Still fighting the good fight

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Down but not out, enforcers are making a comeback in the NHL.

It's as obvious as a George Parros moustache, a Sean Avery cheap shot or a Donald Brashear meltdown.

You get the point.

Not that we're on the cusp of seeing more of the gratuitous scraps staged by two boneheads simply to justify their existence but the need for a genuine watchdog on most teams is clear.

Take, for example, what's going on in Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby.

Coach Michel Therrien made a desperate, pathetic plea for the league to better protect Crosby last week after the league's star attraction was once again used as a Penguin pinata.

Truth is, the league has spent years setting laughable precedents in terms of dispensing justice, thus leaving such security tasks in the hands of enforcers.

And after more than a year of seeing just a handful of genuine bruisers cling to their jobs, GMs around the sped-up, sanitized NHL are now searching through their Rolodexes to relocate the Missing Link.

Had Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero landed his club a fourth-line tough guy to oversee the proceedings with an eye on preserving Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's well-being, mouthpieces such as Aaron Downey wouldn't be able to humiliate the Penguins' top star as he did on and off the ice last week.

Darryl Sutter figured it out late in the summer by inking Eric Godard to a deal.

And while few knew he'd be up with the big club as much as he has of late, it's clear he's here to stay.

With an emerging group of superstars on his hands, Sutter knows someone other than Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf or Robyn Regehr has to keep opponents in line.

When they aren't, like last week when Zenon Konopka tried stirring the Flames captain, Godard sought out the misguided Blue Jacket to inform him he was messing with the wrong dude.

A pummelling ensued.

He may not be needed in the lineup every night but even in the press box, teams know he's watching their every move and taking notes for potential rematches.

What's more, tough guys are cheap, making the fourth-liners easy to fit into a budget and able to pay big dividends via increased security.

Statistically, fighting is up 6% this year.

A man chiefly responsible for that is Anaheim GM Brian Burke, whose club leads the league in fighting majors on purpose. As one of the most progressive and successful GMs in the league, Burke sees merit in intimidation even in today's gutless NHL, where the lack of respect is glaring.

"You come to a square dance in our barn and you shouldn't have any problems finding a partner," said Burke on TSN Wednesday, who was then asked if he'd dress Parros in the playoffs.

"It depends who we're playing. Those who say fighting is dead in the playoffs didn't watch any of our games.

"We fought in all three rounds last year and we plan on doing it again this year as far as we go."

That's the spirit.

This from a former league disciplinarian who knows the only ones who can protect skilled players are their teammates -- not the NHL.

So go ahead Mr. Therrien, whine all you want about the mistreatment opponents have reserved for Crosby.

Truth is, until you start fighting back you should be beating yourself up over this one.


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