D.J. King: Did the Caps Need a Regulator?

Since Donald Brashear parted company with the team in 2009, we’ve been hearing that the Caps need an enforcer. Apparently to sate these voices, GMGM picked up Dwayne “D.J.” King during the offseason.  Before Tuesday, all we really knew of the guy is that he does not provide a blockbuster interview. But during  Tuesday’s game with the Bruins, we saw D.J.’s expertise in action.  Without any clear provocation, King and Shawn Thornton sparred at center ice.

Washington Post’s Katie Carrera observed,

After his first fight in Washington, it’s hard to imagine many teams will want to take many liberties against the Capitals this season when King has dressed for a game.

This is the good-as-gospel rationale about enforcers we keep hearing: by virtue of having one on the roster, our guys won’t get smacked around quite so much. At the risk of echoing  a lovely piece by Stephen Pepper on Japers’ Rink last year, I just don’t see it.

Think about it rationally. Much like Warren G and Nate Dogg, an enforcer must regulate. In order to regulate, however, there must be something- someone- to regulate. That means someone on the other team must be acting naughty- getting up in Sasha’s grill, snowing Varlamov, or calling Jeff Schultz unkind names. That’s when, with 16 in the clip and one in the hole, D.J. King hops over the boards and makes some bodies turn cold.

But that’s just a reaction. In this story, Ovechkin’s noggin has already merged with the dashers, and there’s already a Mike Green-shaped stain on the glass. King’s only job at that point is retribution. King having suited up didn’t stop that from happening, but at least he’s here to spill a pint of the other guy’s blood.

The argument of enforcer-as-deterrent is unfounded. Enforcers don’t dissuade the other team from thuggery, they perpetuate it. They escalate it. Because like Brashear before him, King’s paycheck is implicitly tied to the violence he can deliver. If the fight doesn’t come to him, he’ll go to it– sort of like he did with Thornton. Who’s the thug in that story?

D.J. King averaged just 5:29 on the ice during his time with the Blues.  Compared with the 09-10 Caps, he’d rank at the very bottom of ice time. And in addition to his admittedly awesome fighting prowess, King doesn’t really have the hallmarks of a well rounded player.  He’s not like my hero, Chris Simon. King isn’t going to lead the team in goals like Simon did in 99-00, he’s just going to lead the team in penalty minutes (like Simon also did 99-00).

Maybe I’m just being grumpy. Please tell me if I am. I just didn’t see the D.J. King-sized hole on the Caps roster. And maybe D.J. will do something terrific in the coming months that will put me as deep in the tank for him as I am for Matt Bradley†. But was the team’s chemistry really beckoning for a pugilist? And does having that pugilist now do anything substantive to improve the team’s chances?

Here’s how you answer those questions: name a game that Caps would have won last year if D.J. King was on the team then.

Couldn’t think of any? Me neither. Get off my lawn.

† Here’s our latest bet:  Matt Bradley will have more GWGs than total goals this season. I took the affirmative, Ian took the negative. Winner owes loser an order of pub fries.

  • Tim

    There is a situation where the enforcer can be useful, and I saw Brashear used this way by the Caps. If things are getting too tense and tempers are starting to flare, the enforcer can be sent out then for one of two reasons. Sometimes, the enforcer’s presence will calm things down, simply due to no one wanting to have to fight him. Other times, the enforcer can take on whoever is most belligerent and calm things that way, without a more valuable player being risked. In some cases, the enforcer being out there can prevent injury because he can draw the attention of whoever is getting aggressive. If King gets in a few fights in Bradley’s place and saves Bradley from getting split open a few times, he’ll have been worth the money to me.

    King might not have been a need, but I think he will help. And if he is given a decent amount of ice time, maybe he can be productive – St. Louis never gave him that chance.

  • Brian

    Hi,

    First off- love your site, been checkin it for a while now.

    I am inclined to agree with you that we don’t necessarily need an enforcer. In the “new NHL” many teams have proved that a traditional enforcer is not needed. This was the Red Wings common recipe for success, they were similar to the caps, lotta skilled euros, low PIMs and high regular season finishes.

