(Special disclaimer: This is a post about fighting in the NHL. For excellent coverage of the issue, and perhaps some perspective, go here, here, here and/or here. Also, this post is shamefully long, so you should probably go get some coffee and find a comfortable seat.)

AP writer Ira Podell has a column up on Yahoo! Sports taking a look at the "current" issue of fighting in hockey, and I think it's a pretty interesting read. Not because it covers any new ground, really. For the most part it is a rehash of all the various arguments for and against fighting in the NHL. The thing that caught my eye, though, was a quote from NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell regarding the Todd Fedoruk incident:

"The last time Philadelphia was in there ... the same player came out of the penalty box and went right for Jagr and hit him real hard on probably a borderline charge or a major for charging," Campbell said. "I think it's incumbent on the Rangers to protect their players in ways they can."
No, Colin, you nitwit, it is incumbent on you, and the NHL as a whole, to protect the players in any way you can. If it was, as you say, a borderline charge or a major for charging,why didn't the on-ice officials in your employ call a penalty? And if it was an offense so grievous as to require another player to punch him in the face, shouldn't it also be grievous enough to deserve some sort of suspension? Colin Campbell, in another article, has pointed to the lower number of suspensions this year as an indication that the game is getting cleaner.

While there have been other ugly moments this season, Campbell says supplemental discipline has dropped "tremendously" since the lockout.

Campbell handed out 31 supplemental suspensions in 2003-04 (not counting automatic suspensions), which dropped to 21 last season.

Amazingly, despite all the headline bad behaviour this season, only nine supplemental suspensions have been handed down this season.

I've got news for you, Colin. Improvement would be if you had issued more suspensions this year than last. Given the current state of the game and its current level of popularity in the United States, you should be putting more pressure on the players to clean up their acts, not less.

Or, let's consider for a moment that perhaps Fedoruk's hit on Jagr wasn't an illegal charge. If it was a legal hit, it was a legal hit, and everyone needs to get over it and move on. I hate Jaromir Jagr just as much as the next person, but I feel pretty confident that he can take a hit, and if he can't, then why should Todd Fedoruk be punished for it in the form of a concussive blow from the right hand of Colton Orr? In sports like football and basketball, if a team is bigger, stronger and/or more physical than your own team, you don't get to start bashing people's faces in to level the playing field. You either find a way around the oppositions physical play, whether it be toughening up and being just as physical, or you find a way around it with speed and skill. (Please note that, in this case, "physical play" and "fisticuffs" are two distinctly different things.)

Imagine, if you will, that you are watching a football game (Half of you have just stopped reading. Please come back!) in which Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher comes off the outside and levels Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning with a bone-crunching hit from the blind side. Manning is one of the NFL's biggest stars, and arguably the most important player on the Colts' roster. Now, imagine if one of the offensive linemen, on the next play, were to completely eschew his run-blocking duties and instead made a beeline straight for Urlacher and started throwing punches. Sounds absurd, right? In the NHL, it would not only be unsurprising, if would actually be expected.

And therein lies the problem. We can talk and talk (or write and write, as it were) about banning fighting or increasing the penalty for it or finding some sort of compromise, but nothing will work until the overall mentality of the players (and the idiots in charge (and the fans (and the on-ice officials who are, for the most part, grossly incompetent, thus necessitating the self-policing by the players in the first place))) changes. One of the chief arguments for keeping fighting is that, without it, there would be more cheap shots and dangerous stick infractions. How about instead, the players have enough respect for each other that they simply don't specifically try to badly injure each other? Is that too much to ask? Shouldn't simple sportsmanship, rather than a goon's fists, be enough of a deterrent?

Apparently not. The culture of incidental, gratuitous violence is so ingrained in the NHL at this point that it may be impossible to ever fully extricate it. I'm guilty of it myself, having started this here blog in the joyous delirium that followed the Great Brawl of Atlanta. This in spite of the fact that I am a rather big proponent of phasing fighting out of the league, as any right thinking person should be. That is what the league is working against, and given the people currently in charge, I'm not especially optimistic about the prospects of improvement. Although, to be fair, Gary Bettman has never seen a hockey tradition he wasn't happy to piss all over. So maybe there's hope yet.


DCSportsChick said...

Great post.

Hey, if you have Apr. 2 off, come to Opening Day! We're tailgating in Lot 8!


1) As anyone who has read our blog since last summer can attest, we are unashamedly Pro-fighting! We believe it is an integral part of the game. We believe the game can NOT survive if it were eliminated as some anti-fighting zealots have advocated. We firmly believe it should not only be continued, but should be encouraged, NOT discouraged!

2) Fighting sells! If for no other reason, the NHL needs fighting to sell the game. We don't care if that ruffles the feathers of those who may be a bit light in the loafers, but that is a fact! Don't hand us the crap that 'your alienating people turned off by the violence'. Those folks can simply continue to watch figure skating if that's what gets them excited. The mistake would be to further alienate those of us who really support the game now!
3) It saves/reduces injuries: On the surface seems a bit odd to say, but it is true! Watch a league where fighting is illegal, and you'll see incredible stick work.(Any wonder why face cages are mandatory in college where there is no fighting?) As fighting has waned, stick work has taken off. No matter the penalties imposed, they have continued to soar with the decline of allowable tactics to deter them(fighting)
4) Players want it! Take a anonymous poll of NHL-ers, and you'd see that a HUGE majority of them not only want fighting to stay as part of the game, but want the instigator rule changed/eliminated. You'd think that they would know best.
5) Fans LOVE it! Other than the pantie-waste minuscule minority who are very vocal when an unfortunate injury like Fedoruk occurs, about 80% plus of fans state they love fighting. We didn't need to see that poll to know this. Simply look around the arena the next fight you see. Folks are on their feet, and excited and rooting like crazy for 'their guy'. Which by the way is another point. The fan favourite on almost every team is their leading scorer AND the team enforcer. Coincidence?
6) Crack down on the right stuff! We are fine with stick work/obstruction crack downs. They truly ruin the game, but fighting does not! How about all high sticking/slashing, etc are double minors? Make fighting also a double minor or even a 2 minute foul. As they are usually coincidental fouls, the length is unimportant, and a shorter term would mean the combatants can resume their police duties sooner
7) The minors leagues, who are more directly dependant on fan interest than the NHL seem to be way out in front on this issue. Usually they mimic NHL rules, but when they saw the instigator and other anti-fighting rules enacted hurting their bottom lines they decided that in this respect they will NOT go along with the NHL rules. The NHL should see this as a sign, and return the game as it was.