Monday, August 15, 2005

This just in: fighting's bad

There's an op-ed piece on the website of the Ottawa Citizen concering eliminating fighting from hockey that might be worth checking out. Though it's a seemingly-neverending debate, I think it's also a legitimate one.

There are also three points from the piece that I wanted to pull as they particularly stood out.

"In the end, Mr. Bertuzzi lost 13 regular-season games, seven playoff tilts and two chances to play on the world stage. The NHL maintains he lost 17 months, but they're not fooling anyone. With this past season lost to a lockout, he was in effect grounded on a rainy Monday night when no one was going out anyway."

This seems to be a popular opinion."'Todd Bertuzzi got a slap on the wrist!". I can't agree.

In no way am I condoning what he did, or implying that he should have gotten a lighter punishment, but that doesn't mean he didn't suffer either. He lost over $500,000, which, most think to a pro athlete making over $5 million a year is sand on the beach. But 10% of your paycheck is 10% of your paycheck no matter how you slice it.

He missed out on seven playoff games, yes, but in reality, it was more than that. Not to take anything away from the Calgary Flames, but if Todd Bertuzzi was in the line-up, that series likely would've had a different outcome. It's impossible to determine just how far a Canucks team with Bertuzzi involved would've gone, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say it was beyond the first round.

Bertuzzi also missed out on playing in Europe this year. Whether or not he would've gone over is sort of irrelevant, because he never had the opportunity.

Should the penalty have been harsher? Possibly. I'm willing to listen to reasonable people who support such a stance. Unfortunately, this person isn't one of them.
What the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident has to do with fighting in the game remains a mystery to me. It wasn't a hockey fight. It would probably be best described as thuggery. Aggression in hockey and fighting are not one in the same, to me anyway.

"That might be true in places such as Philadelphia where the Broad Street Bullies appealed to knuckle-dragging fans who craved violence. But that's not the case in many other cities such as Ottawa, where patrons yearn for skill."

I know we Canadians like to think we're superior to American hockey fans, and hey, maybe we are, but this kind of elitism is severely misguided. Every time I've been to the Corel Centre to watch a Sens game and a fight on the ice broke out, not only did the fans not turn away, but most got on their feet and cheered. So if you're trying to say fighting is bad and for slugs, let's not pretend we're any better than they are. Are we more educated and enlighted on the game than they are in Philadelphia? Who knows. But by all accounts, we enjoy the sight of two men trying to punch each other in the face as much as they do.

"Hockey is part of our culture. In fact, many people equate Canadians with hockey. What kind of a black eye is this on the Canadian identity? What are we teaching our children on Saturday nights?"

Maybe I'm crazy, but to me, fighting, though not exactly the most positive part of the game, is also not the part that I would be afraid to let my child see. Of course, I have no children, so perhaps that disqualifies me from even entering such a discussion, however, I'd be much more worried about children seeing intentional slashes to the upper body and head, hits from behind, elbows to the head, etc. than the typical NHL fight, which consists of a few punches thrown erratically before the linesman steps in.

In most cases, fights involve two willing participants who abide by certain "rules". Except in rare cases, they don't engage the person until they're ready, they don't hit them when they're down, and at the end, they often give each other a pat on the head/back/shoulder, demonstrating far more sportsmanship than the player who cowardly drove himself into an unprepared player from behind.

The truth is, I wouldn't be all that upset if fighting was eliminated from hockey forever. I won't lie and tell you I haven't enjoyed a few of them in my lifetime, and probably more than a few if we're being honest. That said, I also think I've had my lifetime fill of them. If I never saw another one, I genuinely wouldn't be all that bothered.

But, if we're that determined to clean up the game, don't stop there, and really, don't start there either. Start with the utter disrespect the players show each other with their stickwork, which has resulted in far more serious injuries than any fight. Start with the knee-on-knee hits that could end the career of a player in the blink of an eye. Start with the hits from behind, which pose the greatest threat to serious injury of anything in hockey.

There are a lot worse things plaguing hockey and holding it back from becoming what it can than most of the fights that occur on a nightly basis. It's just not as trendy to talk about those. Such a piece won't get you in your local paper.


At 2:24 PM, Anonymous pete said...

Great post, Chris.

I've said it once and I'll say it again. I've seen far dirtier plays in hockey than the Bertuzzi hit. The only reason people went nuts is because of the result. If Niedermayer broke his neck when Domi elbowed him, or if Tucker was crippled when Alfredsson shoved him into the side boards from behind in Game 5 of the 03 playoffs, we'd be out lynching Alfie for being dirty. Bertuzzi's hit was a fairly dirty play, which had the unfortunate result of causiong serious harm because the man is built like Mack truck.

I'm with you. Yes, I stand up and cheer when my team is getting blownout and a fight starts, or somebody takes a cheap shot at my stars, and Domi beats the snot out of him. But that doesn't make me an uncultured yob. We need to get off our high horse in Canada like we're the only ones who love the game of hockey and understand it. Canada's got 20 million hockey fanatics and so does the USA. They're just spread out a lot more, and only represent about 10% of the country. It's not like we're the only ones who understand the finer points of the left wing lock.

Fighting is far from the ugliest part of hockey, IMHO, but I wouldn't miss it if it's gone. If you want to clean up the brutality, get rid of the stickwork, and the hits from behind. Bertuzzi got what he deserved. The cheapshot artists on every team are the ones who need to be banned from the league, not punchy oafs like Wade Belak and Chris Neil.

