Before Brendan Smith’s fight against Jamie Oleksiak on January 14, the Rangers hadn’t earned a fighting major since Steven Kampfer traded punches with J.T. Brown on November 2. That’s 29 games without a Ranger dropping the gloves. Four games after Smith and Oleksiak traded knuckles, Smith fought Adrian Kempe in Los Angeles.
Smith’s recent fracases account for nearly half of the Rangers fighting majors this season. The Rangers are one of just four NHL teams with five or fewer fighting majors this season. The only team that has dropped the gloves less is the Carolina Hurricanes.
It’s been a long time since the Rangers were a bellicose team. One has to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons to see a New York team that was among the league leaders in fights. In August 2016, Blueshirt Banter took a look at the decline of fighting in the NHL and how the Rangers were trending below the league average. Clearly, a lot has changed since the days of Brandon Prust, Mike Rupp, and Stu Bickel.
At the beginning of the 2017-18 season everyone’s focus was on the departure of Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi and Antti Raanta and the arrival of Kevin Shattenkirk, but there was little fanfare surrounding the end of Tanner Glass’ time in New York – and, of course, that was understandable. But with Glass now out of the picture, there is no longer a frequent fighter on the Rangers roster. Smith and Kampfer are the only Rangers with more than one fight this season.
Before this year Kampfer had just six fights in the NHL and AHL combined. And before becoming a Ranger Smith averaged two fights per season in Detroit. Masters of the melee they are not.
Does the above fight even happen if the referee blows the puck dead sooner?
The absence of a singular bellicose Rangers skater has been noticeable all season long. Which is probably why Smith’s recent fights stand out as much as they do. As a whole the Rangers have been remarkably disciplined this year; Alain Vigneault’s team is in the bottom-third of the league in minor penalties, which is noteworthy considering how much time the Rangers spend in their own zone.
The Rangers are currently on pace to have their fewest fighting majors since the 1964-65 season when Vic Hadfield led the team with four bouts (hockeyfights.com only tracks back to the 1957-58 season). Interestingly enough, the Blueshirts had more fighting majors in the 2017 Playoffs than they’ve had in the first 44 games of the 2017-18 season – although it still feels like Kevin Shattenkirk and Evgeni Malkin deserved majors for their altercation back in October. He did pretty well for a guy playing with a torn meniscus, huh?
Regardless of how you feel about fighting, there’s no denying that it’s no longer a part of the Rangers’ identity. However, fighting is still alive and well elsewhere in the Rangers organization.
The Hartford Wolf Pack are seventh in the AHL in fighting majors this season after finishing tied for 26th in 2016-17. Two seasons ago, the Wolf Pack were 28th in the AHL in quarrels that merited major penalties. Clearly something has changed.
First year head coach Keith McCambridge’s team has already dropped the gloves 21 times this year. Rookie defender Brandon Crawley leads the team in penalty minutes and is one of three players on Hartford with four fighting majors; the other two are 6-foot-5 defender Ryan Graves and journeyman AHL tough guy Eric Selleck. The organization likely brought in Selleck and his penchant for causing a ruckus to help fill the rink after the Wolf Pack’s disastrous 2016-17 season.
Crawley, a fourth round pick in 2017, is about as tough as they come, but he has very little chance of playing for the Rangers in the next few seasons. And although Graves does have a real shot at making it in the NHL, he’s never been much of a fighter even with his size; he had only four fights in his first two AHL seasons combined. So there’s no heavyweight waiting in the AHL to join the Rangers in the coming years.
One has to wonder how long it will be before we see the next great Rangers enforcer. Or perhaps those days have already come and gone.
Data courtesy: hockeyfights.com, NHL.com