Five For Fighting
Let me clarify one thing right off the bat. This will not be a long diatribe condemning fighting, nor will this be a thesis on how the NHL should let players police themselves. Like Fox News, I will attempt to be “fair and balanced” in my views (and likely have much greater success at doing so).
I’m not going to mince words. I enjoy fighting in the NHL. I certainly do think it has a place and I most definitely do not think that it is a distraction from the game; at least not all of the time. In the right context, fights can change the momentum of a game or limit the effectiveness of a player. At the same time, however, I appreciate the fact that the Board of Governors is attempting to get a handle on fighting in the NHL.
Let’s face it. As entertaining as the occasional “enforcer” fight may be, it adds little to nothing to the game itself. I would imagine that seven or eight times out of ten, these fights between heavyweights involve the two bruisers lining up next to each other on the face off, chirping at one another, then dropping the gloves in an attempt to make their paltry five minutes or less of ice time memorable. The simple fact is that the role of enforcer on an NHL team is as antiquated as players not wearing helmets.
What exactly do these enforcers bring to the game? It’s certainly not protection, as there are now many players on teams that are not considered to be enforcers but drop the gloves when need be. On most teams, the enforcers are relegated to a few minutes of ice time that will likely be eclipsed by their penalty minutes in that game.
Derek Boogaard (F Min) – 50 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 87 PIM, 5:03 TOI
Donald Brashear (F Was) – 63 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 121 PIM, 8:14 TOI
Wade Belak (F Nas) – 53 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 79 PIM, 5:15 TOI
Georges Laraque (F Mon) – 28 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 52 PIM, 7:35 TOI
Eric Godard (F Pit) – 65 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 159 PIM, 4:02 TOI
David Koci (F TB) – 27 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 99 PIM, 5:31 TOI
There you have it. Six of the more “notorious” fighters in the game today. Not one topping ten minutes in ice time and not one topping more than four points. Can you honestly tell me that these players have an impact on their team or on the game? Yes, there are certainly players that can have an impact on the game in eight minutes of ice time. Those players are also the ones that are atop the leaders in points or even in hits or even in plus/minus rating. But the honest truth is that the majority of enforcers in the NHL are nothing more than liabilities on the ice.
But fighting does have a place in the NHL. Looking at the new rule changes that the Board of Governors are thinking about instituting, I whole-heartedly agree with the decision to give anything that could be construed as a “staged fight” a 10-minute game misconduct. What I do not agree with, however, is the NHL’s decision to attempt to negate fights after a big, clean hit.
Think about it. Hockey is an emotional game and the majority of fights in hockey are spurred on by emotion. Some of the most memorable are as well. But what the NHL is trying to do here is nothing more than a token attempt to “clean up” fighting, and a poor one at that. If a player gets caught by a big, clean hit, he should certainly have to answer for it. Now I’m not talking about those big hits where the player gets knocked over the boards or gets plowed behind the net or anything where the player gets hit and pops back up. I’m talking the Brandon Sutter type hits, where the players gets run through cleanly and, consequently, is not able to get back up immediately and return the favor.
There are players on all teams whose job description, quite frankly, is to check. Some have talent past that, some are solely used for checking purposes. Just like fighting, hitting is part of the game. The problem I have with the NHL’s proposed rule change is that the team has no recourse in these situations. The opposing player does not have to pay any price for running around, hitting anything that moves. Clean or not, it is a dangerous precedent to allow players to run around, hitting anything and everything and not have to answer for doing so.
Look at the fights that are spurred on by emotion. Jarome Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavalier? The Buffalo Sabres vs. the Ottawa Senators? Brent Burns vs. Chris Kunitz? Emotion can make a fight, just as lack of emotion can break it…Just as with hockey. Animosity in a fight can lead to an absolutely brilliant brawl; not two heavyweights who can barely skate holding each other up for 30 seconds.
My thought? Take the staged stuff out of the game. Force those players to evolve or be forced out of the NHL. Let emotion rule the fights; not two players just trying to get their minute in the spotlight for the game.