09 Oct 2009 by National Hockey Leaguein
The argument over fighting in hockey goes on, especially after this pre-season was more suited to a UFC octagon than a hockey rink.
While the NHL still views fisticuffs as a part of the game, the truth is players are often injured during fights on the ice and a young man in Ontario, Canada died last season several days after falling to the ice during a fight. That incident alone should have been enough to get rid of fighting from hockey, but sadly it hasn’t changed a thing.
The hockey higher-ups will argue that fighting is already illegal in the sport as players who engage in it are penalized for their actions. Technically that’s correct, but a five minute penalty isn’t nearly harsh enough. Severe punishment needs to be dished out and players need to be banned from games to stamp out fighting as much as possible.
It’s not that I don’t like fights. I love boxing and actually used to enjoy the bench-clearing brawls of the 1970s. But times have changed, and not for the better. When two guys went toe-to toe in the old days it was because somebody had ticked somebody else off and tempers reached a boiling point. Gloves were dropped and punches were thrown in anger.
But these days NHL fights resemble professional wrestling as the majority of them are staged or premeditated. There’s no anger involved in most of today’s hockey scraps and you’ll often see guys face off against each other for their first shifts of the game and proceed to go at it. I don’t see how these players can be agitated with each other after sitting on the bench all night.
The hockey culture itself is mainly to blame as it teaches youngsters that the sport is policed by the participants. By the time junior players reach their teenage years they’re so immune to it. The whole concept of protection and revenge on the ice is ridiculous. Other than the designated goons, nobody else fights anyway. Why not just let them slug it out at 7pm, get it out of the way with and then drop the puck at 7:30.
NHL scouts and general managers are also partly to blame. It’s hard to understand that ‘tough guys’ such as Brad May and Wade Belak were drafted in the first round while skilled players such as Tomas Kaberle, Steve Sullivan, Pavel Datsyuk, Steve Thomas, Brian Rafalski, Martin St. Louis, and Henrik Zetterberg went near the end of the draft or weren’t drafted at all.
It doesn’t seem right that young players work their butts off to make it in the NHL only to have some goon drafted before them just because they can fight. There are way too many skilled players being released, put on waivers, and sent down to the minors due to roster spots being taken by fighters. If the NHL banned fighting from the game, these youngsters would be given the chance to play. When skilled players are losing their spots to guys like Donald Brashear, fans should be alarmed. Young players are never going to develop into elite NHLers if they don’t get the opportunity to play.
There aren’t too many skilled players around these days who can take care of themselves and play the game at a high level. But if you can’t stand up for yourself, you’re probably better suited to a less-physical sport.