SPORTS

Maple Leafs join Flyers as teams ditch enforcers for 'team toughness'

10/07/2014 10:58 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Gone are the days of the Toronto Maple Leafs standing for truculence and the Brian Burke way. General manager Dave Nonis and coach Randy Carlyle are still old-school hockey guys, but one old-school mentality has gone by the wayside.

The Leafs will open the NHL season without a heavyweight fighter after waiving Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. The rough stuff will now be handled by committee.

"We have to have a pack mentality that, regardless of whether or not Colton or Frazer are in the lineup, we're going to, as a group stick together," Nonis said. "This isn't a unique situation. If you look around the league, that's becoming more prevalent."

Enforcers have become less prevalent over the past few seasons, but only this fall have a handful of teams known for having them abandoned that path. The Montreal Canadiens let George Parros leave in free agency and the Philadelphia Flyers waived ex-Leafs fighter Jay Rosehill.

The Leafs and Flyers were first and third in the league in fights, respectively.

Using a fighter against certain teams as a way to intimidate or stand up to intimidation is also a fading strategy. Less than half the teams in the league still have a heavyweight brawler, though Burke's Calgary Flames have three.

"You just see teams really wanting a guy playing both ends of the ice," Leafs forward Daniel Winnik said. "It's not a knock against old-school fighters, it's just the way management has gone. They seem to like the middleweight guys a little more."

Middleweights, or players who can fight but aren't on the ice primarily to do it, are much more popular. The Chicago Blackhawks just signed Daniel Carcillo, the Pittsburgh Penguins picked up Steve Downie for that job, and the Flyers have Zac Rinaldo and others who don't mind dropping the gloves.

"We've got some guys that can handle themselves," Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall told reporters recently. "There never are any fights in the playoffs. And then in-between, it's getting less and less."

Carlyle has repeatedly referred to what he wants as "team toughness." That doesn't just mean fighting, but it doesn't exclude it, either.

"You've got to take the check to make a play, you've got to block a shot, you've got to defend a teammate if you feel he's been taken advantage of," Carlyle said. "I think you've got to be hard to play against, and I think you have to compete for your space on the ice."

For what it's worth, the Leafs' brass said not having Orr or McLaren on opening night doesn't mean either or both won't be back. Carlyle said not having them was not a "philosophical change" by the organization.

But with the Leafs and Flyers planning to roll four lines that could play, it's hard to find room for enforcers whose ice time is limited. Orr averaged 5:22 a game, McLaren 4:00 and Rosehill 4:56 last season.

"Obviously the game has changed a little bit in the last five or 10 years and teams are constructed a little bit differently nowadays," Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk said.

The way the Leafs are constructed means the fights will fall on David Clarkson, Roman Polak, Carter Ashton and even maybe Winnik and Joffrey Lupul. Clarkson, now the leader with 85 regular-season bouts in his career, had a team-high nine in 2013-14.

"As a group, we have to take care of each other, there's some that are more capable than others," Nonis said. "There's certain players that that's not in their bag of tricks, but I think as a group we have to find a way to take care of each other and protect each other and I think that whether or not those two players are in the lineup or not, we have the personnel that can do that."

---

Follow @SWhyno on Twitter

MORE:cpSports