The Case for D.J. King

Posted November 13, 2010

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Many Caps fans and bloggers this season have been scratching their head as to why it’s even worth dressing enforcer D.J. King, when minor leaguers, such as Mathieu Perreault, could benefit from those few minutes that King otherwise gets.

Unlike much of last season, the Caps aren’t short on guys who can hold their own in a fight. Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Matt Bradley, and John Erskine are experienced fighters and will stick up for teammates when necessary. Hendricks, a relatively late addition to the lineup, leads the Caps in fights this season, something we presumed King would do when he arrived in Washington.

Unlike King, these gentlemen have other on-ice responsibilities that are crucial to the Caps’ success, but their on-ice presence isn’t really the deterrent that gives Alex Ovechkin more space. Do opposing goons think: We better not deliver hard body checks to Nicklas Backstrom, because Matt Bradley might come after us? Doubtful, with no offense to Bradley, who would step up anyway.

A good enforcer doesn’t necessarily require much ice time, because his job isn’t just to go out and fight every game. His job is to be intimidating. Opponents who aren’t equipped to answer his fists may play back a bit, allowing more space for the stars, which translates to goals and wins. This, and other nuances of fighting, is explained in the book The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL.

But King isn’t even playing in most of the games, so how can he be a deterrent? Simple. When it comes to retribution, hockey players have long memories. A fight may not be a spur-of-the-moment decision, but payback for something that happened a season or more earlier. King is simply on reserve, ready to go when needed. Just because the Caps didn’t dress him for a game against the Flyers doesn’t mean he won’t be there in the future. It’s likely that when he gets a jersey, there are reasons that media do not report.

George McPhee isn’t dumb, and King is still on the team for a reason. It may very well be true that he’s not working out the way the Caps anticipated, but there is typically far more to the decision than the fact that he rarely plays, or hasn’t done much while playing. The role of the enforcer is often misunderstood, and many factors need to be considered when determining the need for players such as King.

Get The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL on Amazon.