It’s a tough question to answer: for the Buffalo Sabres, how do you answer the bell when you don’t have a designated fighter to put in the ring?

The Sabres play the Bruins again on November 23rd, and their closest thing to a tough guy, Paul Gaustad, is going to have to fight Milan Lucic. Gaustad fights about once or twice a year, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t see himself as a player who should have to drop the mitts to contribute to a team.

But, you can’t let your starting goalie get plowed and just take it, he knows that. Teams will roll over you all year if you set that precedent.

After Lucic creamed Miller everyone on the ice for the Sabres looked at each other and thought “someone’s gonna fight him right? Please let someone who isn’t me do this.” They all looked to Gaustad, who for whatever reason couldn’t bring himself to do it. (A guess: fighting someone like Milan Lucic – or anyone, for me - isn’t something you just say “eff it” and do. Usually it’s something you have to talk yourself into, work up to, and Gaustad likely will.)

But what about a team that doesn’t even have a guy like Gaustad, what do they do when a heavyweight does something egregious? Nothing says “don’t hit our goalie” like sending out some middleweight to get thumped.

A lot of people want the “thugs” taken out of the league, but when your starting goalie gets smeared by a tough guy like that, apologizing that your goalie got in the way isn’t the right response. They’re nice to have on occasion.

Without one, your options kinda suck. You can crosscheck the guy in the mouth if you’re really determined to inflict pain, but that’s only gonna be a suspension, and put you on the tough guy’s radar for next time (if you care about stuff like that). You can go mow over the other teams goalie in the “eye for an eye” mentality, but 99% of the time that means you’re gonna end up fighting anyway. At least you may avoid the heavyweight that way, but a goalie run-off isn’t a situation we need in hockey.

So in the end…do you have to have a tough guy on your roster?

There’s only one alternative I’ve seen: the “never let ‘em see you sweat” option employed by the Detroit Red Wings for the past five years or so.

You can’t get us pissed, you can’t get under our skin, we’re an emotionless machine hell-bent on dismantling your team and getting the W. It’s the Nick Lidstrom/Pavel Datsyuk way.

If you don’t have the talent to employ that tactic and win, then we’re right back where we started: you actually do need a tough guy.

The more I think about how to answer a situation where an opponent intentionally hurt one of your teammates, the more I realize you either need to be a damn good team, or have a guy on hand who can stick up for your team (ideally one who can actually play). At least for the time being, that role in hockey is still necessary.

Comments (27)

  1. Great article. Unfortunately you completely misspelled Cody McCormick’s name repeatedly.

  2. I don’t think they wanted Cody to fight as he had stitches in his brow from the last fight he was in.

  3. Definitely seeing a decline in teams carrying just a heavyweight enforcer type who skates a few shifts, fights their “fighter”, and calls it a night. In actuality, the requirement becomes tough guys who are also good hockey players.

    Lucic might be the best at it, but who are the other candidates for REALLY tough guys who can also really play? Guys who are feared as much for their ability as for their fists.

  4. Not your most well thought out post, Bourne. I like you and the overall thought of this piece, but take exception to the lack of research done on this one.

    Gaustad is certainly ONE of the designated tough guys on the Sabres. He’s already had two tilts this year and in looking at his fighting “stats” Gaustad averages about 5 fights a year. With that said, he is not the Sabres “true” enforcer. Cody McCormick is. Cody had 17 bouts last year and already has 4 this season.

    As for the play in question Gaustad was trying to get to Lucic, but was being held back beginning at the blue line by three Bruins players. Yes, SOMEONE should’ve crosschecked/hacked/facewashed Lucic in that scrum and the lack of response was pitiful.

    What is even MORE disconcerting than that however is the lack of response over the next 42 minutes of that game. NO ONE went after him or Tim Thomas. I give McCormick a free pass as his face is still healing from his last fight, but the lack of respect for Miller by the rest of the team is the issue. Where was Regehr or Goose to challenge or run Lucic? Where was the rest of the team to fight anyone? The code is still present and the Sabres did not answer the bell.

    As the game increasingly got out of hand on the scoreboard, the physicality and nastiness needed to come from somewhere even if they were cheap shots. Boston just laughed at the Sabres throughout the rest of that game and continued to hit and hack KNOWING that nothing was coming. Horrible.