Once again, great post Chris.

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Dominic Plouffe said...

Great post...

I wouldn't mind seeing fighting out the game either. It's over rated, and although everyone gets up and cheers, the result is typically fairly boring compared to a nice end-to-end goal from Havlat, or Hossa circling around Philadelphia making them look like fools.

Fighting was accepted as a means for players to police themselves. It is the way "men" do it. If we ever wanted to stop fighting, we would be in need to redefine the standards of referees. Players shouldn't have to police themselves, referees (2 of them actually!!!) should be enough to ensure that most dirty work gets caught, and to ensure that players but money where there mouth is, by scoring goals!!

At 4:33 PM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

One aspect that I didn't touch on, and I'd be interested in getting the reaction of, would be taking out the instigator rule.

As Dominic said, fighting used to be a way for players to police themselves. If you sticked somebody in the face intentionally, or kept your knee out on a player coming across the blue line, your team was likely to get a receipt in the form of the opposing team's heavyweight going at yours.

Most fighters are also vocal locker room leaders. That's their character. And so after they've had to fight three or four times because of the dirty plays of others, you can best believe they will, behind closed doors, tell said players that they won't tolerate that any longer.

That's no longer allowed, and I don't think it's any coincedence that stickwork and other assorted dirty plays have risen as a result.

In a perfect world, that wouldn't be necessary, because, like you said, the referees would take care of it. But I've just about lost all confidence in NHL officials at this point (which is also why I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to call obstruction when the season starts).

Pete, as for your point that there have been far dirtier plays than the Bertuzzi incident, I'm not sure about that. For me, it's right up there as one of the ugliest. But you're right that the outrage came not from the action but the results of it.

Which is why I always laugh whenever I hear someone say that they should institute an "eye for an eye" policy in regards to suspensions. Meaning, keep the perpetrator out as long as the victim, which, in Bertuzzi's case, would mean he can't come back until Steve Moore medically can.

But what if Moore got up and just had a few cuts on his face? Or, even just a concussion? Does that make what Bertuzzi did any better? It shouldn't, I don't think.

Regardless of whether or not Moore was alright, Bertuzzi still sucker punched a prone player from behind. The action should be penalized, not the injury that it has caused.

It's unfortunate that the anti-fighting people are using Bertuzzi as their posterchild for why fighting needs to come out of the game. Especially when there are some examples (Nick Kypreos' career ending injury in a fight) that would make more sense.

What happened to Steve Moore had nothing to do with fighting. It had to do with aggression and revenge, two aspects I would be more than happy to have examined by the league.

However, the fact that Crawford and Burke got off pretty easy, and that Brad May, the man who laid the "bounty", has now landed a job with the same team he put it out on, tells me they won't be doing such a thing anytime soon.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback guys.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

Fighting, in the strictest sense is not legal in the NHL but it is tolerated (only a 5 minute penalty) and "face-to-face" fights with players of similar fighting prowess should remain part of the game.

Domi vs Neil; Domi vs. Probert; Domi vs. Brashear... face-to-face is one thing but don't call what Bertuzzi did to Moore, a fight!

"10% is 10%" or "Bertuzzi got what he deserved"
Tell that to Moore... he's lost more than 10%... did he get what he deserved? The hit on Naslund looked clean (was deemed clean by the NHL) and Moore already fought a Canuck earlier in the game, before he got mugged by Bertuzzi. "Assault causing bodily harm" is a criminal offence that carries a maximum 10 years in prison... with the damage he caused, I would think Bertuzzi deserved to be jailed more than 17 months! Jail doesn't mean just losing your salary; it means not being able to see your family and friends whenever you want. So, "NO" Bertuzzi did not get what he deserved.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Tom L said...

I'm not one of the people who thought the hit on Naslund was clean, but that's irrelevant. The entire incident showed a remendous lack of judgement on so many people's parts that it's hard to lay blame at just Bertuzzi's feet (not that I'm trying to mitigate what happened). What was Crawford doing putting him on the ice with 5 minutes left in a 9-3 hockey game? What was Tony Granato doing putting Steve Moore on the ice under the same circumstances, knowing full well that Bertuzzi had been chasing Moore all over the ice all night?

Fighting needs to exist in the game as a relief valve for some of the extreme emotions that the game creates. The instigator rule, as has been said dozens of times, was intended to stop the side-show brawling, but, as with all badly written rules/laws, also punishes an important mechanism for keeping the game clean, which we all acknolwledge.

The lack of respect that Chris talked about comes from players not having to stand up for the consequences of their actions (stickwork and the like) by receiving a righteous beat-down by someone bigger and stronger than them. Penalties and suspensions will not stop this stuff from happening. If you were the Avs, would you trade losing Steve Moore for the Canucks losing Markus Naslund? Of course you would. Naslund loses a knee and you lose a grinder/AHL'er to a suspension. So, of course, there is going to exist that element within the game where this type of behavior is not discouraged.

I'm not saying fighting will eliminate this from occuring, but the personal consequences for guys doing it are certainly higher if he's staring down Georges Laraque as opposed to Gary Bettman, and hence the rate of occurance should drop.

Some people just think all fighting and confrontation is bad. There's no point in arguing with them or trying to court them to be hockey fans. Hockey is a contact sport played on a very-tight emotional edge, that sometimes spills over. It's what makes it both great and dangerous.

Banning fighting in the league will only make the stickwork and lack of respect worse, not better.


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