The New York Times series about the late Derek Boogaard is an absolute first-rate piece of writing and journalism. In particular, part one (about his finding his niche as a fighter growing up in a small town 90 minutes from Saskatoon) and part three, about the end of his career, overdose, and horrific brain damage (“The night of May 12 began with a painkiller, a 30-milligram Percocet that Aaron Boogaard later told the police he handed his brother at their two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. Derek, hours out of rehabilitation, was bent on a party”) will be of interest even to those who don’t care about hockey. Deeply absorbing and sobering stuff.
One interesting detail is that Boogaard was even in junior hockey a one-dimensional goon, scoring four goals in a four-year WHL career. Contrast this with all-time PIM leader Tiger Williams, a 50 goal scorer in the major juniors who twice scored 30 in the NHL. Or single-season PIM leader Dave Schultz, not as good as Williams but a 30-goal scorer in junior who was good enough to take a regular shift on a two-time championship team in the NHL. The Boogaard-style player who does nothing but fight seems a bizarre allocation of resources, and yet before what turned out to be his last year two teams were willing to offer Boogaard (who last scored a goal in his rookie year in 2005-6) a multi-year contract at more than $1 million per. With the Red Wings the most obvious example you don’t need a designated fighter to win, and one wonders how the species survives.
This is particularly true since in the modern game most of the fights that these players have are just staged fights with other goons. To steal Brad Plumer’s idea, at a minimum I would support rules that mandate escalating suspensions once a player has been involved in more than a few fights in a season.