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Mike Brown and the myth of deterrence in the modern NHL

Picked up on waivers, the long-time enforcer is revealing a disturbing mindset in the Montreal Canadiens coaching staff.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Brown was picked up on waivers at the NHL trade deadline, it was assumed that he would play a few games while new additions traveled to meet with the team. Fast forward to this past week, where, in a scrappy, scrum-filled game against the Buffalo Sabres, Brown was playing on the Montreal Canadiens' top line.

Brown — with his 18 career NHL goals — was skating alongside Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. Head Coach Michel Therrien says he moved the pugilistic forward there because he didn't like the way the Sabres were handling Alex Galchenyuk.

Which would be fine if it weren't for the fact that Brown set off all the events in the game.

It was a chippy game with Evander Kane voicing his displeasure at the most minor transgressions and tussling with Paul Byron and Tomas Plekanec over the course of the night. However, once Brown decided to get involved, all hell broke loose.

With roughly five minutes remaining in the second period, Brown grabbed hold of Mark Pysyk in front of the Sabres net and wrestled him to the ice in a headlock. He collected a double-minor in the process, sending the Habs to the penalty kill.

Following that the game saw a near goalie fight between Ben Scrivens and Robin Lehner, six misconducts, and Michael McCarron attempting to rip Lehner's mask off.

Brown did not receive one of those misconducts. In fact, after his penalty he was a non-factor. He didn't step in to challenge Kane, Marcus Foligno, or any of the other Sabres who had been starting trouble.

Even more concerning is the fact that in a game where the Habs were massively outclassed by a bottom feeder like Buffalo, Therrien chose to saddle his team's hottest line with a Titanic-sized anchor. Galchenyuk clocked in at a 68% Corsi-for percentage, Pacioretty 65%, and Sven Andrighetto, who was demoted in favour of Brown's presence, was at 62%. Mike Brown finished the game having lost the on-ice shot attempts battle, ending up at 46%. To throw that monkey wrench into a lineup that already struggles to score is beyond explanation, narratives be dammed.

As for the ensuing claims that Brown allowed the Canadiens to stand up for themselves after a season of (apparently) being pushed around, that's utter and complete nonsense.

Once again rookie forward McCarron had to fight his own battles, fending off multiple Sabres in a scrum, and getting right in the face of the hot-headed Lehner after the goalie pulled him to the ice. This wasn't the first time the young rookie has scrapped with Brown in the lineup either, as McCarron fought Garrett Wilson the night before. Even Scrivens was closer to fighting for his teammates against Buffalo than Brown was.

The old narrative is that players like Brown prevent opposing teams from taking liberties against your teammates. Last night was yet another example of why that narrative is misleading. In a previous series at EOTP, that narrative was debunked in detail, but the short of it is that enforcers prevent absolutely nothing, and you have to look no further than Marc Savard having his career ended with Milan Lucic on the ice.

Brown was not a deterrent last night, he was an accelerant that helped the game to spiral out of control. There's also the whole fact that Brown lacks any sort of discipline and fights at random (see his cold-blooded tilt with Shawn Thornton on Tuesday night versus the Florida Panthers). At least you can say when McCarron has fought it was in an effort to defend a teammate.

The Canadiens have been down this road before with George Parros and Georges Laraque; signings that ended up backfiring spectacularly. Parros suffered a severe concussion in his first game, and a subsequent career-ending brain injury months afterward. Laraque was infamous for chasing Lucic around the ice in the 2008 season with Lucic laughing in his face during a scrum.

It's a worrying trend, and given Marc Bergevin's love of fourth-line "gritty" players, the fear is that Brown could be brought back next season. There are too many good prospects vying for spots to waste a contract on an enforcer of Brown's ability.

Let the team stand tall with skill and goal-scoring, not with fists and false narratives.