There was a time when fighting in the NHL thrived and fans would celebrate the exchange of face punches. If their guy won, they would argue it motivated the team and inevitably resulted in more goals. Unfortunately, however, there is no statistical evidence to support that notion. More and more teams have turned to puck-possession play as a sustainable and predictive form of hockey, which results in more wins and by extension more success. Still, some teams continue to believe pugilists have a place in the NHL and maintain that they serve as spark plugs for the rest of the team to absorb.
But how integral can fighting really be if the player can’t produce offensively or play in the defensive end? It is an important question, one that many teams continue to dodge as they cling to the way things used to be…old school hockey. One-dimensional players have a difficult time settling into the NHL because they can only be used in specific scenarios. But at the end of the day, the point of the game is to outscore your opponent and if you can’t help in that department, you provide limited value. That of course comes in the form of different player types, be it two-way threats, playmakers or snipers. But if fighting doesn’t contribute to the cause, what exactly does it accomplish?
The following list will not concentrate specifically on fighters, there are a couple goaltenders on there as well, but pugilists dominate the list of top 12 players who shouldn’t play in the NHL simply because of their limited skill-set. It is a clear sign that change is coming.
12 Martin Brodeur - St. Louis Blues
It may seem odd to add one of the best goaltenders to ever play in the NHL on this list, but Martin Brodeur has been in steady decline and it’s time he retires. This could be the fifth consecutive year he posts mediocre stats, specifically his .904 save percentage in the last four seasons. Simply put, he can’t keep up with the pace of the game anymore and he frequently allows soft goals because of that. Regardless of whether he chooses to hang around the league as long as possible, he’ll always be remembered for a magnificent career, we just wish he would call it quits now to spare himself the disappointment.
11 Cody McLeod - Colorado Avalanche
McLeod once hit 15 goals, but that was six years ago and his production has since dried up. He has 95 points in 497 career games and keeps his spot in the Colorado Avalanche line-up by throwing punches and hits. Unfortunately for the Avs, McLeod is an overwhelmingly negative possession player and is often found skating around in his own end while his goaltender is pelted with shots. He is, among others, the reason the Avalanche have regressed this season and find themselves battling in the Western Conference basement. He is, like many on this list, another example of a player who just doesn’t add much to the line-up.
10 Brandon Bollig - Calgary Flames
Brandon Bollig is the type of player that stays in the line-up for punching faces and upholding this new “truculence” persona now established in Calgary. Unfortunately for the Flames, that sort of play also coincides with lots and lots of shots against and general lousy play. Bollig can punch faces just fine, but it adds nothing to the score sheet and sitting in the penalty box probably helps his team simply by subtraction. It’s a lesson that was learned from many clubs, the Toronto Maple Leafs being the latest, but Calgary is hell-bent on trying to prove fighting has a place in hockey. They started off strong, but math caught up to them. Unfortunately for them, you can’t win without possessing the puck.
9 Jared Boll - Columbus Blue Jackets
It’s ironic that Boll’s sole purpose is to drop the gloves and spark his teammates, but whenever he steps on the ice the puck is often directed in his own end. Simply put, he’s not a good hockey player for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He fights and throws hits, but it ends there. He has a paltry 55 points in 446 career games. While some might argue that employing a fighter on your fourth line is harmless, it also adds nothing to the line-up and takes a spot away from a player who might have added value in the form of forechecking and possession.
8 Deryk Engelland - Calgary Flames
Engelland is another player who earns his pay check by patrolling the blue line with a tough demeanor and no-nonsense approach. As the Flames will inevitably learn, however, his tough guy attitude doesn’t produce any points or zone time. Engelland frequently gets pinned in own end and takes penalties as he chases the play. What’s most shocking, however, is that the Flames dished out a $2.916 million cap hit for the next three seasons to secure his limited services. It’s a mind-boggling decision that will likely end with people losing their jobs in Calgary. The honeymoon appears to be over with the Flames and their inevitable downward spiral in the standings has begun.
