Do available UFA enforcers indicate the beginning of a culture change in the NHL?

On Extra Skater’s list of available free agents, one thing stands out: there are several better-known fighters who remain un-signed.

AVAILABLE: Krys Barch, Paul Bissonnette, Sheldon Brookbank, Daniel Carcillo, Mark Fraser, Ryan Jones, Zenon Konopka (currently suspended), Ryan Malone (legal issues), Shane O’Brien, George Parros, Aaron Rome, Mike Rupp, Jordin Tootoo, Kevin Westgarth, and Ryan White.

So why are there so many pugilists still available to teams?

It could be that we’re just a few weeks into free agency, and teams are attempting to fill in their primary positions first. It could also be – put on your tin foil hat – a sign of the changing times in the NHL.

For years fans have read the articles and heard the debates about the need to end fighting in the NHL. (Personally, I don’t mind it when it’s spur of the moment; it’s the staged crap that drives me crazy.) However, the general consensus is that if the NHL wants to eliminate fighting, they’re going to have to issue an edict outlawing it.

Now with seeing the list above, it begs the question: are general managers speeding up the extinction of the enforcer role in order to keep their teams competitive?

A good example of this transition is the Anaheim Ducks under Randy Carlyle and then Bruce Boudreau. Throughout Carlyle’s tenure behind the bench in Anaheim, he employed several enforcers. It’s just part of his coaching philosophy, reinforced by his use of multiple enforcers in Toronto. Carlyle isn’t a coach who consistently rolls four lines each game, and part of this is because of his decision to ice a line of mediocre professional hockey players with a willingness to get punched in the face every night for a TOI of three-minutes.

When Carlyle was finally axed and Bruce Boudreau took over, Boudreau inherited a team that wasn’t used to having their minutes spread out over four lines. Fan favorite George Parros saw his ice-time go from minimal to healthy scratch as the season went on before he and the Ducks parted ways. It’s not to say that Boudreau doesn’t use enforcers at all, but he prefers they serve some sort of purpose rather than seat warmer when their fight of the night is out of the way. The Ducks have brought in players like Patrick Maroon who can play high minutes and still throw down so Corey Perry won’t (or shouldn’t).

Before everyone goes insane in the comments, this is just a theory to look at during the off-season. Consider this, GMs are now tasked with building rosters that can match the brutality of the LA Kings and still score more goals than teams like Chicago. A guy who spends most of his night on the bench or in the box isn’t going to help achieve the ultimate goal.