Whenever there’s a fight in a hockey game, invariably one of three things will happen:
1 – The player who won the fight sees his team score in the next five minutes
At this point, the goal is credited to the fighter, who did a sufficient job rallying his troops with his fists, bringing his scorers to life, and pumping them with the necessary amount of confidence to get the goal.
2 – The player who lost the fight sees his team score in the next five minutes
Now the broadcasters are crediting the lost fighter with the goal. You see, they saw their teammate sacrifice his face for them. That’s, really, what got the team going. They felt like they just couldn’t lose it for their teammate after he’d put himself in harm’s way for the team.
3 – Nothing, in which case the matter is forgotten about completely
A broadcast will completely forget about a fight if it fails to have any impact on the game. This happens in most cases after a scrap, but are consistently ignored when a commentator tries to make the illogical link between fighting and wins.
Morally, I have no objection to fighting in hockey. I think the players know they undergo certain risks. Just as I don’t begrudge oil sands workers, miners, SWAT teams or the Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender, there’s a market for “hockey fighter” that needs to be filled by somebody.
I don’t doubt that players get pumped up when their teammate fights. I didn’t play hockey growing up, just baseball, but to not want to go over the boards and absolutely annihilate somebody the next shift, you’d have to be the sort of emotionless robot that I’d expect out of a hockey general manager.
Like, even I can appreciate something like this:
Problem is… it also fires up the other team, so shouldn’t that nullify the effect?
I watched both of those games, beginning to end, and can assure you that the events resulting from the fight didn’t have a stake in the final outcome of the game. You could make an argument for the Ben Eager-Zack Kassian fight in that Kassian’s removal from the game for the rest of the regulation period guaranteed that Vancouver’s first line would be split up rather than have a chance to play against the Oilers’ fourth line, one that they have historically dominated against. Instead, they played with Dale Weise.
For the Colton Orr-Deryk Engelland fight, well, apparently those two have a history. Half of the Leafs’ players on the bench weren’t even on the team when Orr and Engelland had their first run-in back in October of 2010. I can assure you that fight took place because there are two players who are expected to fight.
Again, there’s no moral issue to this. My grudge is more with the management and coaching aspect that has to do with fighting. It’s not that I don’t think a fight has any effect on a hockey game, it’s that I have yet to see any indication that it adds any sort of strategic element to the contest.
I was looking last night at the usage of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ fourth line, which has contained Jay McClement, Mike Brown and Colton Orr through three of the four games the Leafs have played. The fourth game, last night against the New York Islanders, the Leafs skated Dave Steckel in place of Brown. Only they didn’t. In fact, McClement and Steckel had four shifts in the third period. Orr only had three. This was on the wrong end of a back-to-back, and coach Randy Carlyle, who has otherwise done a very good job making something out of nothing with his top nine forwards, couldn’t be bothered to skate even after it was apparent the rest of the Leafs’ players were running on fumes in the final half of a third period where they looked awful.
Proponents of fighting in hockey should at least be honest with what they really enjoy. I liked Justin’s defence of the Arron Asham scrap with Tanner Glass off the puck drop of the Penguins-Rangers game on the basis that there was less of a strategic element involved, and it was just something he, well, enjoyed. Nothing wrong there.
Where you do go wrong is infer a tangible contribution to the game for either side based after the fact. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or basically, don’t waste my time with after the fact reasoning. I prefer predictive analysis to reflexive analysis particularly for this reason. When you’re dealing with the end result, it’s a lot easier to skip steps when you’re, as they say in high school math class, showing your work.
There’s something to be said for lining a goon up against a player like Zack Kassian, or Milan Lucic, or Wayne Simmonds, or any big dangerous man who likes to fight, but is also good at other things as well. It’s at least one way to neutralize a threat. However there’s still a cost to bringing along a player like Orr, like Engelland, who won’t contribute offensively, in that you’re taking away that fourth line spot from potentially a good scorer who would thrive in the protected minutes goons tend to get.
As for player protection, well, the Leafs certainly won’t be a healthy club this year. Neither will the Oilers. Neither will any team, really, and it doesn’t matter whether there’s an enforcer around to protect them or not. Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara were both on the ice when Matt Cooke levelled Marc Savard and probably ended his career. Brooks Orpik was on the ice when Victor Hedman boarded Sidney Crosby and put him out for, well, until the next face-off until Crosby was out with the concussion. There are scores of anecdotal examples to counter every assertion made about Dave Semenko.
Minor leagues are legislating fighting out of the game, and eventually the NHL will as well, but I think by then, teams will have systematically eliminated the fighter. Fighting has dropped 31.3% in the last ten seasons (numbers from hockeyfights.net) and other than a brief uptick last season the year after the Boston Bruins won the Cup thanks to
historical goaltending highs fighting a lot, the trend has been that the league’s players are finding something better to do than fight. Tie Domi got twice the minutes in Toronto than Colton Orr ever did, and I think teams are eventually going to come to the realization that it’s wasting a roster spot.
While they’re at it, NHL teams should also work together to systematically eliminate the trapezoid.