A "need" that Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford wanted to address last off-season was acquiring an enforcer to help prevent other teams from taking liberties on some of Carolina's more skilled players. The Hurricanes specifically wanted to invest in some protection for Jeff Skinner, who has already suffered two concussions in his young career, and the old theory is that getting a "tough guy" will help prevent other teams from roughing up your stars. The times have changed in the NHL, though and enforcers don't play as big of a role as they used to. In today's NHL, most "tough guys" play less than 10 shifts a game and aren't even on the ice long enough to serve as "protection" for star players. They aren't very skilled players, so coaches generally don't give them a lot of ice time and it's a rare occurrence for an enforcer to be out there in a key situation. This is the role of the enforcer in the NHL now and why the idea of them providing "protection" for stars is silly. The Hurricanes found this out the hard way when they acquiring Kevin Westgarth from the Los Angeles Kings this season.
Compared to other enforcers across the league, you can do a lot worse than Westgarth because while he isn't particularly a useful player at even strength, he isn't a complete liability like Jared Boll, Cam Janssen or Colton Orr. That being said, he still doesn't contribute in many other areas outside of his intangibles and as a result, he spent a fair mount of the season in the press box and whenever he was in the lineup, he played an average of about five minutes per game. You need to be able to roll all four lines to be a competitive team in the NHL now and dressing Westgarth to play 5-8 shifts a night isn't accomplishing that. I don't have that many bad things to say about Westgarth as a person because he knows his role and says all the right things, but I don't think the Hurricanes were icing their best possible lineup when he was playing.
As far as him "protecting" the Hurricanes other players goes, Skinner was hurt twice this year and Westgarth was in the lineup in both games. Neither injury was his fault, but this shows the limitation of enforcers in today's NHL. It's tough for them to protect star players because they are rarely going to be on the ice at the same time as them and they only take action after said injury occurs. Protecting younger players is always going to be a tough challenge but there were probably better ways to do it than acquiring an enforcer.
After the jump, we'll talk about what contributions Westgarth made when he actually got to play.no comments