    However- I think you’re wrong on the enforcer as deterrent theory. You can’t argue an enforcer starts too much shinto and also doesn’t play enough. It’s like woody allen’s joke; “the food is terrible and the portions are too small.” Personally I like to still believe there is a code, and you can bet that as much as Don Cherry likes to gripe about it, European players are well aware of it by the time they’re in the league. They know if they cheap shot someone they’ll have to asnwer the bell. More likely however is a Darcy Tucker type- North American regular pest. Will hit and slash to his heart’s content. That is where DJ will make his 3 mins of ice time count. Believe me a pest knows if there’s an enforcer on the other team and they definitely know the code as well. That is where they act as a deterrent. As much as these guys are “pros” getting punched in the face by a large man is not fun, especially when you have the added danger of hard ass ice below you. It may be a pest’s job to annoy a la avery and his stick blade blinding, but they won’t cross the line on Ovi or Semin if they know there are “rough men standing ready to do violence on their behalf.” aka DJ King

    PS- He landed an awful lot of lefts in this vid, including the knockdown. Surprised Kolbe thought thornton caught a rut.

  • SA-Town

    The Caps were very lucky to not have any injuries, and hopefully King can reduce the risk.

    What I would like to see him do more, is lay a big hit to bring the tempo up, or get in front of the net. If he isnt afraid to get in the crease, he may be our #1 scoring threat come playoff time. (joking)

  • Neil – RMNB

    The average goon plays 6.9 minutes per game and 51 games per year.
    The average goal differential per 82 games is -5.55.
    The average NHL goon has a penalty differential of -6.43 per 82 games.
    (http://www.coppernblue.com/2010/7/29/1593799/the-value-of-an-nhl-goon)

    That’s about one loss per season and like you said, their value is only reacting to what someoen els has done.

  • MinorThreat

    Great piece! I agree with you to the X’s and the O’s of it and most of your article. The part I think most don’t take into consideration is the emotional and psychological aspect of having someone on your team and in the locker room that has your back and causes perhaps a bit of uneasiness/fear in the other squad. I am not implying that the Caps had fear or felt totally vulnerable last season but Ovi and the boys seem to like D.J. and they all loved Brash. Maybe it loosens them up and they can go unimpeded if only psychologically/mentally to do what they need to do… win us a damn cup.

  • joe

    Not having an enforcer last season was one of McPhee’s dumber moves. And his stupid comparison to Detroit’s Cup winning teams was beyond arrogant. You can bet ALL the Caps feel better about having King on the team. The “new NHL” stuff is a bunch of nonsense. It is still a tough game and you need someone to watch your back………..If you don’t like it, I think the ice capades are coming to town soon.

  • Peter Hassett

    @Tim, I hope you’re right. If King can become a multi-faceted player with some offensive chops, I’ll be happy to eat crow!

    @Brian, I still disagree that a “goon” (adopting Neil’s parlance) could be scared off by another goon. Like a bunch of frat dudes– they’re drawn to their own and feel more comfortable in doing goonish things.

    @SA-Town, If King can prevent an injury, he’s worth the investment– but he’d have to break up a fight or stop a bad hit to do that, when I expect him to be riding the bench.

    @MinorThreat, That’s a compelling point, even if it can’t be measured. Maybe the other guys will feel more secure in their own skill sets knowing that King has assault and battery covered. That way they can rededicate themselves to their core skill sets.

    @Joe, Shows what you know. Ice Capades went out of business 15 years ago, dummy! Disney on Ice, however, will be at the Patriot Center from Wednesday, October 20 through October 24th. I hear they’re doing Toy Story 3!!! See you there.

  • Tim

    2007-8 was the only season King got any real playing time, with 61 games and 342 minutes TOI. He had 3 goals and 3 assists that season, meaning he had better than 1 point per 60 minutes played (1 point per 57 minutes played, more precisely). This season, Steckel had 5 goals and 11 assists in 980 minutes, meaning he had 1 point every 61 minutes. IF (and it’s a big if) King can match that rate, he will be a viable 4th liner. Definitely have to wait and see, but the potential is there. Considering how little we gave up for and are paying him, I see it as being worth the risk. Also, I wonder if he could work on the PK. St. Louis never used him for that, and I haven’t seen him enough to know if he can pull it off.

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  • Jerry

    Re: the bet. How is it possible to have more gwg than total goals? Or did I miss a joke?

  • MinorTthreat

    I am looking forward to seeing Brads doing less enforcing and more sniping :) Brads bleeds, if you haven’t noticed.