Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fighting In The NHL: A Compromise?

By now you've no doubt seen the video of Colton Orr likely ending Todd Fedoruk's NHL career with a haymaker to the left side of his recently-reconstructed face. It was an awful moment for any hockey fan to witness, and it undoubtedly adds yet another piece of damning evidence to the "ban fighting" lobby.

Whether it's Orr on Fedoruk (a freak occurence in the middle of a clean fight), Jordin Tootoo on Stephane Robidas (a questionable punch by a player ostensibly defending himself) or Chris Simon on Ryan Hollweg (a cheap shot that had nothing at all to do with fighting), the NHL's image has taken a beating lately (no pun intended), and the mainstream commentators parrot the conventional wisdom that events like these happen because the NHL condones - even encourages - fighting.

Now, clearly if fighting were banned entirely, Todd Fedoruk would be waking up in his own bed - and not in a hospital bed - today. Then again, if fighting were banned entirely, Todd Fedoruk wouldn't have a job in the NHL. But fighting in hockey doesn't exist to keep plumbers like Fedoruk employed. Rather, the argument goes, it exists to keep skilled players alive and well and fans in the seats. I'm not going to go into a detailed explanation here of why the NHL needs fighting - read "The Code" or check out this bulleted list for some of the pros and cons of banning fighting - but I believe that there is a time and a place for pugilism in the NHL game. But when events like those referenced above happen and make it into mainstream sports or even news broadcasts, something needs to be done about the culture in the game because for most Americans, that is their primary exposure to hockey.

All of this is a rather drawn-out lead-in to my suggestion: the NHL should pass a rule whereby a) a player who gets in multiple fights over a given span of time gets suspended, and b) a player who receives a concussion in a fight and gets in another fight over a different time period gets similarly suspended. For example, if a player gets in a fight on Tuesday, he can't get in another until, say, the following Tuesday (maybe two weeks is better, but I'm not the expert) or he gets suspended for a game. The second time it happens, it's two games, and so on. If a player gets concussed in a fight, he can't get in another for a month or he gets suspended.

Think this is Draconian? The World Boxing Association mandates that any boxer who has suffered a knockout be kept out of the ring for sixty days. If that boxer suffers a knockout in his next fight or within three months of the first knockout, he's not allowed to fight for six months. In fact, a boxer can't get back into the ring under WBA regulations for at least 14 days after a fight, regardless of the result or length of the fight. And, oh yeah, boxers don't drop their padded gloves before they fight.

The specifics obviously need some ironing out, but the benefits of rules like these that I have proposed are numerous. For example, the NHL can look like they're serious about curbing violence in the sport, which will be a tremendous public relations boost at a time that it's needed. They'd get rid of some of the pointless "I'm tougher than you are" fighting that is far too common in the League (why on earth did Andrew Peters challenge Donald Brashear last night anyway?). And obviously it would protect players from some of the long-term effects of having their heads used as punching bags. At the same time, however, the League would keep the "tradition" and intimidation/enforcement aspects of fighting in the game and not alienate (too much further) the blood-thirsty neanderthals who would rather pay money to see the Jordin Tootoos of the League than the Paul Kariyas.

One problem with rules like these are that you would have games in which a player was carrying with him a fighting major and would potentially be unable to perform his role as an enforcer until he was in the clear to fight again. But all that does is add a little more thought into the equation, as the player would have to think to himself, "Did the guy I want to fight do something that's worth me taking a game or two off to redress?" Chances are that with that calculus going on, the "right" decision will be made more often than not, and unnecessary fighting will all but disappear.

Would these rules have saved Todd Fedoruk last night? Actually, if it was a two week rule, it would have. But that's not really my point, which is simply that the NHL needs to improve its image with respect to sensational violence and this is one way to do it without sacrificing fighting altogether. It's a compromise between the two sides of the issue and one that makes sense for everyone involved.

UPDATE: I've followed up this post with another that contains some clarifications for those of us whose reading comprehension skills might leave something to be desired (or, perhaps, in the event that my fingers didn't fully keep up with my brain in this post).



1) Interesting take on fighting. We coincidentally did a similar post early this morning discussing the latest incident(s):
2) The NHL would be making a HUGE mistake to reduce, or even ban fighting. Much like a hard clean hit, like Scott Stevens on Lindros, sometimes players get hurt in the course of the game. Its unfortunate, but happens. We liken the Fedoruk/Orr incident in that light.
3) Yes, the mainstream press/anti-hockey forces in the U.S. will link this incident to the other's you alluded to when all of them are unrelated.
4) True hockey fans know the deal, and Bettman and the owners/GM's had better not further sissify the sport we all know and love to placate a bunch of folks who wouldn't like hockey even if there were ZERO fights!

Anonymous said...

It's funny how people always mix cheap-shots and fights. Fedoruk-Orr was a straight up fight, Tootoo defended himself from being decapitated and Simon was just stupid. They have nothing in common and I hate when media and other just draw a straight line between events like this...
The later two would have happened even if fights were banned and we probably would see quite an increase in events like that if they are taken out of the game.

3 Grumpy Caps fans said...

Just to add a little something, boxing gloves are padded to protect the hands, not the face of the opponent. Trust me, a shot from a pro glove transmits almost the same amount of force to the jaw as a gloveless shot. The only difference is in the shock distribution, which is laid across the plane of the contact surface (the face of the glove and subsequent padding) instead of at the knuckles point of impact. Less broken hands, yes. Less broken jaws, no.

Anonymous said...

