Two players eye each other before the faceoff, both knowing why they were put out there at the same time for. They give each other a subtle nod acknowledging what their role is, and what is about to happen.
The puck drops, followed shortly by their gloves, sticks, and elbow pads. They engage in a brutal battle in hopes of giving their team any advantage they can.
That was the role of the enforcer, and thanks to the modernization of the game, we find them becoming extinct at the NHL level.
With so much emphasis on youth and speed, the lugging enforcer has gone way of the dinosaur, with many evolving their game to adapt the best they can to remain in the league.
Still some hold true to what got them to the NHL, and there maybe no better example of this than Jared Boll of the Anaheim Ducks.
The former fourth round pick broke into the league back in 2007 and immediately made an impact with his fist, tallying 27 fighting majors and registering 226 penalty minutes. In his first four seasons, Boll fought 95 times (while playing in 293 games).
It was no secret what kept Boll at the NHL level, as in those same four seasons, he never tallied more than 14 points in a season.
Standing at 6’3”, and right around 200 pounds, Boll didn’t stand out as a true ‘heavyweight’, like Georges Laraque or Brian McGrattan, but that didn’t slow him down. He was more than willing to throw down with any in the name of his team.
But as the game gravitated towards being more speed based, as well as it being near impossible for Boll to continue his pace he began his career at (he fought once every three games the first four years in the league), his impact saw a spike decrease.
He hit a low in his last two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he fought once every five games. With the majority of the true ‘enforcers’ being forced out of the game, there were fewer takers for what Boll did best, and with his limited offensive upside, his outlook was cloudy at best.
Then came the summer, where the Blue Jackets decided to buy out Boll’s contract, which just had one year left on it. Columbus will now pay just over league minimum for this year and next just so that Boll will not play on their roster.
At this point, a lot of players in his position probably don’t get another chance in the NHL. Not only has Boll gotten that, but he is sticking around doing it the same way he made his name.
Signing a two-year deal with the Ducks, Boll is currently the NHL leader in fighting majors with five (in 19 games played). While that is certainly nowhere near the pace he once carried, he sits right on pace for what the league is certainly offering.
Since the 2000-2001 season (as far back as hockeyfights.com goes back), fighting is on pace to once again be at a record low, currently matching last year’s total of .28 fights per game.
Boll has sparked the Ducks into doing, what historically has been, what they do best. Anaheim has always been at their best when they are at their most physical, fist included. Back when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, they led the NHL in fighting majors with 71, which was 24 more than the team with the next most.
While they certainly aren’t on the same pace as they were then – and there isn’t an exact correlation between fights and wins, they finished with a league’s best 42 last year – the Ducks could certainly push their total to a close reminder of those days.
At their current pace, Anaheim could finish with nearly 60 fighting majors. Of those, Boll is at a pace to where he could finish with 20 fights for the first time since the 2010-2011 season.
The time will come where Boll and the last few of the players hanging around that are known solely for their fist are completely out of the league. What that means for fighting, in general, is a topic for another day, but until that comes you can expect Boll to continue to play the only way that he knows how.