It seems to me that at least once a summer I have a desire to lament the existence of an "enforcer" on the roster of the New Jersey Devils. I'm reminded it today when I started thinking about what would be an ideal set of lines given the team's current group of forwards. Per CapGeek, they have fourteen signed and Adam Henrique will get signed at some point to make it fifteen. I personally feel Mattias Tedenby won't make the team for reasons previous discussed. Namely, he's just not good and it's not likely he will be ever. With seven defensemen signed, the team has two spare spots for skaters. The Devils could simply use those two spots for the spare forwards. Two questions would arise. First, who gets to be scratched? Second, who will sit for said scratched player to play?
With respect to the first, I would think and hope that one of the initially scratched is Krystofer Barch. He was signed last season in the wake of buying out Eric Boulton as another "tough guy" in the lineup. A "coke machine," to steal a phrase from Copper & Blue. Someone who's best attributes are in punching dudes in the face and not actually helping their team win games. In short, a goon. Truth be told, Barch was miles ahead of Boulton and Cam Janssen (still in the organization for reasons unknown). Whereas those two were black holes of possession in 2011-12; the play broke even when Barch was on the ice. Yes, he was still facing weak competition, played limited minutes on a fourth line, put up a total of four shots on net all season, and scored no points. He wasn't an abject liability and that puts him ahead of most of the goons the Devils have used in seasons past.
That said, Barch only looks good in comparision to them. Compared to potential fourth liners in Gionta, Bernier, Carter, and Olesz, and he's really the odd man out. This is because that he's still a specialty player; a specialty is racking up penalty minutes. Those players tend not to play in important games. While the Devils didn't make the playoffs in 2013, Barch was routinely scratched last season when the team really need to just win regular season games. Even so, it took 22 games before this was decided upon. It could have done far sooner, in retrospect. It begs the question: why not ice 12 potentially useful forwards all the time? On paper, I count 13 under the cap. Make it 14 if a miracle happens and Mattias Tedenby can stick in the NHL.
Truth be told, Lou's at fault for this more than DeBoer. He's the one who sought out and signed Barch to a two-year deal to begin with. You can go through past seasons and find at least one regular "tough guy" who got minutes at one point or another. Why Lou believes the team is better off with a guy like Barch, Boulton, Janssen, etc. playing is beyond me, really. There's little evidence showing that they do anything positive to help the team win.
Of course, to paraphrase a truism, don't hate the GM, hate the game. The reality is the management across the league very much supports this notion. Look across the river to Our Hated Rivals. Last season, they utilized multiple "grit guys" like Mike Rupp, Arron Asham, Stu Bickel, and a few games of Michael Haley (Haley was somewhat restrained). Go down south and look at the Second Rate Rivals. Being mean is part of their organizational philosophy. It's a team that saw their star player get suspended in their next-to-most-recent playoff game and decided to replace him with Zac Rinaldo. They even brought up his potential heir apparent in Jay Rosehill in 2013. Even go up north to the richest team in the NHL and they kept Frazer McLaren so he can keep playing with Colton Orr even they were so legitimately awful to watch to even a hockey neophyte. Look at the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. They had a dynamite season and the team felt the need to ice Brandon Bollig for 25 games - and 5 playoff games - even though he didn't do much (though he had an amazingly high possession rate for a guy who does so little). As long as the league allows fighting - and I really do mean allows, they could end it tomorrow should they want it - teams will continue to employ fighters. Whether they can actually play the game and contribute in some way beyond picking up majors is secondary. Until that changes, we will still see roster filler on rosters like Barch on our beloved team.
Anyway, rant aside, I have to respect reality over what I want As much as I want Barch to be the 14th or 15th forward at best on the depth chart, Krystofer Barch is going to get in games this season. He played in 22 games last season and we know DeBoer has activated players of ilk in the past even with healthy players available. For the sake of this thought exercise, let's assume that no one's injured. Let's go back to that second question I asked earlier: Who will eventually sit for Barch when he does play?
Barch is a fourth line player at best. He has never averaged more than seven and a half minutes per game in his career according to Hockey Reference. Given his lack of skills at either end of the rink, he needs to be protected as much as possible with respect to zone starts and match-ups. He will play on the fourth line for only a few shifts when he is active. Therefore, someone of that calibur will likely have to sit for him. Since Barch is a left wing, there are three potential fourth liners: Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Rostislav Olesz. Olesz is a bit of a reach since it's not clear where he'll slot in on this roster. For all I know, he could be the left winger on the third line by the end of camp. The more likely targets will either be Carter or Gionta. Carter plays the left wing position on the fourth line and he's shown to be a "energy" guy in the past. Then again, he tends to bring more energy when he actually does good things on the ice, something he's demonstrated now and again. He still prone to taking penalties in spots and so sitting him now and again may send a message in that regard. Gionta is the center but Carter (or Olesz) could slide over in his absence and Barch could take that winger spot. Gionta's quick, draws penalties, and doesn't really do much else that's vital to keep him on the ice. The addition of Olesz may make him less necessary so he could be that twelfth forward to rotate out with the others with the team.
It goes without saying that those players are better than Barch. However, past history suggests that Barch will get into games and so someone will have to sit. I just think they're the most likely options. It's a coin flip in my mind, even though I still prefer not playing Barch at all. It's also possible that the odd man out could be someone entirely else as a fourth liner gets moved elsewhere among the lines. Of course, it may be a moot question when injuries arise, not that Barch can do much more than fill an open roster spot. So I put the question to you. Assuming no injuries, who will sit for Barch to play in this coming season? Please leave your answer, explanation, and laments about Barch in the comments. Thanks for reading.