Fights and penalties were the order of the evening on Thursday at the Rock. In a 3-5 loss to the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils racked up 43 total penalty minutes. The Isles bested them in that department too with 63 in total. There were five separate fights, with three coming from Brett Gallant and Krystofer Barch. They shared a nice moment as they helped each other with their helmets as to not get an extra minor for throwing them off. Here's the video Nate linked to in yesterday's Devils in the Details of that touching moment:
How cute. And it stopped a potential attack with an easy zone entry for the Devils too! How...utterly selfish of Barch.
Anyway, the day after the game, Tom Gulitti inquired Barch about his game on Thursday. Based on this post at Fire & Ice, Barch responded that it was "Just a normal day at the office." That's a rather curious way to describe it. Barch does have a reputation for fighting. He does it enough to get labeled as a fighter. And quotes like this, also from the same post by Gulitti, strongly suggest that he knows that and he's grown to appreciate it:
"It’s just mentally I’m built that way. It becomes a game within a game. That kid [Gallant], the next night, I don’t know if he’d want to keep doing that game after game, but I will. I’ll beat you. And you go on to the next and go onto the next and if you get me, well, I’m going to keep coming back and eventually I’ll get you. That’s just how I’ve been built."
I take it Barch doesn't visit Hockey Fights as his recent win-loss record suggests he doesn't eventually get to whoever for whatever. However, I got curious about the normality of his fighting and I discovered something. Barch picking up five minutes for fighting isn't quite so normal. Thanks to the game logs at Hockey-Reference, here's the number of NHL games Barch has appeared in (note: 2007-08 includes three playoff games) alongside the number of games he's received at least five penalty minutes:
|Season||Barch GP||# 5+ PIM GP|
Assuming all of those 5+ PIM games include at least one fight, Barch has dropped the gloves in only about 28% of the games he's played in. It could technically be less if he's received them for majors, though so at most he's fought in 92 games in his career. He's never had a NHL run in any season where he fought in at least half of his appearances. If you buy a ticket to a game and expect Barch to fight, then the odds are against that happening. Fighting 28% of the time may be often enough to get the "enforcer" label, but it's not actually normal or even regular.
On top of that, Barch has only exceeded the twenty minute penalties-in-minutes plateau three times in his career. He's never had more than 22 penalty minutes in a game and that was a night where he took a slashing minor, fought twice, and got a game misconduct. It was also in his first NHL season way back in 2006-07. I find it hard to believe he's ever fought more than twice in one regular season game. If he has, it has been a rare occurrence. I don't know about the preseason, but I'd be shocked if he's done it there.
In any case, Barch is likely going to make the New Jersey team because Lou wants an enforcer in the organization and Peter DeBoer wants to have that option. This has been clear in recent seasons. And it's annoying since those players, whether they are Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Andrew Peters, Cam Janssen, Eric Boulton, or Barch, aren't good. They don't really do anything of note other than be bad when they're not fighting. Fighting in of itself hasn't helped the Devils in the past and it's not going to help them going forward. They don't create or prevent goals. They don't turn possession in their favor. When both sides are banging their sticks and acting all "pumped" after a fight, I doubt there's even an emotional switch. I will admit I would not miss fighting if it was gone. Sure, it may take out one of the mythical "this is what makes hockey, hockey" but I'm willing to trade that if it means no more Janssens, Barches, and Boultons.
Even if you're all about the fisticuffs, you'd be hard-pressed to argue that Barch had a good game on Thursday. He lazily tripped Peter Regin, which gave the Isles a power play that they converted on. His most notable non-fight moment was tripping over the red line while skating through the neutral zone with the puck. Surprising no one, he put up no shots and no attempts in 5:05 of ice time. He was clearly out there to "do his job," which has happened only more than a quarter of his regular season career. And he didn't even do that so well. Therefore, I don't know whether to laugh, roll my eyes, or shake my head at Peter DeBoer praising Barch with the following quotes to Gulitti:
"I have a ton of respect for guys like that just because that has to be the toughest job in hockey – to do that three times in a night. It’s one thing to be a goal scorer and be asked to go out and try and score a goal or be a shutdown (defenseman) and shut somebody down, but to go out and do that, you have to admire the courage of guys who play that role. There’s a reason, I think, everybody carries those type of players. It’s critical and if the guys can do that job and play regularly, it’s even more important in my mind. I think what might be disappearing is the guy who does that job, but can’t play. What’s becoming more of a premium are the guys that can do that and the coach can trust to put them on the ice for 10 minutes a night. I think that’s where it’s going."
Pete, we know you're not an idiot or a fool, so stop peeing on our legs and telling us it's raining. No one likes getting punched in the face and it's certainly a challenge. But since that goons can be found for free without a draft pick and they don't get signed to big deals, it's pretty obvious to me that no one in the league values them that much. Oh, sure, they'll fall over themselves to give big money to guys who fight and do things that actually help their teams win games; that second clause drives those deals - not the punching. Scoring goals, getting stops, and the like actually contributes to wins. Those are challenges worth undertaking, those are challenges that matter. Did Barch meet any of them last season, for example? No. While he was better than Boulton and Janssen, Barch contributed very little last season. He played in 22 games, earned no points, and took a whopping four shots on net. To repeat his performance on Thursday, Barch's most positive moment was showcasing how silly his role is by helping Gallant with his helmet.
Actions speak louder than words, so let's look at them in the bigger picture. Barch was given an average of 5:51 ice time per game last season. He didn't play ten or more minutes in a single game last season, though he was given more than nine on a handful of nights. Important players play far, far more than that. When the games were close, the bench was shortened and Barch watched as Ilya Kovalchuk (and possibly others) took his shifts. DeBoer stapled Barch to the bench when he realized the team needed all twelve forwards to try (and didn't) win games last season. The dumping of goons even goes back to the season prior. He decided to install Stephen Gionta, who played all of one game in 2011-12, into the lineup for the playoffs instead of going with either Janssen or Boulton, who's been with the team all that season. When the games got important, DeBoer properly understood that facepunchers aren't going to get it done. Whether he finds them courageous is irrelevant because they can't play. Funnily enough, he speaks about how the "all fights, nothing else" player is disappearing, yet he's got one of those players in Barch and he's willing to shut him down despite how courageous it may be when the game gets important. That evidence exists and clearly shows that the role of the goon isn't so important.
That all said, I will say the following: I do think DeBoer was unhappy enough with the overall performance such that he may be stretching for something that didn't displease him. I can't blame him about feeling that way. I know and do not expect DeBoer to ever come right out and say, "I got sandbagged with this lunkhead and so an actual forward who can help out in spots will have to be sent down because he's got a spot for sure." I know Lou prefers to have an enforcer on the team for some reason, and the coach isn't going to tell Lou no. So this may all be a mountain made out of a molehill made after a bad preseason game that won't matter in about a week. Still, I find DeBoer's praise to essentially be meaningless. it remains that Barch doesn't fight nearly as much as one may think and his role as a "player" isn't worth all that much. Even in preseason.