Then why isn't there fighting in the NFL? I don't get it. Same concept: Team mentality ("protect the skill players" factor). Dramatic size differences (350 pounders vs. 200 pounders). How do they police themselves differently than NHL players could?

CD said...

This week's Hockey News does a story on this, too. The one factor i think you're missing is the fact that fighting is becoming a huge industry on its own. Not boxing, but all that Ultimate Fighter stuff. They've got a huge hold on the coveted 18-34 market which is certainly a market the NHL needs. While i'm not a huge proponent of fisticuffs myself, if it's a marketable angle that can increase fan interest, i say go for it.

Anonymous said...

Where, pray tell, did you get that awesome picture???

JP said...

Topper - here.

Dave said...

fauxrumors associates this with "mainstream press/anti-hockey forces" whereas I link them to a cabal of Jews.

Either way, the sentiment is the same, we agree. (and by "we" I mean "fauxrumors and me," not some mysterious collective.)

Anonymous said...

Here in Canada we have university hockey which does not allow fighting or at least there is a heavy penalty for it. Three fights and you're done for the year, which is short enough.
Becuase of this enforcement there was an increase on the stickwork i.e. slashing, spearing, etc.
In recent years the CIS has cracked down on the stick infractions and reduced the number of those.

Ever since the Habs brought in John Ferguson to protect Jean Beliveau, there has been a need for a "policeman" on the ice. Can you imagine Gretzky not having McSorely or Semenko to keep an eye on things?
Hell even Pittsburgh traded for Laraque to look after Sidney.
I agree that the league shoudl crack down on stick violence like the Simon hit.
Oh and football as had fights too. Not too often, but they do. Also football plays once a week. The hockey players are seeing action 3-4 times a week and just as physical if not more than the football. You get pushed around 3-4 days a week and you're bound to snap at some point especially if you play back-to-back games.
Keep the fighters in.


1) Give an NFL player a weapon(stick) and lets see how well they stay away from fighting! LOL
2) dave@etd Didn't understand your post. Were ya trying to be funny?
3) Yes, fighting sells! Even Bettman understands that. Case in point, the minor leagues who usually try to mimic NHL rule standards, are seriously looking into eliminating the NHL-type of instigator rule. They see in their bottom line that fewer fights=fewer fans=fewer $$$.

CD said...

i wonder how many times Ceder (dave) hears that question on any given day...

Abhinav said...

JP, take a look at Vog's column today. Great little piece comparing Flash and Jason Pominville. Didn't see it on "What JP's reading".

Anonymous said...

After reading your article I relized you prolly are not a hockey fan and are just trying to sell a story.How dare u call Fedoruk a plumber and say he wouldn't have a job if he didn't fight. he has 14 pts from playing on the 4th line on a last place team.He probally ranks right in the middle in stats in the league. Jaromir Jagr argualbly the best player in the the world is pro-fighting and says its important for the game. I would not call last nights fight brutal, u wanna see brutal, go look up Thornton vs. Fischer.LONG LIVE JORDIN TOOTOO!!!

JP said...

Rage - I did see that and it was marked as something I was reading back on Monday.

Hey, email me (email at the bottom of the main page) sometime so I have your email addy. Thanks.

Jibblescribbits said...

I posted my thoughts on my own hockey blog, Jibblescribits, and I actually think I'm in the middle on this issue.

I think the bigger issue is the cheap, or purposely borderline hits that keep occuring. Players are being wreckless with their hits because not only does the instigator rule keep the enforcer from coming after them, but the NHL is so wishy washy about punishment of it's own that a player has little to lose.

As I said on my blog, I think there's a solution to make both camps happy.

Anonymous said...

in all honesty you are obviously not a true hockey fan for if you would be you would see that fighting has it's place in the game. Taking that aspect away is like wishing you were watching figure skating... which already exists.

The sport i truly love would be an absolute mess should the NHL take your approach. Suspending a player for fighting? Stupidest comment i've ever had the misfortune of reading.

If you truly dislike fighting in hockey, may i suggest you just buy an NHL game and turn fighting off... that way you would be pleased and leave the true hockey fans without the likes of you (which we would welcome more then anything)

Anonymous said...

brilliant comment, given that he plainly says "I'm not going to go into a detailed explanation here of why the NHL needs fighting... I believe that there is a time and a place for pugilism in the NHL games."

Jibblescribbits said...

Can we please stop the "You're not a true fan of hockey if you don't like fighting" crap. That's just about the worst argument I have ever heard in my life.

As JP points to in his post there are clearly pros and cons to fighting in hockey taking either side doesn't make you less of a fan. I think a bigger turn-off, for me anyways is this fan elitism that some people, especially fighting advocates (and Red Wings fans), seem to be infected with.

JP needs an enforcer for anonymous since he was to cowardly to post his name when he ignorantly called JP out.

Anonymous said...

The Fedoruk incident proves the theory that the N.E Patriots head and neck specialist has hung his hat on. This was Fedoruks second facial injury of the year. Just like Ben Roethlisberger he has had trauma to his jaw joint. The first may have dislodged the meniscus in his jaw joint, leaving him in a bone on bone condition. This will cause a pinching of the nerves, the sensation of seeing stars, dizziness, headache and concussion are all symptoms. The blow to the jaw may have unhinged his other joint, there are two jaw joints. Like Roethlisberger, the more damage, the more susceptible you become. The neuro docs say that your brain is becoming softer and softer, yet not one has ever had any statistics to prove they know how to prevent a concussion. It is one of the biggest injustices in the world today.