Tag Archives: FIGHTING

Hockey Hasn’t Broken Up With Violence

Despite what the numbers tell you, and in recent years they have been quite consistent, fighting has persevered in the NHL. Year to year, goons or enforcers in the NHL have diminished, thus the numbers of fights per game have also dwindled.

During the 2012-13 season, the league average of fights per game was 0.48. Up to this point of the 2016-17 season, the league average is 0.30, in fact the 2015-16 season saw 0.28 per game.

Now, just because the number is lower doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t purposeful foul play at hand. Heading into Wednesday nights game against the Winnipeg Jets, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made an interesting minor league call up. Human wrecking ball Tom Sestito dressed as a precaution, if the game were to get out of hand.

And it did.

Keeping your personal bias aside, Blake Wheeler was introduced to Evgeni Malkin elbow last month which caused an uproar. Rightly so.

Sestito’s sudden promotion obviously, was in direct relation to protecting Malkin’s well being. Geno sits among the leagues highest scorers with 70 points.

But hockey has a lot of unwritten rules, and despite your status, that doesn’t exclude you from street law.

Winning, by unanimous decision, was Mr. Wheeler. Soon thereafter, Sestito dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn in another, rage filled dispute.

Don’t fret, the shenanigans didn’t stop there, Sestito left his final mark on the game by delivering a cheap shot to Toby Enstrom.

So, after the dust settled, it was just another day at the office for Mr. Sestito and a man who brings nothing to the table besides a professional knack for face transformation.

So, what we have learned this past week is that despite fights per game on the decline? Hockey clutches to their spades. That of course being fighting in the form of street justice. Had Malkin and Wheeler squashed their beef and simply gone on with the rest of the game, perhaps it would have ended there.

Now, this potentially leaves the door ajar for general managers to make these types of unwarranted call ups. To which I argue, with the number of fights on the decline clearly the players who pride themselves in fighting are being faded out of the game. Therefore you have two combatants, on average, not well versed in fighting. Sports should leave these types of things to its players, with little or no interference from those who no longer play.

Make no mistake, fighting and violence are never going to go away, but the days of the heavy weight bouts are seemingly long gone. For the better interest of the sport itself.

 

 

 

 

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There are Alternatives to Fighting, Just Not in the NHL

Take it all in, you’re witnessing the official divorce between the NHL and fighting. While it may not come as a shock to some, it’s become blatantly obvious to most.

For the Boston Bruins, looking specifically at last nights game in Buffalo, Sabres tough guy William Carrier caught David Backes at a vulnerable angle. As the unwritten hockey law goes at the next stoppage in play, Adam McQuaid seeked out Carrier to instigate a fight.

Once the gloves came off, two officials darted into the fray in a lackluster attempt to separate the two. However, in doing so they allowed Carrier to land multiple solid hits to McQuaid’s head before it was broken up. Which brings up my next critique, what was the point?

If the idea was to protect the players from themselves, why wasn’t Carrier penalized more for his free shots at McQuaid? The result was a power play to Buffalo, which is beyond head scratching. To me, the message that was sent to players was “if you’re locked up with the officials just get an arm free and continue to whale on the defenseless player”.

While the intention may have been justifiable in some sense. I can’t understand why in a similar situation earlier this month in Montreal officials didn’t step between Torey Krug and Brendan Gallagher.

No doubt in both checks would lead to extra curricular activity there was head contact. But with Boston’s match up against Montreal, the officials didn’t interject until both players hit the ground. So wheres any form of consistency? Players are sticking up for themselves because that is how hockey works.

I would have absolutely no problem with that type of behavior from the officials if it was a league wide mandate. Which clearly it’s not. Otherwise, it should be noted that as early as November of 2015-16, fighting was reportedly down 40% league wide. A trend I would imagine has only increased since then.

Line brawls are unnecessary and staged fights are soon to be ancient relics with players like Matt Martin and Shawn Thornton representing the last of their kind. With an added attention to increased scoring, made evident by having some of the best players in the league not even eligible to consume alcohol.

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Regardless of the increase of speed, finesse and scoring one thing remains. The causal hockey fan watches because its level of violence is higher than the other major sports. Similarly to how the casual baseball fan doesn’t like to watch a pitchers duel, they want 450 foot home runs every evening.

