Thursday, 9 February 2012

What Are We Fighting For Again?

Lots of media coverage this week in response to Ralph Nader’s open letter to Gary Bettman (available here).   The comment section attached to any of the online articles on this story was full of fans defending fighting because “it makes players accountable”.  So let’s take 11 recent hockey fights at random and look at them in detail to see if we can understand the crucial role of the enforcer.

This analysis is pretty simple; take a group of recent hockey fights, read through the game summaries and try to understand why they started and how the combatants upheld “the code” or policed the game.

February 8th – Sabres Vs Bruins – 3 Fights

This was a chippy game between two teams that don’t like each other, ever since Boston’s Milan Lucic ran into the Sabres’ netminder Ryan Miller, back in November, putting him out of action with a concussion.

Just two minutes into the game Shawn Thornton (52 GP, 4 goals & 6 assists, 117 PIM) decided to go after Cody McCormick (37 GP, 2 assists, 47 PIM).  There wasn’t any provocation by either on any member of the opposite team and it just appeared that these two were going to try and set the tone for the game.  No reason for this one other than two undisciplined players deciding to stop the flow of the play.

Patrick Kaleta (37 GP, 5 goals & 2 assists, 86 PIM), the Sabres pesky forward, lured Lucic (51 GP, 19 goals & 21 assists, 107 PIM) into a fight but the Boston tough guy got the best of that bout.  I’m assuming that the next time these two teams meet Lucic will have to fight again because he still hasn’t been taught a lesson regarding his November hit on Miller.  Is there a statute of limitations on NHL policing?    Buffalo got the better of this match because they scored their 2nd goal while one of Boston’s better players was serving a penalty.  Lucic is a lot more valuable on the ice, as his stats show, but based on his PIM this year he has spent the equivalent of 5 or 6 games worth of his ice time in the penalty box.

At 19:05 of the 2nd period, Sabres’ defenseman Mike Weber (27 GP, 1 goal & 2 assists, 39 PIM) dumped Boston’s Poulliot after the whistle, drawing a roughing penalty.  Good news for Boston as they were down 4 – 0 at that point and could use the power-play to try and get on the scoreboard. Unfortunately Thornton decided to jump on the ice during the ensuing line change and charge Weber, engaging  him in a fight.  Result; instigator penalty (wiping out Boston’s man advantage), 5 minute major, 10 minute misconduct.   Very smart hockey play Thornton.

February 7th – Senators Vs Blues – 1 Fight

Zenon Konopka (49 GP, 3 goals & 2 assists, 168 PIM) dropped his gloves and fought B.J. Crombeen (17 GP, 1 goal & 1 assist, 26 PIM) with just over 2 minutes of play in the game.   After reading through several game summaries I was not able to find any reference of bad blood between these players nor was there any mention of retaliation for a good hit or cheap shot.  The Blues had scored a quick goal at 1:37 of the 1st period and Paul MacLean has been known to throw out Konopka, who leads the league in penalty minutes, in an effort to spark some momentum for his team.

That worked.  The Blues went on to win 3 – 1, handing the Senators their 7th straight loss.

February 7th – Jets Vs Leafs – 1 Fight

The teams were in a close match at the MTS Centre, tied 1 -1 at the beginning of the 3rd period.   At just under the 2 minute mark of the 3rd,  Johnny Oduya (54 GP, 2 goals & 11 assists, 33 PIM) and  Joey Crabb (43 GP, 8 goals & 8 assists, 24 PIM) ended up in the corner fighting for the puck.   It looked like Oduya slew footed Crabb and dumped him on the ice.  There was no call by the referee on the play and after some yapping the two dropped their gloves.  After a few poorly executed punches, Crabb fell over and the referees broke it up.

Perhaps there should have been a tripping call on the play but I wasn’t on the ice with the referee and only had to rely on a replay taken from a bad angle.  I can see where Crabb would be upset – I’ve experienced a few slew foots and it can result in serious injury depending on how hard you fall.    So I can understand Crabb going after Oduya.  But based on the fight that I saw, I doubt Oduya will suddenly clean up his act and think twice about doing it again.  I doubt he’ll remember the fight next week.

February 7th – Devils Vs Rangers – 2 Fights

Usually when a game starts each team puts out their top line for the face-off.  You want to have your best players on the ice when the puck drops and get off to a quick start if possible.  So lining up for the opening face-off were the Devils' Cam Janssen (37 GP, 1 assist, 60 PIM) and Eric Boulton (31 GP, no points, 69 PIM) across from the Rangers' Mike Rupp (29 GP, 4 goals, 67 PIM) and Brandon Prust (51 GP, 2 goals & 11 assists, 102 PIM).

