I’ll admit here that I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the goons of the NHL. It sounds really effeminate to say that being as how I’m a dude, but it’s true. I’ll sit around with my friends and we’ll throw out the names of legendary 1980s and 1990s goons and try to one-up each other. Sure, most of these guys weren’t very good at hockey (Dennis Vial) and those that were had major issues of their own (Bob Probert). For some reason, for those of us that grew up in that highly impressionable era of hockey through the 80s and early 90s the guys that dropped the gloves were always memorable and with the way the NHL has gone out of its way to try and “clean up” the game in recent years, they’ve taken on an aura all to themselves.
From the moment that Tie Domi ended his NHL career, the NHL landscape for pugilism seemed barren and it looked as if fans of the dirty side of hockey were going to have to keep a wandering eye towards the AHL to get their mixed martial arts of hockey fix. After all, when you’ve got characters like Dennis Bonvie and Brian McGrattan accumulating over 500 PIMs in a single season, you have to respect the effort that goes into being that damn disruptive. After all, not everyone is going to be a Crosby, Zetterberg or an Ovechkin – some guys are going to be Stu Grimson or Tiger Williams or Chris Nilan.
This is where Daniel Carcillo stepped in.
Two years ago, Carcillo was getting ice time in Phoenix when he made his NHL debut. He played in just 18 games, but piled on 71 penalty minutes in that time, a pretty hefty haul considering the NHLs PIM leader in 2006-2007 was Philadelphia’s Ben Eager with 233. Phoenix had another guy doing dirty work that season in Josh Gratton so Carcillo’s road to eventual goon-borne glory was blocked.
Come 2007-2008, Carcillo was a man on a mission accumulating an astonishing 324 PIM in 57 games. Think about that. He missed 25 games that season and still out-PIM’ed the second place finisher Jared Boll by 98 minutes. That’s historic goonery not seen in the NHL since Peter Worrell of the Florida Panthers went bizonkers (thanks Gary!) and loaded up with 357 PIMs in 2001-2002.
The difference between the goonery back in the day and the goonery now, however, is how it gets put together. Back in the 1980s, it’s fair to say that the big gun goons were all out to get after each other. Most teams were able to pile up PIM totals that would make Lil’ Gary Bettman wet his pants and cry if they were to happen these days. Well, moreso than he does nowadays anyhow. I’ll just pick out a season at random and take a look at the PIM leaders from that season. Let’s check out 1987-1988.
- Bob Probert 398
- Basil McRae 378
- Tim Hunter 337
- Richard Zemlak 307
- Chris Nilan 305
- Jay Miller 304
- Gord Donnelly 301
- Rick Tocchet 299
- Torrie Robertson 293
- Steve Smith 286
Now for those who were critical that the NHL was a goon league back in those days, keep in mind that Mario Lemieux scored 70 goals that season and lead the league in scoring (yes, even over Gretzky) with 168 points. That season saw 12 players score over 100 points.
Now? We’re lucky to see five players get 100 points in a season. The first two seasons after Gary’s sport-crippling lockout are exceptions thanks to the insistence to help goal scoring via the power play. Guys that rack up tons of penalty minutes are even more rare, whether you want to pin the cause on that to the incredibly bogus instigator rule or to the possibility that the game has moved beyond having guys out there strictly to enforce the “code” on the ice. I don’t really subscribe to one idea or the other, but I am a firm believer in the instigator rule being totally bogus.
Where this all came out to the forefront was last night when Daniel Carcillo managed to find a way to put his Philadelphia Flyers on a nine minute penalty kill, thanks to him trying to punchasize Washington Capitals Matt Bradley’s face.
Carcillo received a five-minute major for fighting, a two-minute instigator penalty (duh) and a two-minute minor for cross-checking. That’s a pretty hefty effort, especially when Matt Bradley picked up nothing… Since all he did was body check Daniel Carcillo cleanly. Carcillo also got spanked by the Wheel of Justice to the tune of four games, a number that somewhat makes sense because Carcillo is a rather notorious character at this point.
I get that it’s Carcillo’s job to fight and inspire his teammates and certainly that kind of play isn’t exactly frowned upon in Philadelphia but Carcillo is developing a bit of a habit of not choosing his moments wisely. Take a look at the playoffs last season where he decided to fight Pittsburgh’s Maxime Talbot and managed to not only inspire the Penguins but also the entirety of the Pittsburgh fan base. That kind of stuff is not what you’re paid to do if you’re Dan Carcillo.
I will say that my friends and I were initially amazed and impressed with Carcillo’s ability to consistently find his way to the penalty box and act out like an “old school” goon and while I’m not about to speak for them here, Carcillo isn’t from the same class of goon as those legends from the 80s and 90s. He’s a different sort of creature, perhaps a guy who came along 10-15 years too late, but it’s tough to even make that assessment about him because he plays the game with such little respect for others on the ice.
Let’s face it, Matt Bradley was about another five seconds away from dropping the gloves with him and indulging his wont to fight… but he didn’t wait and cold-cocked him instead. Much like Officer Farva from the movie “Super Troopers” Dan Carcillo’s shenanigans are cruel and tragic and above all else, ill-timed. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren can talk all he wants about how he disagrees with Carcillo’s suspension and there are some intriguing arguments to be found as to why it’s “too much” but the Flyers knew exactly what they were getting when they brought him aboard and to be surprised at all that he does things like this or to get kid glove treatment from the league is just completely stupid.
Perhaps someday the Flyers will get their act together and stop appeasing the meathead part of their fanbase and outfitting the team with more goons than talent but as long as Bobby Clarke’s shadow looms around the organization, the Broad Street Bullies image is going to be impossible to shake. Would Carcillo have fit in well with Dave Schultz and Bobby Clarke in the 70s? Absofrigginlutely. In today’s NHL though… Carcillo is a man out of his element and comes off more like a clown than an intimidator.