For many fans, fighting is one of the major aspects of the game of hockey. Only in the NHL can two players actually square off and wail on each other. It's what sets the sport apart from all the others.
While there may be some who believe that the day of the hockey fight has come and gone, so long as it remains a part of the game, teams have to have players willing to drop the gloves. For the Caps in the past two seasons, that player has been Tom Wilson.
According to hockeyfights.com, the Caps have had 67 fights in the past two regular seasons combined. Wilson has been in 26 of them.
Now the team loses players John Erskine, Tim Gleason and Aaron Volpatti and even Troy Brouwer who dropped the gloves three times last season and brings in two players in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie who have never had more than one fight in a single NHL season. That could put more pressure on Wilson to protect his teammates.
That is not an ideal situation for him, however.
Though Wilson has primarily been used as a tough guy, bottom-six enforcer in his first two full NHL seasons, let's not forget that he was a first-round draft pick in 2012, selected before notable players such as Tomas Hertl and Teuvo Teravainen and just five spots behind Filip Forsberg. Teams do not take enforcers in the first round. Yes, George McPhee was the one calling the shots at the time, but Brian MacLellan was the assistant general manager. That doesn't mean he saw in Wilson what McPhee saw, but it's also not as if he simply inherited Wilson either.
The point is that this is a contract year for Wilson and he needs to start showing some of the offensive potential this team saw when they drafted him and it's hard to do that if you're sitting in the penalty box all the time.
"I don’t see him as a fourth-line winger for the Washington Capitals," head coach Barry Trotz said in May. "To me he’s better than that."
But with some of the other team's enforcers on their way out of D.C., who will the Caps turn to when other teams begin agitating?
That responsibility may fall on Michael Latta. Despite limited NHL action the past two seasons, Latta recorded 10 NHL fights. Latta may have some competition to make the roster, however, given how well Stanislav Galiev played last season and the addition of Zach Sill.
Another option is to fight less. The Caps' 31 fights last season tied them for seventh most in the NHL. For those who believe that good teams need to fight, it turns out that's not necessarily true. Playoff teams last season averaged 24.9 fights last season while teams that missed the playoffs averaged 27.2 fights. In fact, Chicago had the second fewest fights in the NHL last season with 15 and it didn't seem to hurt them on their way to their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
Teams are actually fighting less in general across the league. Last season the NHL saw the lowest rate of fights per game since hockeyfights.com began keeping track in the 2000-01 season.
Whether fighting is actually on its way out in the NHL is a debate for another day, but it would be fair to say that fighting does not seem to be as important as it once was. If the Caps want to drop the gloves as much as they did last season, however, they will need someone other than Wilson will have to answer the bell.
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