Two seconds after the puck dropped nearly 900 pounds of questionable hockey talent started throwing punches, with Janssen and Boulton squared off with the Rangers' Rupp and Prust, respectively.  Obviously this was a staged fight as both coaches put their penalty leaders on the ice to start the game, and there wasn’t a lot of play to retaliate against with only 2 seconds of hockey on the clock.  There was some bad blood because Boulton had slashed Rupp a week prior.  Boulton was penalized in that game and received a $2,500 fine from the league, but I guess players feel a need to police something that was already policed by the referee and the NHL.

Maybe the best comment comes from Janssen as he explained how his bout with Rupp came to fruition as they lined up for the opening face-off.

"I challenged him," said Janssen, who said he doesn't ask players who are hurt to fight. "I said to him, 'How's the hand?' He's like, 'Feels good.' I go, 'Do you want to do it?' He's like, 'I'll go, yeah.' I'm like, 'OK.' Simple as that. That's what we do."

Wow…that was inspiring.

February 5th – Jets Vs Canadiens – 1 Fight

Wheeler admitted that he was frustrated – probably because he had taken a bad penalty and was sitting in the penalty box when Montreal took a 3 – 0 lead over his team.  Subban, not the most popular player in the NHL, was yapping at Wheeler and he lost his temper.  The ensuing fight did nothing to help his team as Montreal shut-out Winnipeg. 

No dirty hit, no violation of “the code”, no accountability was enforced.  Just a meaningless fight that removed one of Winnipeg’s top scorers for 5 minutes.

February 5th – Flyers Vs Rangers – 3 Fights

The Flyers’ Tom Sestito doesn’t play much (9 GP, 1 assist, 54 PIM) but was activated for the Rangers match as a tough gritty game was expected.  He fought in the first and second period, taking on two of the Rangers tough wingers, Dubinsky and Bickel.  In the first minute of the 3rd period the Flyers tied the game at 2 – 2 and about a minute later, perhaps in an effort to change the momentum, Sestito fought Prust, the Rangers leader in PIM.  That worked – the Flyers gave up 3 straight goals and lost 5 – 2.   Sestito earned an automatic game misconduct for his 3rd fight of the game.

Once again, there was no enforcing of the code in this game, just two teams throwing tough guys onto the ice in an effort to intimidate each other.    The NHL’s high tolerance for fighting results in having a player with little skill dragging down the pace of play by engaging in 3 altercations in a single game.  That’s very positive for the league image.

Conclusions

Eleven fights and an identical number of meaningless altercations.   Pro-fighting fans might be able to stretch the Crabb-Oduya fight to fit their “accountability” theory but it’s a stretch.   They can always pull out specific examples of bouts that fit their argument of policing the game but when you look in detail at a group of fights, over consecutive games, you get a clearer picture.  Hockey has fringe players running around making decisions on what is right or wrong and giving this wonderful sport a bad name.  And the NHL tolerates it.

I have stated this in previous blogs, the NHL executives and team coaches all have a perception of why fighting must remain in the game but it isn’t supported by the facts.   They have to realize that their perceptions are wrong and that their support of fighting is doing real harm to hockey’s image, or we wait until more progressive individuals take on leadership roles.  

3 comments:

  1. Really, your expectation of "the old boys club" to move in to the 20th century" is a pipe dream. We both know it will take a death on ice to even make them give this a second sober thought. It is rare that I can sit through one period of a game these days without getting frustrated at the lack of officiating when it comes to charging, boarding and roughing. It seems obvious to me that the referees have been instructed to let this stuff go unless an injury occurs on the play. Fighting is absolutely useless in the game, and the goons only take up a place on the team for another skilled player. Staged fights should cost the team, not the player, $50th per fight. When that happens, let see how many goons are employed by the "old boys".

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  2. Just spent like an hour typing my support to banning fighting and writing my impressions. Keeps saying "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters".

    Whassup with that? Do you want this site to be taken seriously? You need to raise the character cut-off a little.
    Do you want a legitimate discussion or just little blurbs?

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  3. StanF18 - Sorry but the character limit is set by Blogger and I can't change that particular setting. You can post your in a couple of comments or use links to reference material on other sites.

    ReplyDelete