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Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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Don't look for club to add an enforcer

TAMPA - The great debate regarding team toughness - or at least having a tough guy on the team - tends to crop up each year for the Lightning. Not since the days of Andre Roy or Chris Dingman has Tampa Bay employed an on-ice sheriff to keep opposing teams from taking a few liberties here and there. And every time a situation crops up on the ice, it has the same fans asking the same question: How come the Lightning don't have a so-called enforcer? The thought popped up on Tuesday with the Flyers in town, especially after seeing Eric Brewer get engaged with Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds in the second period. My first thought when it happened was if I were general manager Steve Yzerman or head coach Guy Boucher, the last thing I would want to see is the team's top defenseman getting into a fight at any point in the game, especially already knowing that Victor Hedman left earlier with an injury. The following day, both Yzerman and Boucher echoed those thoughts with each stating he would have preferred Brewer not fight in that situation, which not only left the Lightning with just four defenseman for a minimum of five minutes but Brewer potentially getting injured. And there certainly was concern when Brewer dropped to the ice following an upper-cut from Simmonds that left Brewer with a swollen left eye and a cut on his head.
When asked about the fight, Brewer made it clear he had endured enough extra-curricular activities from the Flyers, Simmonds and Scot Hartnell in particular, with the last straw an elbow Simmonds delivered to Brewer's back, igniting the fight. I totally get that Brewer felt he had to stand up for himself and those things often happen in the heat of battle. The incident did bring up that thought about whether or not the Lightning need an on-ice presence to make teams think twice about throwing their weight around. I know from past conversations that Steve Yzerman doesn't feel it's a necessity in today's league to carry an enforcer on the lineup. That doesn't mean that Yzerman would never entertain the thought of adding one to the roster, but it would have to be a player who brings more to the team than the ability and willingness to throw knuckles around the ice. There has to be another skill that comes with that player - whether it's skating, defensive reliability or some offensive ability - for an enforcer to fill a spot on the roster. While Yzerman certainly had his protection during his days with the Red Wings, the game has changed, an aspect he understands. So don't expect any changes to the Lightning roster based on what went on against the Flyers. After all, Tampa Bay has willing players - Ryan Malone, Pavel Kubina, Vinny Lecavalier, Steve Downie, Brewer - should the need arise. While there are no "heavyweights" among that group, all of those players can certainly stand up for themselves. But unless things change, I don't see a change in philosophy coming from Yzerman in this regard. Timing Issue? Not sure that unveiling the life-size statue of Lightning founder Phil Esposito at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday was the best timing for all involved. The official word from a team spokesman was that the time was selected to allow for both fans coming to the game and those at home watching on Sun Sports to watch the ceremony. But pregame warmups began at the same time as the unveiling was getting underway outside on the west plaza, which not only left the building looking empty but made for a mad dash for the thousands of fans outside to get inside and to their seats by the time the puck dropped. eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835
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