Dec 18, 2000
What determines the value of a fighter in the NHL today? Currently, you've got fighters making everything from half a million to almost two million dollars a year. What sets this value? Can a $1.5 million a year fighter get the job done better than a $500,000 fighter, or three of them, for that matter? And, when was the last time anyone saw a fighter holdout, then not agree on a salary and miss the year?
First, we must look at the number of teams with an enforcer making over a million dollars (U.S.) a year. There are only 8 teams out of 30. Of these, each has only one fighter making over a million dollars, the highest being Richard Pilon of the New York Rangers, who makes $1.9 M a season. While Pilon's fighting and playing values alike are highly disputable, perhaps Chicago's Bob Probert, making $1.8 M a year would be a better example of a top-paid enforcer. Actually, Washington's Chris Simon makes $2.25 M a season, but can hardly be considered as a fighter anymore. To round out the rest of the teams with million-dollar enforcers: Toronto (Tie Domi, $1.69 M), Vancouver (Donald Brashear, $1.15 M), Pittsburgh (Matthew Barnaby, $1.1 M), Calgary, (Jason Wiemer $1.05 M), and Phoenix (Brad May, $1 M).
These numbers are somewhat staggering. Where are Sandy McCarthy, Stu Grimson, Georges Laraque, Rob Ray, and Matt Johnson? The list of seemingly top-level goes on. The fact is, perhaps NHL enforcers are not as valuable to their respective teams as we believe.
Now, out of the eight afore-mentioned million dollar enforcers, we can remove Pilon, Simon, and May. Pilon should not be considered, as with no goals, a lowly six assists, minus-2 and a mere 70 penalty minutes last season, it is clear he is not a top-level enforcer. His high salary, however, remains a mystery. Simon has upped his game beyond the level of the thug he once was. With 20 goals and 49 points last year, including a plus-11 rating and 146 penalty minutes, Simon has developed into one of the surprising new power forwards in the league. Simon finished in the top 100 in league scoring, tied (somewhat ironically) with Martin Rucinsky, who led the Canadiens in scoring. May, on the other hand is also somewhat of a mystery. With 16 points, a minus-2 rating, and a lowly 90 penalty minutes, he too is a power forward, not an enforcer. This leaves Probert, Domi, Weimer, Barnaby, and Brashear.
What is it that makes the values of these five players so high? Domi and Barnaby finished three and four respectively in total league penalty minutes. Clearly, this weighs into some of their value. If a team is looking for toughness and penalty minutes, these two players are among the leaders. On the other hand, Brashear finished only 28th in league PIMs, while Wiemer and Probert finished 41st and 47th, respectively. While it can be argued that the decline in these players' penalty minutes is due to a combination of injuries and suspensions, it does not deny the fact that such so-called enforcers are producing neither goals nor penalty minutes.
Now, it is also interesting to look at some of the salaries of other highly regarded fighters. In no particular order, Sandy McCarthy ($880,000), Scott Parker ($600,000), Gino Odjick ($850,000), Paul Laus ($900,000), Peter Worrell ($450,000), Louie DeBrusk ($400,000), Stu Grimson ($500,000), Reed Low ($360,000), Rob Ray ($500,000), Eric Boulton ($357,500), Ryan Vandenbussche ($500,000), Ken Belanger ($575,000), Andre Roy ($425,000), Georges Laraque ($700,000), Krzysztof Oliwa ($800,000), Denny Lambert ($525,000), and Matt Johnson ($875,000). There are many others, but this list provides somewhat of a cross section of current NHL fighters, both rookies and veterans.
Without starting a debate about which fighters are better than others, take Laraque, for example. Clearly one of the most respected fighters, Laraque had 16 points last year, was rated at a plus-5, and had 123 minutes in the penalty box. While critics might say that Laraque's lack of penalty minutes should keep him at a lower salary base until he can be among the leaders, this criticism is unwarranted. St. Louis' Tony Twist, almost unanimously considered the top fighter of years past, rarely accumulated astronomical-like penalty minutes. Yet, he was always respected by his peers and fans alike.
There are some definite up-and-coming fighters making small salaries now, such as Low and Boulton, but if they continue to do what they are doing now (accumulating fights and penalty minutes) their values will soar, and when the time to re-negotiate salaries comes again, they could eventually join the prestigious million dollar club.
However, through all this analysis, it is still hard to determine the value of a fighter. Lambert, who led the NHL in PIMs with 219 last season, makes only a little over half a million dollars a year. Also, Ray, one of the premier fighters in the league, currently makes only $500,000.
Thus, it is hard to put a pinpoint value on any given fighter, and it is clear that he cannot be judged by his points, plus-minus, or number of penalty minutes. Judging the salary of a fighter depends entirely it would seem on the team and the market that the player belongs to. The New York Rangers, with their league-leading payroll of $55.5 million, can afford to pay a player with arguably such little value as Pilon, a staggering $1.9 million. At this salary, Pilon would be the highest paid player if he played for either Nashville (Cliff Ronning, $1.75 M) or Minnesota (Curtis Leschyshyn $1.9 M). By way of contrast, Nashville can only afford to pay their top fighter, Brantt Myhres $500,000, while Minnesota pays Matt Johnson $875,000.
All this means one thing. If a fighter wants fame, glory, popularity, and above all else, money, he needs to go to a rich marketplace, such as New York, Detroit, or Colorado. If not, he will continue to toil for a small market team while making a small market salary. That is, unless, if he changes his game à la Chris Simon. If not, he will continue to play for his small market team, make minimal dollars, and when an all-too-early retirement is forced upon him through his fighting-related injuries, he will possibly have to work at a day job, à la Link Gaetz.
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