7 Ryan Reaves - St. Louis Blues
Have you noticed a trend here? Ryan Reaves is another fighter who struggles to hit the score sheet. He has 27 points in 224 career games, yet has played 30 games with the St. Louis Blues. It’s difficult to argue why exactly he deserves a spot in the line-up when you look at the evidence against him. The Blues are a strong possession team but Reaves is woeful in that department, so it’s not as if he offers a defensive acumen. He’s a player that likes to fight and not much else, making him a questionable addition to the line-up on any NHL club.
6 Marc-Andre Cliche - Colorado Avalanche
The 27-year-old is in his second season with the Avalanche and has two goals to show for it as a forward. He only has eight assists during that time, too, so his value is limited. If you’re a fan of fighting, he’s dropped the gloves twice with Colorado. His possession stats are predictably horrendous as well, yet he continues to be regular with 24 games played this season. What’s especially confusing is that he’s valued for his work ethic, yet he’s consistently found in the defensive end while Varlamov hangs on for dear life. The Avs need to trim the fat here if they want to take advantage of the considerable talent found within their forward unit.
5 Luke Gazdic - Edmonton Oilers
Luke Gazdic is relatively new to the Edmonton Oilers line-up with only 78 games played, but his two goals and two assists shouldn’t make him a staple. This year he’s only played 11 games, after playing 67 last season, and it’s probably because he can’t offer much. He fights though…a lot. He registered 15 fights last season and has three between the NHL and AHL this season. But pugilist's role in the NHL continue to diminish and Gazdic will likely see less and less ice-time as the Oilers try to dig themselves out of another hole. He is a living representation of old-time hockey.
4 Reto Berra - Colorado Avalanche
Reto Berra has a career save percentage of .891 in 41 games played. He’s an awful goaltender any way you slice it who is not good enough to play in the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche, however, seem to spit in the face of statistics as they locked him up on a three-year contract extension with a $1.45 million cap hit. It’s not a lot of money, sure, but Berra simply isn’t good enough and they’ll sadly never get value out of his contract—even as a back-up goaltender. Don’t be surprised if Berra plies his trade somewhere overseas before long. That he plays for a team that concedes tons of shots also doesn’t help his case.
3 Tanner Glass - New York Rangers
Can anyone rationalize why the New York Rangers gave Tanner Glass $1.45 million per year for the next three seasons to, well, do whatever it is he does best? His 55 points in 401 career games is woeful and he has yet to score a goal in 24 games this season. He likes to fight, though, so I guess there’s that? He’s another in a long list of players who are slowly but surely fading away. Sure, the Rangers gave him a hefty contract, but they’ll eventually realize his inclusion in the line-up yields little results. It’s a trend that has already begun to take place in the NHL.
2 Zac Rinaldo - Philadelphia Flyers
Zac Rinaldo is an ugly combination of undesirable player traits. He can’t produce any points, he’s dirty, and his usage is basically limited to fighting. He is like many players on this list, except totally unlikeable. He’s horrendous in his own end and his possession stats reflect that. He serves as a strong argument for the Philadelphia Flyers to shed their “Broad Street Bullies” persona and embrace a more progressive and puck-possession centric style of play. One can only hope players of his ilk are left in the past as teams continue to import more talented and deserving players in their spot.
1 John Scott - San Jose Sharks
The towering John Scott, standing at 6’8 and 250 pounds, has a measly eight points in 248 career games. Still, the talented San Jose Sharks picked him up in the off-season in a puzzler and he has played exactly as expected…which is not good. It’s difficult to ascertain what exactly Scott adds to the line-up, truly cementing him as one of the worst players in the NHL. His inclusion in the roster was nothing but a knee-jerk reaction from the Sharks after blowing a 3-0 series lead against the eventual Stanley Cup winner, the Los Angeles Kings. Scott, however, will only add to their struggles in the post-season.