If some hockey fans had their way, scenes like this one would not be allowed in the NHL. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Viewpoint: Scott Morrison
The debate over fighting in the NHL rages on
Last Updated Thursday, March 29, 2007
by Scott Morrison
Time now to reach into the ol' email bag to respond to thoughts, suggestions, comments and general abuse and criticisms regarding our most recent blog regarding fighting in the NHL and the conclusion that removing it from the game would be bad.
To say the least, not everyone agreed. Some not very kindly using, for lack of a better term, fighting words.
However, in the interest of global harmony we will refrain from dropping the gloves just this once and offer up some sound, reasoned rebuttal, understanding this is an emotional issue.
In no particular order:
- Kalcon, from parts unknown, and Eric from Winnipeg made a very good point, that the argument that kids imitate what they see, thus fighting is bad, is lame. Indeed, if that was as acute a problem as suggested we wouldn't allow our kids to watch television or play video games. Hide the comic books. You can't blame bad parenting on the NHL. Fact is, professional sports operate under different rules, like it or not. Thus, the argument that if you fought in the street you would be charged, is also lame. You can't body check someone into an office wall, either. Just as you can't throw a hard ball at someone's head on the street, either. Don't equate what happens in every day life with what happens in the sports arena.
- Tommy Dixon is right on. As we stated, the league has to continue to work to reduce (and it has been reducing the number of instances) of real violence, the Chris Simon types of incidents. In recent years, the cases of supplemental discipline have gone from 31 to 21 to nine annually, which means the stiffer penalties are working.
- Michael Trick says fighting should be banned and sportsmanship should be encouraged. Yes to the latter. And if there was more respect as it pertains to cheap shots, which we all agree is the goal, then there would be less fighting as a result. It is also unrealistic to expect that players will not take advantage of situations, though the threat of retribution can serve as a deterrent.
- Kalcon makes another good point: get rid of the instigator rule and the premeditated fights. Fights that come from a genuine boil over are fine, part of the release and the policing that is necessary. The staged stuff has gotten tired and unnecessary.
- As many have suggested, work hard on penalizing and eliminating the cheap shots.
- Brick in California has declared our work is a waste of public money. He is entitled to his opinion, but it's amusing and confusing that people can't have a contrary opinion without getting rude and, in some cases, aggressive. I don't have a problem with people wanting fighting out of the game, that is their opinion. I just don't agree with it and defer to the experts involved in the game.
- Edward wrote that one of best games he has watched in recent memory was the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal. No question, there are some great college hockey games, with lots of speed and intensity. Same thing happens in the NHL when the stakes are high and players can't afford to misbehave because the damage would be too severe. But the NCAA, also like the NHL, isn't squeaky clean over the course of the regular season. Those who scout it on a regular basis are troubled by the number of blows to the head, with sticks, cross checks and gloves, but they are tolerated and there are few injuries because the players are fully masked. I don't think people are convinced removing fighting will lead to a ballet on the ice. Quite the contrary.
- Zen in Edmonton says respect is lacking and I don't disagree. Some veteran hockey people say it is no different now than it once was, but what is lacking is accountability. When once if you ran a guy, you had to answer for it, players are hitting and running today. That has to be stopped.
- Apparently Karl from Sudbury believes I'm a fool. Whatever. He believes removing the "code" would solve the problems and only a fool would suggest fighting is a deterrent for misbehaviour. There's that word again. Anyway, to this I agree: there is far too much of what happened with Jordin Tootoo, of players handing out clean checks, then being challenged for it. If Tootoo hits Mike Modano with a cheap shot, then he should be penalized and/or challenged. But that play didn't deserve it. Having said that, Tootoo cold-cocked Stephane Robidas and paid the price for his actions, which were over the top.
- SA in Winnipeg says "the game does not need to rid itself of fighting, but it needs to get rid of the one dimensional player known as the 'goon'." The solution to that is reduce the rosters to 18 skaters, which would eliminate guys who can't play, but that isn't likely to happen any time soon. Most would agree that having players around who can't "play" is not a good thing.
- Mike in Yellowknife asks "why do we allow Don Cherry and other defenders of hockey violence to continue extolling its virtues? In the real world, people who encourage violence are thrown in jail!" The answer is because we live in a free country, where people are allowed to have differing opinions. Beyond that, not sure what the colour of the sky is in your real world.
- To Richard in Montreal, no one is suggesting eight-year-olds should punch it out on the ice. Professional hockey plays by different rules because of the various and obvious differences.
- Greg in Nanaimo concludes our opinion is a load of rubbish, that clean-playing Europeans are regularly better than North Americans. That, of course, isn't entirely supported by the scoring stats and last time we checked the protection and policing did not discriminate as to nationality. And, once and for all, there is a difference between a hockey fight and clubbing someone over the head.
- Andre in B.C. says my position is "lame, lame, lame...(that) Any argument that fighting is a responsible and productive release is asinine...Nothing is more intense than opposing linemen in football going at one another for two hours."
- Larry Huskins wrote about respect being the key, that fighting should stay, but the real problem is disrespectful acts such as hitting from behind and that the equipment is causing injuries.
Brick goes on to say fighting is vulgar and unnecessary (oh, the irony) and that no other major professional league allows it. Fair enough. But why should what happens in baseball, football and basketball impact on what happens in hockey? Each sport is different. Each has its unique aspects and one that is unique to hockey is fighting, which quite often prevents more injuries than it inflicts.
Best response to that comes from Chicago Blackhawks coach Denis Savard: "In football, I don't know how much real time they play. They go for about 10 seconds, like a burst, and I don't think you can get that mad. In hockey, you're out there for 40 seconds or 50 seconds at a time. There's a lot more time to get angry."
Bottom line, given the nature of the game and the duration of the shifts, hockey decided long ago to allow fighting as a release. Football chose not to. Pick your sport.
It's like we stated earlier, there are players who are being hurt because of the equipment, which is being addressed by the league, and there are players being hurt because they are being run by the so-called "energy" players, who aren't necessarily forced to answer for their actions. Referees and legislators can only do so much, some times the players have to be accountable to each other thus the presence of fighting.
As always, thanks for the comments.
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- Scott Morrison, the recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame's 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, has been covering hockey for 25 years. The Toronto native began his career at the Toronto Sun in 1979. After spending more than 11 years as a hockey writer and columnist at the paper, Morrison became Sports Editor in 1991 and led the section to being named one of North America's top-ten sports sections in 1999 - the first sports section in Canada to receive the AP Sports Editors North American Award. Scott, a former two-term president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, joined Rogers Sportsnet in 2001 as Managing Editor, Hockey, and is currently both a commentator on Hockey Night in Canada and a columnist for CBC.ca.