Blog Entry

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

Posted on: January 5, 2012 3:24 pm

By: Adam Gretz

The Toronto Maple Leafs placed forward Colton Orr on waivers Wednesday afternoon. He cleared on Thursday, going unclaimed by the 29 other teams in the NHL, paving the way for him to be assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. This development does not please Leafs general manager Brian Burke, a point that he made very clear as he addressed the media on Thursday afternoon talking about the transaction, as well as the decline of the enforcer role in the NHL.

Orr, of course, is one of the NHL's top fighters, and according to his player page at has been involved in over 110 fights at the NHL level, including preseason, regular season and postseason games. Compare that to the 11 goals he's scored in 378 career games with the Bruins, Rangers and Maple Leafs, and the six minutes of ice-time that he's averaged per game throughout his career, and it's quite obvious as to what his role is and what's expected of him.

That role is one that has been going away in recent years across the league, and that's a development that is not sitting well with the Leafs' general manager.

Said Burke on Thursday, “The only lament I have on this is the fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over.

“I know the Greenpeace folks will be happy with this, but I wonder where we’re going, where Brendan Shanahan’s getting six hearings every two days … I wonder, the accountability in our game and the notion that players can stick up for themselves and each other, I wonder where we’re going with that.”

It became clear that there simply wasn't room for Orr on the Maple Leafs roster, as he's appeared in just five games this season, playing a total of just 22:44. To put that total in some perspective, there are currently 46 regular NHL players that average more minutes than that every single game.

Burke's biggest argument is that the role of the fighter will allow for more cheap shots on the ice because there is no fear of retribution, pointing to some of the recent plays that resulted in a suspension from the league over the past week, saying that Shanahan is the only person looking out for other players.

“Pick your poison. Pick one of the suspensions," said Burke. "And so, to me, would those guys do those things if there’s retribution available, if there’s accountability in the game? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s just a rant that the game’s going in a direction I don’t like, but I’m troubled by this. When a player with the character of Colton Orr, when he can’t contribute in this league, then I’m not sure I like the way it’s going.”

The suggestion -- and Burke isn't the first one to put it out there -- that players like Orr, or the threat of fighting in general, acts as a deterrent to the type of cheap, dirty plays he's talking about here has always blown me away. If fighting were that sort of deterrent we would have never seen those types of things happen -- or at least not as much -- and they've always happened. They still happen, and they will continue to happen, whether fighting exists in the NHL or not. Is the game today really dirtier and filled with more cheap shots than it was 20 or 30 years ago, or when bench clearing brawls (like this one) were a common occurrence?

The other factor at work here is that it's just no longer as financially viable to carry a player that does nothing but fight on your roster. Now that the NHL has roster limits and a salary cap every roster spot and dollar spent matters. You have a limit as to what you can do, and teams are placing a larger emphasis on skating ability, speed and, of course, skill.

Orr is currently in the third year of a four-year contract that pays him $1 million per season. For a player that, again, plays about four-to-five minutes per night (when he's in the gameday lineup, that is) that's probably not the best use of your resources, an aspect that Burke also addressed.

"It’s almost like you’re adding up assets on a sheet and saying, ‘what Colton provides, does that provide the same benefit as a guy who can skate maybe better than he can?'" said Burke. "We’ve done it. We made the decision here. He hasn’t played much here. So I’m not excluding us from this remark. I just wonder where we’re going. Players, in the old days, they protected themselves. And then it evolved into players protecting their teammates. And now, I’m not sure who’s looking after them, other than (NHL disciplinarian) Brendan Shanahan. To me, it’s a dangerous turn in our game.”

It's always been clear that Burke sees a need for fighting in the NHL. It's clear based on his comments, his financial commitments to players like Orr, his comments on Thursday, and, heck, even the makeup of his rosters as a general manager, as his teams are usually near the top of the league in terms of fighting majors per season.

For a variety of reasons the game is changing, and that role is going away, and that's something that Burke is simply going to have to accept and adjust to.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Since: Apr 18, 2009
Posted on: February 1, 2012 10:03 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

Look to Boston for the future of hockey. Ain't noone is gonna take a cheap shot at Lucic, he may be one of the toughest guys in the league. Yet he is a pointgetting superstar with flair. Same with most of their team. Guys like Horton do their own fighting and settle their own scores. Even Marchand sticks up for himself. Chara, well he is in another orbit. I am hoping and called the Bruins to win three cups in a row because they are so far ahead of everyone else in suiting up the future team, and game of hockey.

Since: Jan 6, 2012
Posted on: January 6, 2012 2:16 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

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Since: Jul 1, 2010
Posted on: January 6, 2012 12:29 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

THe author should read The Code since he doesn't seem to get it.


"The Code" is an entertaining book.    The book doesn't apply to today's game like it did a decade ago.    There is almost nothing in "The Code" that would help Colton Orr keep his spot and contract with most the franchises in today's NHL because the league, players, rules, and gms have changed.   It's different now.

Since: Nov 7, 2009
Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:08 am

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

THe author should read The Code since he doesn't seem to get it.



Since: Feb 9, 2007
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:10 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

He is bang on. You have little peckers like Avery, Downie, and others running around, cheap shotting opponents, dirty hits, dirty plays, slew foots etc, and they aren't held accountable. Get rid of the instigator rule and let the Downies, the Avery's and the Carcillo's have the living #^&$ knocked out of them and those type of players will be out of the NHL Which is only good news. Now about these european cheap shot artists like Sergei Koistitsyn.. what to do?

Since: Feb 10, 2009
Posted on: January 5, 2012 5:19 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

Burke is dead on when it comes to this topic. people may not like some of his comments or moves but hes always built his team around toughness and thats worked in the past unfortunately in todays NHL its become something of the past and nothing more about todays game pisses me off more than that. Thanks Uncle Gary


Since: Jul 1, 2010
Posted on: January 5, 2012 3:51 pm

Brian Burke talks decline of enforcer

To me, it’s a dangerous turn in our game.”
If only Burke had said that to himself 3 years ago, he may have put together a better roster.    He's a likable guy but an idealist with a dangerously outdated way of making hockey decisions imo.   This is something he should have know before he left Anaheim.  The fact that he acknowledges it now is a good sign that he's realized the game has changed.   I agree with what Gretz wrote explaining that it's likely the cap has more to do with that than anything.   
It seems here that he still hasn't come to terms with the idea that guys make their living in the league by NOT being deterred by enforcers anyway.   It scares me that he still thinks enforcers would bring the "accountabilty" he thinks they would bring.   It's a different era in the league now, at least he's acknowledged some of that by waiving Orr, to bad he hasn't acknowledged all the reasons to waive him to begin with.   Maybe the fact that Orr cleared waivers will help Burke understand what's been going on for years a little better.

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