If you saw the Blackhawks play the Phoenix Coyotes recently, then you saw quite a debut for one David Koci.
The 6'6, 238 lb. Czech forward is hard to miss, and when he dropped the gloves three different times and accumulated 42 penalty minutes in 2:30 of ice time, well, his legend was all but established. It harkened back to the old days of the NHL, when games took three and a half hours to play and sometimes there were more fights than goals.
Some miss those days, others maybe don't. That's a debate for another column. But Koci's performance does bring up a more specific question. Should a roster spot be taken up by a pure tough guy -- one with little skill but plenty of fight in him? It's a quandary most teams in the NHL are mulling over as the new era moves forward.
In an ideal world, of course, you'd like to have a guy that can do both. That hasn't changed. But those young Bob Proberts don't grow on trees. (If they did, you'd see me planting some outside the United Center.) In the old days (three years ago?) there'd be no problem having one or more "goons" on your squad. "If you can't beat 'em, at least beat 'em up" was certainly the prevailing thought.
That was then and this is now, and after much deliberation -- especially after watching Koci perform -- I say there is room for a player like that, even if he doesn't bring much else to the table. I don't say that because of an emotional tie to the good old days or even because, like some believe, that it's so important to have an enforcer to be a winning team.
My opinion is more based on numbers and playing time. There's almost always a forward or two who gets limited time during a game. That could be a 4th liner or even a 1st liner, but rarely is the playing time doled out equally.
When Martin Havlat gets double shifted, someone is losing playing time. Why not let it be an enforcer? Simply put, 12 forwards take the ice every game, but 12 forwards rarely are needed to win every game. Why not have one that has a unique set of skills?
While I say it's not imperative to have one on your squad, it can't hurt to have him. The intimidation factor, the energy, and of course the security they bring add more than -- pardon my bluntness -- some scrub 4th liner. I want my scrub to be able to knock someone's teeth out. If he can block a shot along the way, all the better.
Football has larger rosters and so they have specialists. Why not hockey? How about a 4th line that consists of a fighter, a faceoff expert, and a shootout guy? You'll have all your bases covered. They play minimal but important minutes when called upon.
Certainly there is still room for the quintessential tough guy, and until they ban fighting completely (please don't!), David Koci (Drago) has a place on my team and hopefully the Hawks.
Email Blackhawks pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org