if we can get through a preseason game without a fight, and nary a soul expresses any dismay at the lack thereof, can’t the NHL do without fighting for good? Absolutely it can.
I have been on the fence when it comes to fighting in the NHL, finding it more difficult to justify with each passing season but unwilling to break with tradition entirely.
Go ahead. Call me a sissy. Scoff that I don’t understand hockey. Tell me that I should leave The Great Canadian Game alone.
But I’m not. And I do. And I love that game, but I’d just as soon do without the pointless pugilism, thank you very much.
Hockey rationale? The Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006 without a designated enforcer after Jesse Boulerice was traded to St. Louis. they even had an official “no fighting” policy and seemed to survive.
Just as the NHL has (finally) started to take predatory hits to the head out of the game, there’s no reason to stop halfway. The Neanderthals who exert far too much influence on hockey stonewalled that long-overdue move, using all the same excuses they trot out to defend fighting.
And here’s the thing: I was once one of them.
I grew up with fighting – grew up on it, really. I became a hockey fan, in part, by watching Stu Grimson and Mike Peluso slug it out with Bob Probert and Joe Kocur and Basil McRae back in the days of the big, bad Norris Division.
Fighting meant something back then. In a rougher, tougher game, when even the skilled players fought and fewer teams saw each other more often, players really could police themselves. Today, the staged bouts between designated heavyweights don’t come organically from the drama of the game; they bring proceedings to a halt with all the excitement of a traffic stop.
The game has changed so much in those 20, 25 years. So many factors – improved fitness levels, the influx of Europeans, better equipment – have combined for so many quantum leaps. It’s a faster, quicker, more skilled, more exciting game – a better game.
Hockey fans wax nostalgic over the Broad Street Bullies and the culture of violence they helped create, but fighting helped make up for some really bad hockey, just as it does in the minor leagues. The lower down the ladder you go, the more a fight or two gets the fans out of their seats when the individual skill on display won’t.
Even boxing and mixed martial arts won’t countenance bare-knuckle brawling. Fighting is a suspendable offense in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, rugby and just about every organized sport in the civilized world, except hockey.
More than any other sport, hockey hews to tradition, for better and worse. It will take decades for the NHL to ban fighting. It might even take someone getting killed. That’s usually what it takes to instigate real change in the NHL.
I hope the hockey world listens to reason before then. I loved fighting once, but from now on, I’ll be on the side of reason, not tradition.