    • One goon won’t fix a team of cowards. Sabres need to make some changes, too many Gerbes not enough Reghers.

  5. So sad that the League even let’s this become a topic of discussion. Hey, let’s forget about setting and enforcing standards that should reasonably protect players. Let’s instead leave it to a macho culture straight from the 1970s where people have to retaliate to get revenge! I mean, nothing will scare Milan Lucic away from playing hard and getting right up to that line like a few punches on his helmet!

  6. Goodness, apologies on the McCormick thing, totally missed him. So yes, he should find Lucic and murder him soon.

    That said, point of the article stands – if you don’t have a guy like that (and some teams don’t), it’s awfully hard to get revenge for a cheap play. I think having those guys has some value.

  7. This is really troubling for a team. I’m glad not to be a Sabres fan right now.

    Just off the top of my head I can remember seeing guys like Mike Comrie and even Tomas Kaberle go after a guy with a teammate down on the ice. It wasn’t particularly effective at dishing out violence but the message was that somebody would step up for their teammate.

    If you’re not the type to square up and fight him then tackle him to the ice before he knows what is happening. Trip him. Hell, two-hand slash him or gang up on him with three guys, anything would be better than doing nothing.

    Better yet, call up Ogie Oglethorpe!

  8. I’m in the McKenzie camp on this one: eye-for-an-eye. Lucic would be fine with having to fight BUF’s heavyweight – assuming they had one. But if Thomas needs to keep his head up, how many times does Lucic run the the opposing goalie before his own netminder tells him to knock it off?

    Do you want to be the next batter in the box if your pitcher just beamed the other team’s hitter?

    Downie has managed to tone it down (relatively) after MacArthur took out St. Louis in response to Downie’s hit on Reasoner. For some guys, getting in a fight after crossing the line just doesn’t resonate.

    I agree a run-off is ugly, but in Lucic’s case, do you really think fighting a “tough guy” will stop him from concussing the next goalie? If Shanny’s rap on the knuckles doesn’t get the message across, the ugly option may be the only one left.

  9. Good piece but I also agree with Steve on Gaustad. He is not that far out of Lucics league and is good for 7-8 fights a year. He has guys like Orr, Westgarth and Shawn Thornton on his card (losses) and can handle himself against Lucic even if he is the underdog. Furthermore he has the A.

    So he has no excuses for not getting to Lucic in that scrum. Like Steve said he was being held off but he didnt really try to get loose.

    Is the reason for Gaustads lack of response a lack of heart? Maybe but I don’t think he is a gutless player without heart. You have to look elsewhere for the explanation and the only thing I can think of is management and/or Ruff. Here’s a paradox that I think isn’t too far from the truth: with an enforcer in the lineup, even if was on the bench during the incident, Gaustad would have been more likely to make sure he fought Lucic.

    An enforcer does a lot for the attitude of the entire team and even more important he doesn’t just keep the opposition accountable but also his own team. Add to that the fact that an enforcer would have had the chance to force the Bruins to answer to him even if it probably would have been Thornton who took the fight. Lucic perhaps doesnt give a damn about Millers health but he sure as hell cares about Thorntons (that’s the own-team-accountability I was rambling about).

  10. It’s possible to have guys who can “answer the bell” and still contribute to the team. Those are the guys you need around. Having a guy who does nothing but fight is a waste of a roster space. The staged fights some guys like that get into are boring, distracting, and don’t affect the game in any way, neither the outcome nor the way it’s played. Tough is good for a team, but tough and smart is better.

  11. Wendel Clark would have busted Lucic’s face open and then gone on to score the game winning goal. I’m just sayin….

  12. Gaustad, McCormic, or somebody has to step up. I don’t care if it’s you’re an underdog going into it. Keep your head down and fight safe so you don’t get KOed. You’ll gain a lot of respect from your team, fans, and everyone around the league.

    Callahan stepped up to Blunded when he came off the bench and leveled Dubinsky. Callahan didn’t hesitate and is 5 inches shorter and outweighed by about 30 pounds. It’s something he had to do as a teammate, and a captain.

