Haley Stays in NHL Due to Hockey Smarts

| Jason Feigel

As Fighting Fades in N.H.L., Panthers’ Haley Survives on His Other Skills

After totaling 372 fights last season, the N.H.L. is on a pace for 275 this year.

Consequently, most teams have decided they no longer have room on their rosters for an enforcer, a player whose sole purpose is to drop gloves and swap punches in the kind of staged fights that once policed accepted rules of on-ice behavior and violence. But there are still spots for players with pugilistic ability and skill.

At 5 feet 11 inches and 205 pounds, Haley is hardly a behemoth, but he leads the N.H.L. this season with seven fighting majors — a statistic he says he is aware of. He was in 16 fights last season as a member of the San Jose Sharks, and three more in this year’s preseason.

“We know when he’s on the ice, we feel a couple of inches taller,” said Keith Yandle, the Panthers’ veteran defenseman. “He’s going to have your back, and he’s a great teammate. Any time anybody has gotten hit, or it’s something you don’t want, he’s right there. I think it just keeps guys honest.”

When Bob Boughner, a former N.H.L. defenseman, was named the Panthers’ coach last June, he knew he wanted to toughen up his team. He had coached Haley the last two seasons as an assistant in San Jose, and moved swiftly to bring him to Florida.

“He’s a great guy in the dressing room and off the ice,” Boughner said of Haley, who is with his fourth N.H.L. team. “And when he’s on the ice, he’s a guy who can play both ways. He’s a guy you’re not afraid to put on the ice, but, at the same time, he makes our skill guys feel a little more comfortable. I think most teams know they can’t take advantage of us physically when he’s in the lineup.”

Boughner said Haley knew when to fight and, perhaps more important, when he should keep his gloves on.