When the Capitals assigned 6-foot-3, 231-pound left wing D.J. King to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Sunday, they made a quiet statement that a growing number of other NHL teams are also making.
They dont need a heavyweight enforcer to feel protected.
Through 12 games, the Capitals have had just two fighting majors one each by Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks which ties them with the Detroit Red Wings for fewest in the NHL.
At that rate, the Caps would finish the season with just 14 fights, well off the 45 times they dropped the gloves last season and miles behind the league-leading 71 fights the Stanley Cup champion Bruins were involved in last season.
Not a lot of teams have that big heavyweight anymore, said Hendricks, who literally fought his way onto the Capitals roster last season with a career-high 14 fighting majors.
Why? I dont have a reason for it. I think the policing of ourselves is still done by the players, regardless of if its a heavyweight or not.
At 6-0, 208 pounds, Hendricks is hardly considered a heavyweight. Neither is Matt Bradley, who was second on the Capitals last season with 10 fights and is now with the Florida Panthers.
In fact, with Beagle still recovering from his Oct. 13 knockout at the hands of Pittsburghs Arron Asham and King now in Hershey, Hendricks and defenseman John Erskine become the two most likely Capitals to drop the gloves this season. Erskine, who had six fights last season, is coming off shoulder surgery and wont be the most willing combatant.
Of the other Capitals who were here last season, only Jason Chimera (four fights), Mike Green (two) and Alex Ovechkin (one) recorded fighting majors.
What kind of impact can that have on the way opponents play against the Capitals? Not much if you believe what players are saying.
I think the old days of having a guy who just fights are over, said Jeff Halpern, whose only fight last season as a member of the Canadiens came against Jarkko Ruutu. You have to be able to skate, because the games so fast and you can get exposed.
There are still a few heavyweights who can play the game. Bostons Shawn Thornton is probably the best example. But the game has gotten too good to hide anybody.
While the Capitals certainly are not the norm this season the Anaheim Ducks lead the NHL with 12 fighting majors they do represent a downward trend in fighting. According to hockeyfights.com, 581 fights are projected for this season, down from 645 fights last season and 714 the season before.
Hendricks said time will tell how the gradual decline in NHL heavyweights will change the way the game is played.
Personally, Im not going to have to deal with fighting a heavyweight fighter as much, he said. But at the same time, if you know hes over there and youre thinking about doing something wrong, it might change the game a little bit.
On a side note, the Capitals might be doing King a favor by sending him to the AHL. If the Capitals tried to recall King, he would first need to pass through re-entry waivers, which would allow another NHL team to claim him at half his current salary of 637,500.
We havent had the opportunity to play him a lot, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. For D.J., its about getting ice time. Hes done everything weve asked him to do, and hes a great teammate, but we need him to play.