Even Peter DeBoer would admit that Micheal Haley is a limited player.
But there are things that Haley does well.
“He brings another set of ingredients to our roster,” San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said after claiming Haley off waivers from the Florida Panthers on Wednesday.
What are these ingredients? Some, like fighting and hitting and forechecking, are obvious. Others, like skating and hockey IQ and defending, are less so.
It’s a different league now, but Haley is a throwback to a time when there was a tussle every game.
Last year, he led the NHL in fights with 22, easily outpacing runner-ups Cody McLeod and Tom Wilson’s 13. In 2016-17, his 16 fights trailed only McLeod’s 19. And who can forget 2015-16, when Haley fought eight times in just 16 contests.
Interestingly, Haley has only dropped the gloves twice in 24 appearances this year. This, after 48 fights in 149 games from 2015-18.
This is certainly a different element that Haley provides, but of course, its value for winning actual hockey games has been debated for years.
That said, Barclay Goodrow, Brenden Dillon and Evander Kane, among other Sharks, have played the “enforcer” role this year. Perhaps there will be less pressure on them to “step up” with Haley’s addition. These are all players, especially Kane, who you prefer playing instead of punching.
“Playoffs get tougher. He could be a good match for Vegas’s fourth line. Just to bring some balance there,” a scout offered.
Even at 32 years old, Haley remains a powerful physical presence.
Haley (18) bowling his competition over — in this case, John Tavares (91) — is still a common sight.
“He’ll drag players into his game with his bite,” another scout said.
Haley’s combination of physicality and persistence can form a devastating one-two forechecking punch.
Colton Sceviour (7) holds Jeremy Lauzon (79) up, while Haley cannonballs Lauzon, helping force a turnover.
Haley’s nimble feet and insistent stick are able to force Brandon Carlo (25) from his forehand to his backhand.
This forechecking display also sheds light on other, less apparent Haley skills.
Haley, unlike enforcers past, can keep up with his feet. We’ve seen his skating burst when exploding on a check. Here’s a different type of velocity:
His straight-line speed gets him back in the play to negate a potential Boston three-on-two. Critically too, Haley didn’t overskate Joakim Nordstrom (20), remaining in sound defensive position.
“He’s not a dumb player,” said a scout.
It’s a back-handed compliment, but in fact, Haley is not the stereotypical enforcer. There’s a reason why he’s survived a changing sport and there’s a reason why he can hang in DeBoer’s defensive structure.
DeBoer disciple and Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner explained to the Sun-Sentinel last February: “He’s a very intelligent guy when it comes to systems, where to be. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and he’s a presence every night. Whether he’s dropped the gloves at night or not, I think the other team obviously knows he’s out there.”
Of course, the Panthers still waived him, but this doesn’t invalidate Boughner’s statement.
For example, Haley’s skating and strength separate Noah Hanifin (55) from the puck. Hanifin recovers, but despite his head fakes, he doesn’t deceive Haley. The forechecker is where he’s supposed to be.
Haley will never win a Selke, but his skating, positioning and effort make him generally solid in his own end.
Along the wall, Haley sticks on T.J. Brodie (7) like glue. Then, he closes on Austin Czarnik (27), disrupting the point shot.
So with all these qualities, why was Haley waived?
“He can’t play” isn’t a sufficient explanation. However, that phrase does point to the limitation that probably, more than anything, confines Haley to a fourth-line role at this level.
“He’s not good with the puck,” commented a scout.
In this clip, just as Haley is about to shoot, the puck gets sticked away. This speaks to what challenges him at the NHL level.
Considering that Haley has scored 31 goals over his last 111 AHL contests, he’s not completely bereft of puck skills. But in the NHL, Haley hasn’t been able to overcome the limited time and space.
However, that doesn’t mean Haley “can’t play.” That phrase is too loosely associated with puck skills, when there are so many elements that make up an effective hockey player.
That’s Haley: effective, if limited. As a 13th or 14th forward — San Jose may deal a defenseman at the trade deadline — he indeed boasts “ingredients” over his presumed competition for a roster spot.
Sure, Dylan Gambrell, Antti Suomela and a host of other candidates have superior puck skills — but winning hockey is about more than that.