The central argument from both Orr and Burke was the premise that fighting “polices” the sport. Orr’s comment, “Enforcers have a very practical role to play. If the league really wants to see its stars shine, one of the best ways is to give them more time and space to be creative. And that is the enforcer’s job description.” Burke offers a similar view, “Reduced to its simplest truth, fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game. Players who break the rules are held accountable by other players.” It’s obvious that both Orr and Burke think that fighting is the smartest method to deal with the lack of respect shown by certain players.
Both are talking about retribution, not “policing”. They believe that if an opponent does something they feel is wrong then a player should have the right to exact revenge, to make them pay. For two individuals that obviously understand and love the game I find it hard to believe that any hockey professional would allow this to continue. Emotional and biased players, acting without regard for any rule book, are taking liberties with other players based on their perception of what is right or wrong. Decisions made by NHL on and off-ice officials are not respected and teams continue to call for attacks on their opponents. And it’s tolerated and encouraged by both league and team executives.
And it obviously isn’t working. Cheap shots continue to happen while enforcers patrol the ice. The “Rats”, as referenced by Burke, continue to ply their trade and are prized as “agitators” who put the star opponents off their game. NHL culture demands that a team “gets tougher” when one of their players is victimized. Teams bulk up with enforcers who are more accustomed to playing without gloves in the hopes of intimidating others. When two opponents with multiple enforcers in their line-ups meet then violence, cheap shots and fighting becomes virtually guaranteed. It becomes less about “policing” and more about individuals proving to their coaches that they will do whatever they have to in order to stay in the league.
Unlike Orr and Burke I don’t believe that there are any smart fights, just ones that have different levels of stupidity. There are players
who step in after a team
minutes for certain infractions and punish the team on the scoreboard. Track dangerous penalties and implement suspensions when you exceed set limits. It’s just plain stupid to believe that a fight will deter a Kaleta from repeating his cheap shots. The level of stupidity then increases with fights after a clean hit, fights in the last few minutes of a blow-out or fights after the opening face-off when two teams send out goons to start the game. Which brings us to the thankfully rare but incredibly stupid fight that leaves even pro-fighting fans shaking their heads: Ray Emery’s assault on Braden Holtby.
I’ll leave you with another comment from Brian Burke’s guest column, “Certain arguments are virtually impossible to win when made against people who simply cannot or will not understand your viewpoint.” He was of course talking about trying to convince the anti-fighting contingent that dropping the gloves is a necessary part of the game. But I think it more accurately describes the majority of NHL executives and NHLPA members who put more faith in the culture of intimidation and violence. They remain insulated from reason and research.