A Few Words on Fighting…

Posted: April 20, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , ,

Outsiders have a tendency to take something they don’t understand and make it into a controversy of epic proportion.  Fighting in the National Hockey League playoffs is this week’s extreme societal problem involving armchair expertise with limited knowledge.  The playoffs have been unusually violent with the Pens/Flyers leading all series with pandemonium on a nightly basis.  Fighting, as we know, is built into the culture of modern American hockey; it adds a missing level of player led justice that is appreciated but frowned upon by other sports (re: retaliation in baseball or hard fouls for stars in basketball).  Teammates protect their skill players and goalies and “goons” fight other “goons” for momentum shifts or to settle individual disputes.  Those are the informal rules of the game.  People who watch baseball know these rules and this has existed from the beginning throughout today.

The sensitivity to injury, particularly in hockey with so many stars being out for longer with concussions, should NOT be conflated with fighting as something that will destroy the game.  Rating are up across the board for these playoffs not because of the fighting but because the exciting action in the regular season and the strong match ups between rivals in the first round of the playoffs.  All the traditional powers are represented but parody is sprinkled in to make things interesting.  Most hockey injuries, it should be noted, come from play on the ice – something also increasingly chippy and of some concern by true fans and league officials.  Many point to the lack of suspension for Shea Weber’s hit on Henrik Zetterberg in game one of the Predators-Red Wings series.  No suspension for a clearly illegal hit equaled more room for aggressive play.  The league came late to the party in penalties; the players stopped policing themselves and lost all control; the referees (several veteran referees have retired in the past three years) cannot settle things down in an appropriate manner.  All of this points to more reckless play like the egregious shot Raffi Torres delivered on Marian Hossa in game three of the Coyotes-Blackhawks series.  (The Coyotes’ organization and their professed “we didn’t see the hit”/ “it was not that bad” ignorance is sickening and stupid.  Doofs.)  The arbitrary nature of penalties punishing the consequence of the hit versus intent creates very odd mechanisms to utilize incentives against these plays.  That is also the NHL.  Those are the rules and they have existed since the beginning of the weird Brendan Shanahan Department of Player Safety system.

Fighting in hockey, for me, is not a real problem despite it somewhat overshadowing the play on ice.  It is overshadowing play on ice for people who don’t really care about hockey and see the mayhem on Sportscenter or cable news.  The fans come for the hockey and we are very pleased.  Fighting is the result of more reckless play at large, the type of play that has the sport’s greatest stars (Crosby, Toews, Pronger) flirting with retirement or worse.  It’s the illegal big hits in the physical sport that raises my eyebrow.  Control that and the fighting will be reined in.  That reality, however, is far too complex for people that do not watch entire hockey games or want to impose their sports experiences onto a struggling sport in a talent boom.  Just because football is also dealing with injuries in their violent sport doesn’t mean that the most attractive aspect is to blame.  Fighting is not the problem and should not be eradicated by any means.

In the meantime, enjoy the on ice action because the play between the mayhem may show you why rating are up for the best series playoffs in the hardest sport in North America.

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