    Gaustad should have done the same thing, especially because he wears the A.

  13. So Gustad fights him, and probably gets his ass kicked. How does that send a message?

    Run Thomas or cross check Lucic in the face. *That’s* how you send a message.

  14. Forget carrying a goon who can’t play 5 on 5.

    They should have had someone on that team with some sack run the Bruins’ Vezina Trophy winning goalie because Lucic ran the Sabres’ Vezina Trophy winning goalie.

    Eye for an eye.

    I’m a goalie and I hate it when my team runs the other team’s goalie because I expect the other team to run me later in the game for retribution.

    Ellis, Gerbe, Adam, Gaustad, McCormick, or a host of other forwards on the Sabres could have gotten that job done.

    The only guy I wouldn’t expect to do it would be Kaleta because Shanahan would probably give him 20 games if he did the deed.

  15. I agree with the eye for an eye response, but I don’t think it’s limited to the goalie. Miller is Buffalo’s best player. That means Buffalo should target the Bruins best player. Tyler Seguin, have fun at the dentist on Monday.

    I think one other interesting sidenote to this is the way the game is being policed by Shanahan. Let’s say someone runs Thomas. And Thomas, like Miller, gets hurt. You have to think the suspension for that play would exceed any suspension for Lucic given the deliberate and pre-medidated nature of it.

  16. if you watch the hit again, three Buffalo players converge around Lucic, and one of them’s throwing punches. The refs and other Bruins are in there pretty quick grabbing bodies and breaking it up. Miller looks like he’s pretty pissed off but he doesn’t look hurt. I’m not sure what you want a Sabre to do in this situation. Lindy Ruff is much more interested in the two points than shedding blood.

  17. Digger: short-term thinking to suggest two points in November are more important than establishing the character of your team. Every other team (and every guy in the Buffy dressing room) has the seed of doubt planted about whether these guys will step up in a tough spot. (Calls to mind the often-repeated line about the coach during his playing days: “Ruff at home; Lindy on the road.”)

  18. How about Myers? He’s not a fighter but he’s a mountain and even stronger than he looks. But he’s trying to be Paul Coffey instead of Chris Pronger for some reason. Sabres need to forget about 2 points sometimes and just cream someone on the Bruins. Maybe not the Lucic/Chara types though. How about Seguin? I think that’s a better revenge than a fight that can be no better than a draw. No one on the Sabres has what it takes to beat Lucic, the guy is just too much.

  19. Nice post! I have always been an advocate of having a physical team, with tough guys that can play well enough even to be third liners and a heavyweight. And as much as people hate guys like Sean “I’m gonna kill Giroux” Avery or Jordin “One Punch” Tootoo, having a guy like them is perfect for a situation like this. Not being big enough or considered a heavyweight (to have to follow the code), he can take an instigator and give a guy like Krejci, Seguin, or Caron a beating.

    Lucic is one of the few power forwards left in the game in the mold of Nolan (remember his hit on Hasek?), Shanahan, and Tkachuk and has shown he can hold his own. Therefore, he should be subject to a tilt with a heavyweight. Its time that the players decided this on the ice instead of in Toronto or wherever. I think Lucic hit was cheap but I am all for things to amp up the level of the game (which should have been amped up tenfold if the Sabres did the right thing).

  20. *Correction – Nolan hit Belfour not Hasek. Tkachuk hit Hasek but the Nolan one was much better!

  21. It is good being Wings fan.

  22. Er… *A* Wings fan.

  23. I find it disturbing that a player like lucic couldn’t move around Miller on this play, What this Tells me is like so many issues coming from the NHL, there is little to no respect for the players out there. Head shots on keepers now and you can see his elbows are high on this play, again how does the league respond to another keeper being sidelined for a uncertain amount of time.NOTHING……
    As For the fact that the Sabres couldn’t even defend one of there own tells me that this whole team will burn in flames regardless of how much there new rich owner pays them, Sad I find myself thinking that if i was on this team I would of been raged over that hit and would of went to the ends of my limit to return favors that are done to my Team, especially to a guy like Miller who is a class act. Miller should of done the HEXTALL move on his head. There should of been at least a scrum. Gods this league really has gone to hell.

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