Predicting Each NHL Team's Fight Leader For This Season
There is no doubt the modern NHL is trending towards speed and skill rather than physicality and toughness. With that being said, hockey is still a very physical sport. Anyone who knows me or has read anything I've written before probably knows that I love hard-nosed, physical hockey. I am a big fan of hitting, fighting, and aggression on the ice. I think it makes the game 100 times more entertaining. While fighting is not as prevalent as it used to be, it is far from extinct in today's game. There were still 372 fights in the NHL last year, and another 13 in the playoffs. That 13 is most we've seen in the playoffs in a number of years. Enforcers who cannot play hockey, and were only in the lineup to fight are pretty much gone from the NHL. That does not mean, however, that all fighters are gone from the NHL. There are plenty of players left that are willing to drop the gloves, they just so happen to be able to play hockey too, at least a little bit. These are my picks for the fight leader on each NHL team.
Anaheim Ducks- Jared Boll
Jared Boll may be the extra forward going into this season, but he will get his fair share of games. Boll is an experienced fighter in the last year of his contract. He had 15 fights last year, look for him to be in the 12-15 range again this season.
Arizona Coyotes- Luke Schenn
Luke Schenn is the Coyotes most willing combatant when it comes to dropping the gloves. He is always ready to protect his goalie or stand up for a teammate when needed. You will rarely, if ever, see Schenn in a staged fight. Almost all of his scraps come as a reaction to a play on the ice. Schenn fought 5 times last year. With him being one of the only fighters in a young Coyotes lineup, I expect that number to go up. I predict 6-8 fights for Luke this season.
Boston Bruins- Adam McQuaid
Adam McQuaid is the best fighter in a Bruins lineup that features multiple guys willing to drop the gloves. He fought 5 times last year and had two KO wins. McQuaid shares fights with the likes of Kevan Miller, Matt Beleskey, and David Backes. Boston has plenty of toughness to go around. I think McQuaid has 6-8 fights this year, which should be enough to lead the team.
Buffalo Sabres- Nicolas Deslauriers
Nicolas Deslauriers is a tough kid on a young team that, without Marcus Foligno, is lacking in the toughness category. I'm not sure how much he'll play this year, but he's the most likely Sabre to drop the gloves. Last year, he struggled with injuries and being a healthy scratch, which caused him to only have 4 fights on the season. I think he fills the gap left by Foligno this season, at least fight wise, and finishes with 7 or 8 scraps.
Calgary Flames- Michael Ferland
The Calgary Flames were a very tough team last year, but lost their leading fighter in Deryk Engelland. They still have a fairly tough lineup, now with Michael Ferland leading the way. Ferland had 6 fights last year, and with Engelland gone, that number probably goes up. I expect Ferland to fight 8 or 9 times this year, if he stays healthy.
Carolina Hurricanes- Jordan Staal
This is one of the only NHL teams that has no toughness. As a team last season, the Hurricanes had just 6 fights. They did not add any toughness in the offseason and will likely be in the single digits again this year. Jordan Staal was the only guy on the team with multiple fights last year, and he had 2. He'll probably lead the team again this season with 2 or 3 fights. This is a team that bigger, more physical teams can absolutely railroad and have their way with if they want to.
Chicago Blackhawks- Jordin Tootoo
Chicago is another team that is pretty soft, even by today's standards. Still, they had 14 fights as a team last year. That shows just how far behind Carolina is. Jordin Tootoo led the Blackhawks last year with 4 fights. I'm not sure how many games Tootoo will play this year, but he should see enough ice time to lead the team in fights again. I expect 4-6 fights from Tootoo this season.
Colorado Avalanche- Gabriel Landeskog
The Colorado Avalanche are a young, rebuilding team that does not have a true fighter in the lineup. With Cody McLeod gone, Gabriel Landeskog is the most willing combatant in the Avs lineup. Landeskog had 4 fights last season, and has shown a willingness to scrap in his young career. He'll probably lead the team this season with 5 or 6 fights.
Columbus Blue Jackets- Josh Anderson
The Columbus Blue Jackets don't have anyone that fights a ton, but they have a few guys that are willing to scrap a few times a year. It will be toughness by committee this year in Columbus, much like last year. I think Josh Anderson leads the team. He was tied for the team lead with 5 tilts last season. This year, I think he'll fight a couple more times, and assume the team lead in fights. Expect 7 or 8 scraps from Anderson this season.
Dallas Stars- Antoine Roussel
The Dallas Stars have plenty of players willing to drop the gloves in their lineup, but there is no doubt that, if he stays healthy, Antoine Roussel will lead the team. Roussel is a bit of a rat, and he can easily reach double-digit fights if he plays most of the season. He had 8 fights last year, and missed a ton of time due to injury. With the hopes of a healthy season for Roussel, I expect 12-14 fights from him this year.
