the penalties and potential suspensions.  

But aside from the ethics of this strategy, those penalties and suspensions are exactly why this strategy doesn't really work in the playoffs. It doesn't do much good to avenge a hit on your star if you lose the game, and potentially the playoff series. 

All of these strategies for deterring other teams from taking liberties with the Canucks' skill players have inherent problems. As satisfying as fights are, and I like them as much as the next hockey fan, you win on the scoreboard, not in the alleys. 

The Canucks' current strategy is the best one, but unless Mike Gillis has an iron-clad guarantee the officiating standards aren't going to change drastically in the playoffs again, the Canucks need to have a backup plan.

Or a better power play.

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