An open letter to ice hockey brawlers

NotPartoftheGame Roar Rookie

By NotPartoftheGame, NotPartoftheGame is a Roar Rookie


10 Have your say

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    Polling shows that 98 percent of participating NHL players answered no when asked, “Should fighting be completely banished?” As a fan of hockey, I am disappointed by the results.

    The poll was carried out by the NHL Players Association and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s show Hockey Night in Canada.

    I have to respect the players’ opinion as they are key stakeholders in the game. However I don’t believe that the question reflects accurately the opinion of NHL players, and something of this importance requires more discussion and study.

    I can understand that players do not want fighting to be “completely banished”. But this overly simple question does not provide us with a complete view of what the NHLPA membership really thinks.

    I would not expect that 98 percent of players enjoy having to drop the gloves whenever they deliver a hard but clean hit.

    I’m also positive the survey results would be different if players were asked if they supported staged fights, or asked if they thought the image of hockey was improved when enforcers drop the gloves two seconds after the face-off.

    I suggest that the NHLPA designs a better questionnaire that gives us an unequivocal answer on players’ views, after providing them with complete information on the positive or negative impact of fighting on the game.

    Start by collecting real statistical data on the impact of fighting.

    On my blog I have posted some basic research (Additional Statistics on the Impact of Fighting) that shows non-fighting penalties are decreased when fighting is reduced. This is the reverse of the perception that cheap shots and stick-work will increase if fighting is eliminated.

    I am not a trained statistician, but people more intelligent than me should be studying this issue so that smart decisions can be made about the future of this great game.

    I would further suggest that the NHLPA contact Hockey Canada and get access to their study of fighting in junior hockey, where a control group in Ontario had stiffer penalties.

    Hopefully this research will highlight differences between leagues where enforcement was in place versus those that allowed fighting.

    Every NHL player also needs to consider the role of the enforcer on their team mate.

    It is well documented that players who skate for a few shifts a game, but are expected to fight when called upon, will talk about the lack of sleep and being nauseous when thinking about an upcoming game.

    These players suffer cuts, bruises and potential long-term effects from repeated blows to the head. They pay for a professional hockey career with a physical and emotional toll that none of us can truly understand.

    How many NHL players, the majority of whom fight rarely in their career, would want their sons to play hockey and take on that role?

    The NHLPA has a shared responsibility with the NHL to expand the fan-base in order to bring stability to the game. Would they rather have fans that love hockey for the game, or fans who watch because of the expected bouts between enforcers?

    I think that it is unreasonable to assume that the NHL and NHLPA supports fighting simply to sell tickets. But tolerating an activity that is against the rules also turns off potential fans who perceive the sport to be all about fighting. Such fans won’t take the sport seriously.

    Implementing new rules to reducing fighting gradually will increase the likelihood that real fans will stay with the game. Furthermore, the reduction of violence will bring in a new audience.

    Think back to the 2005-2006 season, immediately after the lock-out. Fighting was down dramatically and new rules made the game faster and more entertaining, by cutting down on obstruction and holding.

    The overwhelming response from the fans and the media was positive; the game was exciting again.

    Financial considerations must be understood and discussed by all NHLPA members. Hockey is a fast-paced game where injuries are increasingly commonplace because of the size of the players and the speed of the game.

    The league has to look for solutions to reduce injuries overall, and specifically concussions as it has an impact on revenues and costs. Fans pay to see the top teams and their stars, and injuries can affect ticket sales when a popular player is out of the line-up.

    Insurance could increasingly become a bigger factor as premiums will rise for policies that pay salaries for injured players.

    Insurers will insist that the league push through safety reforms in order to decrease the risk they are taking on. Those reforms may include mandatory visors, helmets that improve protection against concussions, or increased penalties for dangerous hits.

    Fighting is not allowed under NHL rules, but is tolerated by the league. Increasing penalties and game misconducts for this activity could reduce injuries and violence in the game.

    Insurers might demand eliminating fighting as an easy step in the overall effort to mitigate their risk in protecting salaries for injured players.

    Every NHL player should also have the opportunity to review presentations from medical experts on the subject of head trauma that can result from fighting, either as a single incident or from a long-term career.

    Players should study this information, either through online resources made available to them or in live briefings that allow questions.

    The phrase “very few players are injured by fighting” is casually thrown out by fans, media personnel and team officials. NHL players should understand the risks and use that knowledge to decide if one of their members is being unduly exposed to a hazardous and non-essential activity.

    It’s important that the NHL players deal with facts and not perception.

    All members of the NHLPA should have access to the information noted above and have the opportunity for discussion before forming an opinion. Then the association can survey their members in order to craft a reasoned statement that reflects the majority.

    The NHLPA needs to take a leadership position on this issue, instead of allowing the media to casually poll players and release the information for ratings. The numbers in the recent survey are being stretched to fit a wide range of arguments, some of which I expect the NHLPA would clearly not support.

    I am not sure that fighting will surface as a discussion point in the upcoming collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NHL. If it becomes one of the issues in the CBA, the NHLPA can demonstrate leadership by proposing rule changes that can reduce fighting while still allowing players to stand up for themselves.

    A game misconduct for any fight would dramatically hasten the end of the one-dimensional enforcer. If players feel the need to respond to a cheap shot then they still have the opportunity but will choose carefully because of the new penalty.

    The instigator rule should remain, as the initial reason for this penalty was to protect skilled players from being forced into a fight by an enforcer or marginal player.

    Insist that the referees use it as intended and it will serve that purpose.

    I can only ask that the NHLPA considers this letter as it was intended, to improve the quality of hockey and grow the game by attracting fans who love the fast paced action, hard-hitting, and highly skilled play.