Detroit Red Wings- Luke Witkowski
The Red Wings are probably the toughest team in the league to predict for this. For years, they were the wimpiest team in the league, but then fought a decent amount last year. They are going through another frustrating rebuild year this season, which could lead to some players fighting more than normal. Steve Ott led the Wings last year, but he retired. Anthony Mantha was second on the team, but he is a future star, so the team probably doesn't want him fighting as much. It will be toughness by committee with this team, and I think a lot of players will have 3-5 fights. My pick for most fights, however, is newcomer Luke Witkowski. This pick hinges on Witkowski actually playing. He played in Tampa Bay last year on a team riddled with injuries. He showed he is willing to fight and I don't think the Red Wings signed him for no reason. Detroit will most definitely experience injuries with their aging back end, so I think Witkowski will see a decent amount of playing time. I expect he'll lead the team this year with 7 or 8 scraps.
Edmonton Oilers- Patrick Maroon
The Edmonton Oilers boast one of, if not, the toughest lineups in the NHL. They have a bunch of guys who can fight, and a bunch of guys who can fight a lot. Patrick Maroon led the team last season with 9 fights, and I think he will lead the team again. Fights get spread out among a bunch of players on this team, so it's hard for one player to reach a really high number. However, I think Maroon's fight total goes up this year. I expect him to finish the season with 11-14 fights.
Florida Panthers- Micheal Haley
The Florida Panthers have a bunch of guys who can fight a couple times, and one guy who can fight a lot. Micheal Haley had 16 fights last season in San Jose. He is now a Panther, and once again, on a team where he will have to do almost all the fighting. Haley probably has 15-18 fights this year, by far the most on the Panthers.
Los Angeles Kings- Kyle Clifford
The LA KIngs are a pretty tough team, but there is one player who will have quite a few more fights than anyone else on the team. That player is Kyle Clifford. Clifford has been the KIng's fighter for a number of years now, and is very good at his job. He fought 11 times last season, and I expect double digits again for Clifford. I see Clifford finishing in the 12-15 fight range.
Minnesota Wild-Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart led the Wild with 10 fights last season. He now has help in the fight department with the addition of Marcus Foligno. Kurtis Gabriel is probably the toughest player on the Wild, but I'm not sure he is going to play enough games to lead the team in fights. If he plays 50 or more games, he'll probably lead the team in fights. I don't think he's going to see more than 40 games, however, so Stewart will probably lead the team again. Foligno takes a little weight off of Stewart's shoulders, but I'm not sure his fight totals will go down, Minnesota's as a team will probably go up. I see Stewart still fighting 9 or 10 times this year.
Montreal Canadiens- Michael McCarron
Michael McCarron led the Canadiens in fights last season without being a regular in the lineup. This year, I think McCarron earns a 4th line role in the everyday lineup and will lead the team in fights again. Montreal has a few guys willing to scrap, but McCarron will lead the team with 9-12 fights.
Nashville Predators- Cody McLeod
The race for most fights in Nashville is going to be between Austin Watson and Cody McLeod. Even though I'm not sure if McLeod will be in the everyday lineup, I think he will lead the team in fights. Watson had 13 fights last year, McLeod 19. With McLeod around, Watson does not have to fight as much. Watson will not fight 13 times this season, probably 8-10 times. I don't think McLeod will play enough games to reach 19 fights again, but he will lead the team, probably with 13 or 14 tilts.
New Jersey Devils-Miles Wood
Miles Wood led the Devils in fights last year with 6. The team has a few players willing to drop the gloves, but nobody that fights a ton. I think Wood leads the team again this year. He is a big, physical player, and has shown a willingness to fight. I think he fights 7 or 8 times this year.
New York Islanders- Scott Mayfield
The Islanders are not a particularly tough team, and they traded away their leading fighter from last season in Travis Hamonic. They do not have anyone in their everyday lineup that fights a lot, but Scott Mayfield is willing to scrap. Mayfield played some games last year, and had 3 fights. I think he's going to play more this year, which means he'll fight more. I expect 5 or 6 fights from Mayfield, which will lead a fairly soft team.
New York Rangers- Brendan Smith
The Rangers are another team that do not fight very much. They have a bunch of guys who will fight a couple of times, but nobody to fight a lot. Brendan Smith joined the team at the trade deadline last season and resigned with the team this offseason. I think Smith will lead the Rangers in fights this year with 5 or 6 scraps.
