There’s no longer room for a traditional enforcer on Sabres roster

Merely mention John Scott’s name amongst Sabres fans and you’re sure to get a divisive response. The hulking enforcer has managed to win over or alienate his fair share of Sabres fans over the past 44 games.

He enters tonight’s contest with Philly with 44 games played in Buffalo, 102 PIMs, zero points and one significant suspension as a result of a check to the head. Oh, and he’s a -6. Scott’s effectiveness on the ice has never really been in question. He is a big huge dude who is paid to keep the peace, not score goals.

Scott was deemed a necessary addition after the lack of response surrounding the Miller/Lucic incident signified a need for more toughness in the Buffalo locker room. So Darcy Regier went out and found the one guy who was capable of fighting anyone.  A 6’8” behemoth who had fought 22 times (according to HockeyFights.com) in four previous NHL seasons.

He was to be Buffalo’s great nuclear deterrent. The man who could stand up for his teammates, handle himself against each and every NHL heavyweight and the one player who would best instill a notion of confidence in his teammates.

The one problem is that the nuclear deterrent doesn’t seem to carry the clout that he was expected. The limited ice time that Scott receives means that he’s rarely available when duty calls and when he is dropping the gloves, it’s typically with another fighter who fits in the ICBM category.

The issue with Scott isn’t all that complicated. First, he isn’t the greatest hockey player out there, which limits his ice time. Because he doesn’t get much ice time he’s rarely available to fight. Because he’s rarely available to fight would indicate that he’s not much use to the Sabres.

One particular situation springs to mind from last season when Mike Weber jumped in to fight Mike Brown after a boarding incident with Scott on the ice. Now it’s important to understand that Scott wasn’t in view of the play and that Brown isn’t necessarily in his weight class. But the fact remains, the type of incident that he’s there to prevent happened while he was taking in one of the few shifts a game he gets.

My true issue with Scott isn’t his presence in the locker room –which I understand to be quite excellent – or an indictment of his character – which I understand to be excellent as well. The issue is that the Sabres continue to use a roster spot on a player who they get no value from.

There is certainly value to having a player who is capable of defending himself and his teammates in a fight when necessary. It’s also important for that person to be capable of winning some of those fights. What Scott is not only supposed to serve as a deterrent for the other team to take liberties left and right but to also be capable of taking on the league’s heavyweights; which happens to be the one trait Cody McCormick is probably incapable of fulfilling.

Count Scott in a small company of fighters that includes Colton Orr, George Parros, Matt Carkner, Shawn Thornton. That’s only five names across the entire league who can only be handled in a fight by the other four guys. There are others who certainly factor into this list (Paul Bissonette, Frazer McLaren, Tom Sestito, Cody McLeod etc) but those five really hit home as some of the league’s toughest fights. Just compare the recent fight cards of Scott and Cody McCormick as a barometer of the type of fight each of these guys have. If you really want to break it down, watch each fight to see the situation surrounding each altercation.

That list also happens to be comprised of guys who pretty much engage in “staged” fights. It’s a generalization, but it typically holds true because of their role. They’re simply not on the ice long enough to be capable of reacting to the different situations which typically require a fight as the appropriate response. So I must ask, what is the point of rostering such a player who is only going to serve to fight the four-to-seven other guys who sport such similar resumes?

It speaks to the need to find rough and tumble players who can not only maintain a relatively competitive level of play but also can stand toe-to-toe with most of his peers when it comes to a fight. This is what makes a player like McCormick or even Chris Neil so appealing.

Neil is probably the better example, but for the purposes of the Sabres, McCormick will work. Having players who can be trusted with a regular shift each night provides exponentially more value to a team than what you may define as a run-of-the-mill goon. If you have a bruiser or two who is capable of fighting when necessary while still taking a regular shift, you don’t only plant a grocery stick on the bench but you maximize the effectiveness of the players on your roster.

What should be noted is that I am by no means discrediting the skills that these players have. These are men who honed their craft and reached the upper echelon of their sport and by no means would I ever discredit that. However, when I look at the Sabres roster and the struggles they’ve had in recent seasons, I don’t see the need for a player like John Scott. Players like Chris Neil, Cody McCormick, Marcus Foligno, Milan Lucic and so many others who can not only hold their own in a fight, but fill a substantial role on any roster are so much more valuable to a hockey team.

I love a good fight and I hope that the NHL can find a way to appropriately keep the practice in the game, but I also know that the Sabres could do more by ignoring the need for a nuclear deterrent.

 

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