Babcock prefers team toughness over enforcers

Despite Brian Burke’s criticisms on the diminishing role of NHL enforcers, Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock believes the game of hockey is fine just the way it is.

Joining Brady & Lang on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday morning, Babcock was asked about Burke’s concern over the perceived lack of accountability in today’s NHL.

Although not opposed to the role of enforcers, the 2010 Olympic gold-medal winning coach believes there is a more effective way to display tenacity.

“I sure like team toughness, I can tell you that right now,” Babcock said in the interview.

“The best kind of toughness, in my mind, is the way Boston has it. Their high-end players — you got (Milan) Lucic, a high-end player that plays all the time that has elite toughness; you got a (Zdeno) Chara on the back end that’s a high-end player that plays all the time and has toughness. So, to me that’s the best way to have your toughness, to be team tough.”

Enforcers like Leafs forward Colton Orr — who was sent down to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League on Thursday — have seen their roles in the NHL diminish of late, something Babcock believes can be attributed to the pace of the game.

“The reality is the league has gone this way because the league is so fast you can’t get these guys on the ice,” Babcock said. “I don’t think it’s as much about not wanting toughness as it is about, how do you play them? How do you get them out there if you can’t fly up and down the rink? How do you play in today’s game?”

The Red Wings are ranked last in the NHL in fighting majors this season with just six, but find themselves near the top of the Western Conference standings. The Leafs have 13 fighting majors, while the New York Rangers lead the league with 31.

On Thursday, Burke said the NHL was full of “rats” that deliver cheap shots and don’t back up their actions by dropping the gloves.

“If you want a game where guys can cheap shot people and not face retribution, I’m not sure that’s a healthy evolution,” Burke said. “The speed of the game, I love how the game’s evolved in terms of how it’s played. But you’re seeing where there is no accountability, this is the byproduct — is people running around that won’t back it up.”

“The players (used to) police the game and now it’s (NHL head disciplinarian) Brendan Shanahan,” Burke added.

“I wonder about the accountability in our game and the notion that players would stick up for themselves and for each other,” Burke added. “I wonder where we’re going with it, that’s the only lament I have on this. The fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other, that the rats will take this game over … You see guys that run around and start stuff and won’t back it up and it makes me sick to my stomach.”

Babcock, however, said he is not concerned about the state of the game one bit and argues that there is not a lack of respect in hockey, especially compared to previous decades.

“I think (the state of hockey) is better than it’s ever been. I think the respect factor is there,” Babcoack said.

“I just watched the ’72 Summit Series, they had a thing on it (on television) the other night … I watched how they played in those days and how they whacked each other, and that’s respect? I mean, give me a break. There’s a ton of respect out there. The problem is the guys have gotten too big, too fast, too strong and the rink’s the same size.”

Babcock’s Red Wings visit the Leafs on Saturday. Detroit has won four of its past five games, while Toronto is riding a two-game win streak, outscoring their opponents 11-3 in that stretch.

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who was hit in the face with a puck during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets, was not seriously injured and should be in the lineup.

Defenceman Mike Komisarek and forward Mike Brown could also return to the lineup after lengthy layoffs due to injuries.

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