GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes signed veteran enforcers John Scott and Steve Downie this summer to protect rookies Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook and perhaps franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Combined, Scott and Downie have accounted for 92 NHL fights and 1,599 penalty minutes.
General Manager Don Maloney believed their presence would prevent opponents from taking liberties with the Coyotes’ future, but a little more than halfway through the season, both were gone.
Scott was infamously traded shortly before the All-Star break, and Downie was waived then assigned to the American Hockey League on Jan. 17, with one brief recall before he was sent back to Springfield earlier this month.
Are the Coyotes joining other teams in abandoning the inclusion of a traditional enforcer?
“Yes,” Maloney said. “You have to have someone who can play regular minutes.
“John Scott was good for us. He got us through the early part of the season but now when you look at the games, there are very few teams that are going to run us around. I think when we assess things, we have enough veteran maturity in our group and the rules of the game are going to protect us against craziness.”
According to the website hockeyfights.com, through Thursday’s games, the Coyotes ranked 23rd in the NHL in fighting majors with 10 — one more than the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks and 20 fewer than the league-leading Anaheim Ducks (30).
Saturday’s opponent, St. Louis, is among the top 10, at 21, while every team in the Pacific Division has more fighting majors than the Coyotes.
It’s no secret that fighting has decreased in the NHL and the traditional role of the enforcer is fading, but captain and 20-year NHL veteran Shane Doan believes there is still a place for that type of player in the game.
“There always will be an element of that in our sport. It’s one of its foundations,” Doan said. “If you are able to get somebody uncomfortable, not quite as relaxed as they would be otherwise, that can change everything. Some players handle it well; some don’t handle intimidation well at all.”
Doan knows that analytics are helping drive the extinction of the traditional enforcers by showing their relative ineffectiveness on the ice, but he believes there are intangibles that can’t be measured, even if there is ample research to show that fights themselves do not positively impact a team.
“Show me analytics of a guy’s mind when he’s worrying about someone who is going to be a little bit intimidating,” Doan said. “It doesn’t have to be a fighter. It can be a guy who finishes his checks hard all the time or a guy who lets you know he’s there in other ways.”
The latter descriptions more likely reflect where the Coyotes and other teams are headed. While traditional fighters are a dying breed, hard-edged players are not.
“I think the key is you have to be able to skate and keep up,” Doan said. “Guys who can do that are still so valuable.”
Scott’s trade was a multi-faceted deal, but Downie was simply struggling to keep up with the pace of the game so the Coyotes opted to waive, then re-assign him.
“Steve Downie just didn’t fit, for whatever reason with our group,” Maloney said. “Good guy, good team guy, but the play on the ice hasn’t fit to date. Does he get another chance to come back? Who knows?”
In spite of Scott’s and Downie’s absences, coach Dave Tippett still expects an edge from his players.
“Part of the game has always been about team toughness,” he said. “At the start of the year, we were concerned with how many young kids we had — that they were going to get taken advantage of. Now they’re 50-plus games in and doing fine so you evolve with how your team is playing.”
Maloney won’t rule out adding more toughness if the opportunity presents itself.
“That’s something going forward that we still may address, but maybe not quite that traditional element that we had at the start of the season,” he said. “A guy who can play but can also play that type of game is something that every team needs.”
Even so, Tippett feels players such as recent addition Jarred Tinordi, Nicklas Grossmann, Doan, Connor Murphy, Kyle Chipchura and Brad Richardson can satisfy the team’s toughness quotient.
“We have some people, if push comes to shove, that can do that,” he said. “We’re fine in that area. We’re comfortable with our situation.”
Blues at Coyotes
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Probable goalies: Blues — Brian Elliott. Coyotes — Louis Domingue.
Season series: Blues lead, 1-0.
Injury report: Blues — D Alex Pietrangelo (knee), F Steve Ott (hamstrings) and G Jake Allen (knee) are out. Coyotes — G Mike Smith (IR, abdominal surgery) is likely to return in early March. C Boyd Gordon (IR, upper body) is week to week. G Anders Lindback (Achilles) and RW Joe Vitale (concussion symptoms) are out for the season.
Scouting the Blues: While much of the Central Division attention has focused on Chicago and Dallas, St. Louis is 6-2-2 in its last 10 games and is hanging around the division race. After Thursday’s overtime win over Los Angeles, the Blues were just three points behind Dallas for second place and four behind Chicago for first. … F Vladimir Tarasenko leads St. Louis in goals (27) and points (49). … In his last six starts, G Brian Elliott is 5-0-1 with a 1.26 GAA and a .961 save-percentage.
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