Ottawa Senators- Mark Borowiecki
Mark Borowiecki led the Senators in fights last year with 13. Chris Neil is no longer with the team, so more of the fighting load will be placed on Boro. Max McCormick may come up and make the big club, but Borowiecki will still lead the team in fights. I expect Boro to scrap 12-14 times again this year.
Philadelphia Flyers- Wayne Simmonds
The Flyers are full of team toughness, so their fights get spread out among a bunch of different players. Brandon Manning led the team last year with 9 fights, but I don't thing he plays enough this year to lead the team. I also think Wayne Simmonds' fight numbers go up. Simmonds is a valuable player, but he is at his best when he is a physical force. Philly needs Simmonds to be a force if they want to return to the playoffs. As a team, Philly needs to play Broad Street Bully hockey, as well as, score a ton of goals. I think Simmonds leads the way by example and leads the team in fights this season with 7 or 8 tilts.
Pittsburgh Penguins- Ryan Reaves
Pittsburgh has not had a true fighter in years, but this offseason, they brought in Ryan Reaves to protect all their star players. Reaves is going to play, because Pittsburgh did not give up a draft pick and prospect for a guy to sit the bench. The Penguins have not had a fighter since Steve Downie, so everyone in the East wants a chance to fight a Penguin. I think Reaves will be very busy this season, especially early. Reaves will without a doubt lead the Penguins in fights this year, and I expect him to drop the gloves 10 or 11 times.
San Jose Sharks- Brenden Dillon
The Sharks let their most active fighter in Micheal Haley go this offseason, which leaves them with one of the softest lineups in the league. Unless they add somebody tough, it looks like Brenden Dillon will be their leading fighter. Dillon fought 4 times last year, second on the team behind Haley's 16. Without Haley I think Dillon has to fight more. I expect him to lead the Sharks this year 6 or 7 tilts.
St. Louis Blues- Robert Bortuzzo
The Blues lost a lot of toughness when Ryan Reaves was traded away. It is going to have to be toughness by committee this year without him. They have a few guys who will drop the gloves, but no one to do it regularly. I think if Robert Bortuzzo can secure himself an everyday lineup spot, he will lead the team. He had just 1 fight last year, but did not play much. Bortuzzo showed he was willing to fight when he was a Penguin, and I think he shows it again with Reaves gone. Three or four guys will have a decent number of fights this year, but Bortuzzo will lead the team with 5 or 6.
Tampa Bay Lightning- J.T. Brown
The Tampa Bay Lightning are another team that spreads its fights among a bunch of players. A lot of players in the lineup are willing to fight, so no one reaches a really high number. J.T. Brown led the team last season with 7 scraps. I think he leads the team again this year, probably fighting 7 or 8 times.
Toronto Maple Leafs- Matt Martin
The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have lot of team toughness, they have one guy do almost all of their fighting. That guy is Matt Martin. Martin led the team last year with 13 fights. He is most certainly going to lead the team again this year. I expect Martin to fight 13-16 times this year, mostly to protect the young stars on the Maple Leafs.
Vancouver Canucks- Derek Dorsett
The Vancouver Canucks do not have a particularly tough lineup, and the only real fighter there is Derek Dorsett. Dorsett only played 14 games last season due to injury, and he was tied for the team lead in fights with 3. If Dorsett returns this season, and remains relatively healthy, he will will definitely lead the team in fights. Even if Dorsett only plays 50 games, he should be in the 9-11 fight range. That will easily be the most on the Canucks.
Vegas Golden Knights- Deryk Engelland
This is a tough team to predict because they still have roster moves to make. We have no idea who is going to be in the opening night lineup and who is going to be moved. With the roster the way it is now, I think Deryk Engelland will certainly be the newest NHL team's leader in fights. He has been a fighter his whole career and led the Flames last year with 9. I think he is the Golden Knight's main source of toughness this season, and finishes the year with 10-12 fights for his new team.
Washington Capitals- Tom Wilson
Washington is another team with all their toughness eggs in one basket. Tom Wilson easily led the team last year with 9 fights, and he will lead the team again this year. There is no one else in the lineup to drop their gloves regularly. I expect Wilson to fight 9-11 times this season.
Winnipeg Jets- Jacob Trouba
The Winnipeg Jets lost their leading fighter from last year in Chris Thorburn. Without him, there really is no true fighter on this team. They will have to take a toughness by committee approach, and have multiple guys with 2 or 3 fights. Without Thorburn's 13 fights, I think Jacob Trouba leads the way for the Jets this season. He had 2 fights last year, and I think he adds to that this year. I expect Trouba to fight 4 or 5 times, and that will be enough to lead this team.