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Enforcers and Toughness- Or How The Devils Missed the Mark With Enforcers

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Eric Boulton is the worst player in the NHL. I'm not lying.
Eric Boulton is the worst player in the NHL. I'm not lying.

I'm still pissed off about last night's game. While the Rangers did beat the Devils, the Devils were significantly out of their element. Why you ask? The Rangers are known for dressing their enforcers. The Rangers are at times a bunch of punks. A lot of blame has been put on Peter DeBoer for starting the brawl, and it's rightfully deserved. He could've named anyone a starter. He could've had Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora start the game. Instead he started his goon squad up front in a game that they should've been in it to win.

What bothers me about the enforcers the Devils are icing are what their on ice abilities are. You look at one of the Rangers enforcers, Brandon Prust. He plays 1:40 on the penalty kill for the Rangers, and he's clearly one of their most trusted guys there. Even Mike Rupp has some limited hockey skills. Or what about Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins. He's able to contribute something of use in his limited ice time- he's had 100 shots on goal over the last few seasons with Boston, so it's apparent that he's not dead weight. The problem with the enforcers the Devils acquired this off-season is that they're just dead weight.

If there's one thing I think that should describe the Devils' choice of enforcers, it has to be the "Truculence Era" Toronto Maple Leafs. Burke's two biggest acquisitions in his first summer as Leafs GM were Colton Orr and Mike Komisarek. Neither of them are good players. They're both probably decent locker room guys- Orr has a sense of humor and Komisarek has been an alternate captain since he joined the Leafs. Unfortunately, it's apparent neither are very good at hockey. Orr is more or less the equivalent of Janssen- a tough guy who can't do much other than well... be tough. Mike Komisarek has underperformed since signing that contract.

Now look at a team like the Bruins. Their toughness is all throughout the lineup. Big, tough Milan Lucic is on their second line. Zdeno Chara is their top pairing defenseman. Guys like Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk, guys who are capable of standing their ground. Their 4th liners like Dan Paille and Shawn Thornton contribute positively towards their team. Do guys like Orr and Boulton contribute anything positive? No.

The Leafs and Bruins were both "tough teams". The Leafs just didn't get anything out of their toughness, mainly because the rest of the team wasn't very tough (and also not good at hockey, which actually had more to do with their failure). Guys like Matt Stajan weren't going to fight people. Ultimately, they couldn't really accent their toughness because their tough players were also their worst players. It's hard to make a statement about your team being tough when those tough guys are getting embarassed by players who actually have hockey skill.

Looking at the Devils roster, there aren't a lot of guys who would be considered "tough guys". Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Adam Henrique (to a lesser extent, Ilya Kovalchuk) and Dainius Zubrus are physical guys who will stand up for their teammates. David Clarkson and Ryan Carter can contribute something on the ice on top of their fisticuffs. Janssen and Boulton don't. The Devils might be better than Burke's truculent Leafs, but are the Devils really going to count on Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora to throw big hits? It's better that they don't.

With all that being said, the Devils should stop trying to be tougher than the other team. It's clearly not their strength. You look at how they beat the Flyers twice this year- using their offensively talented players to beat the Flyers while Zac Rinaldo was trying to "stir the pot". They get penalties, the Devils make them pay. Look what happened in the losses- the Flyers were doing their antics, and the Devils bought into them and lost those games. It's pretty apparent that the Devils skill is what drives them. Goons like Boulton don't contribute to the team. If the Devils want to win, they should be true to who they are- a skill team and not pretend they're a goon squad or the big bad Bruins. Because it's not working now, and it's probably not going to work again. And besides, it's not like hitting everyone in sight doesn't necessarily mean the team will win.