On the other hand, concussions and deaths related to trauma suffered while playing in the NHL has become a living nightmare. But when you have two players who aren’t strangers to engaging one another I say if it’s mutual, let them go. It’s only when a player gets jumped that I take issue with fighting. Something that hasn’t been seen in a noticeably long time.

 

Benign Neglect? Or Pace Of Play?

Before we get too deep here, let’s settle a few things. Hockey is magnificent, it’s genuine (aside from a few blemishes) and is finally finding its stride after suffering from two dead puck eras in a decade.

To me, hockey is as close to fully functional as you’re going to get, especially with the changes that have come since the 2004-05 lockout. I have no issue with players actively pursuing what they believe to be fair in the new CBA, nor do I take offense with refs involving themselves in on ice shenanigans. Finally I do not condone what Dennis Wideman did to Don Henderson.

“By the age of 18 the average American has witnessed 200,000 acts of violence on television. Most of them occurring during game one of the NHL playoff series” -Steve Rushin.

Hockey is fast.

Really, really fast.

Hockey is also violent.

Really, really violent.

In the last decade alone, the NHL has seen a culture shift. The game now focuses on being faster and more skill oriented, leaving behind the days of grit and brute force winning you a championship.

With that, the average number of fights in an NHL season has decreased, initially you think “well, that’s a good thing!” and it is. CTE is a very real fear that has been brought directly to our living rooms by virtue of documentaries and news clips.

Goons and other forms of troublemakers are being replaced in starting lineups with young gun, speed oriented, skill harboring players.

Similarly to modern day civilization, the battle to police advancing technology has posed more of a challenge than initially suspected. The same can be said about hockey.

Fighting is down, yes. Hitting is not.

More specifically, hits to the head and boarding penalties are reaching sky high numbers because officials have been instructed to police fighting more strictly. Leaving the door slightly ajar to illegal body contact.

You could argue that with the lack of “goons” or “grinders” on the ice to stick up for teammates less inclined to engage in physical altercation, gives agitators more freedom to do really whatever the hell they want out there. With a complete and total lack of repercussion.

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Dennis Wideman found himself in the most bizarre of situations this past year. In a game against the Nashville Predators, Wideman was sideswiped by the elbow of Miikka Salomaki.

Recovering from the blow, Wideman immediately grabs his head to indicate he was injured on the play. As he skates towards the bench he targeted and cross checked referee Don Henderson in his upper back.

Wideman publicly apologized after initially blaming his actions on a self diagnosed concussion post game.

Don Henderson is a 47 year old linesman who needed off season neck surgery to fix damages suffered from the Wideman hit. Going public this past week saying his career may very well be over.

More horrifying is that in the first round of the 2016 NHL playoffs alone, there were two distinct boarding/hits from behind. Delivered to Derek Stepan and Dmitry Orlov.

In Stepan’s case, there was no call on the play, which is somewhat concerning. Now, there appeared to be no intent to injure but at the very least warranted a 2 minute minor.

When calls like this go unmade more often than not a equal or greater retaliation soon follows.

For Orlov, there was a five minute major and a game misconduct handed to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. In this situation, the hit was far more violent quantified by the fact it was a blowout in favor of the Capitals. Washington was awarded a power play. Bellemare was tossed from the game and in the following matchup he had to face the music.

That’s how hockey should be handled. In the matchup between the Bruins and Penguins following his hit on then all star Marc Savard. Matt Cooke threw fists with Shawn Thornton behind a rumpus TD Garden crowd. Then that was it, the hatchet was buried.

Hockey is a game of unwritten rules and respect, when you cross the line you have to be prepared to face the consequences of your actions. With the lack of enforcers on the ice players have more freedom to bend and stretch the rules with no fear of owning up to it.

You never want to see hits like this happen, but when they do, the responsibility falls on the two referees and the two linesman to make at the very least, a minor penalty call.

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This is a call to action, nobody deserves to have their career derailed because someone takes liberties on a defenseless player. A classic case of give and take, it starts with the officials consistently making the correct calls and enforcing more strict penalties. From there, the players have to respect one another enough to eliminate that aspect of hockey from the game.

So, is it benign neglect on behalf of the NHL and its officials? Or is it a lack of overall respect between players? Let the debate begin.

Even Bobby Orr, one of the greatest to ever lace up skates, is concerned that hockey has become too big and fast for its own good.

So I’ll just leave you with this on your Thursday.

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