    I hope that this information is shared with your membership and that some of the initiatives suggested are undertaken to improve the image of the NHL and of the players themselves.

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    The Crowd Says (10)

    • March 31st 2012 @ 9:37am
      Westie said | March 31st 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      We need to bring fighting back into AFL.

    • April 2nd 2012 @ 9:14am
      Lucan said | April 2nd 2012 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      One common observation overheard of casual punters attending the World Championships (played under the IIHF rules) hosted in Melbourne last April was “Where’s the fighting?”. Fighting is pretty much gone from IIHF events, and leagues running under IIHF rules. Despite this being a factor that the non-hockey fan desperately wants to see.

      As a spectator I enjoy the fighting in the NHL, the gamesmanship, the respect, the abilities of the participants. I do understand that something needs to be done to arrest the increasing number of head injuries in the game, but the truth is not many of these are a result of the fighting. The NHL, and IIHF, need to urgently look at the equipment. The hard shelled shoulder and elbow pads are what are doing the most damage to players today.
      The game’s most gifted player and reighing poster boy, Sidney Crosby, has been in and out of the line-up for 2 full years with post-concussion complications that have nothing to do with fighting.

    • April 2nd 2012 @ 9:41am
      Ian Whitchurch said | April 2nd 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      This article is well worth reading

      Here is part of it

      “The doctors had to drill a hole in the side of my head [during surgery]. I could’ve lost my left eye, or my eye could’ve sunk into my orbital bone and I would’ve lost my vision. The nerves in the left side of my face might never have rematerialized. Fortunately they have, or I’d look like I had a stroke. I thought, ‘Deserves it, deserves it? Who deserves that?’ ”

      Knowing hockey wasn’t going to change, Dalgarno decided that he would. He says he holds no grudges toward the game and doesn’t blame Kocur for triggering his dissatisfaction. Dalgarno says other players feel “trapped by the game,” just as he did.

      “Ninety-nine percent of the guys in the NHL have been playing since they were five and have no idea what else they would do, or could do,” he says. “It’s tough for intelligent men to try to put things in hockey into perspective, because you’re never told the answers. Hockey doesn’t have them.”

      And so, for Brad Dalgarno, it all came down to this: On the eve of the 1989-90 regular season, with people whispering that his game wasn’t the same, Dalgarno, age twenty-two, a former number one draft pick, a potential twenty-five-goals-a-year scorer — officially retired.

      • April 2nd 2012 @ 11:08am
        Lucan said | April 2nd 2012 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Read that one a while back. Is a tragic story.

    • April 2nd 2012 @ 10:00am
      Ian Whitchurch said | April 2nd 2012 @ 10:00am | ! Report

      Another great Grantland article about hockey and goons

      Look at Sidney Crosby. He got body-checked and he’s out of hockey. Sidney Crosby should not be out of the game because someone took a run at him. If there’s a guy on Crosby’s team who’s there to kick your ass if you take liberties against him, you might have second thoughts before running him into the boards. There’s a reason Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov had such long, brilliant careers — because Bob Probert and Joey Kocur had their backs. You take a shot at Yzerman, you’re going to get the living daylights beaten out of you. Might not be the same night, but Probie’s going to get you in the next game. You need that guy on the ice.

      • April 2nd 2012 @ 11:03am
        Lucan said | April 2nd 2012 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        Non-hockey people either don’t get this, or refuse to accept it. It isn’t pretty, but is better than seeing the best player of this generation sitting on the sidelines for 2 years.

        It is important to remember that when Wayne Gretzky made his famous move from Edmonton to Hollywood, the Kings had to also move for Marty McSorely. The Great One never had to drop the gloves, or worry about snipers and headhunters, because the respect for the enforcer was there. A storied career, made possible by this.

        • April 2nd 2012 @ 11:21am
          Ian Whitchurch said | April 2nd 2012 @ 11:21am | ! Report


          Australian Rules used to have goons, back in the old days – Murray Weidemann for Collingwood, for example. I’d also argue pretty strongly that Tony Lockett was, very deliberately, his own enforcer – defenders knew if they, Doug Smith’s words “take liberties against him” he would break their jaw.

          That said, goons have been systematically removed from the game by AFL House, to the stage where players actually punching on is inconceivable – there was no retaliation against Scarlett, for example – Fremantle were happy to let the game officials deal with it, rather than following the old code and making sure someone punched on with Scarlett afterwards, for flattening a smaller man.

          • April 2nd 2012 @ 12:49pm
            Lucan said | April 2nd 2012 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

            Agree, Ian. The AFL has been sterilized in this way.

            If this was amateur Aussie Rules the umpire would’ve sent Scarlett off leaving Geelong to play one man short, so there’d be value in the Fremantle players not retaliating. Fremantle get no advantage beyond the single free kick for one of their players getting decked.

    • April 2nd 2012 @ 11:08am
      Johnno said | April 2nd 2012 @ 11:08am | ! Report

      I think fighting should be banned at a junior level, and a amateur adult level, but int he NHL, where it is pro and money is at stake and the players have the choice to play pro for big money then fighting is okay. No one is forcing them too be there. But at junior level fighting should 100% be banned.

      • April 2nd 2012 @ 12:38pm
        Lucan said | April 2nd 2012 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

        It pretty much is already. Most leagues beyond the NHL play to IIHF rules which are quite strict on fighting. You get a game misconduct, just as you would if you got into a fight playing basketball or similar.
        Semi-pro and amateur players should certainly steer clear of fighting. The risk isn’t worth it when you need to front up to your day job the following day.

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