Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Post that Hlog doesn't want to see

A bit of background on yours truly:

I've been an Edmonton Oilers fan since the early 90s. My parents were never big fans so the ability to choose a team fell on my shoulders. I've been actively following the Oilers for about 13 years - Age 12 to present. Like many of the women on this site, my fan-ness verges on obsessive. I work at an Oilers bar (in Vancouver!), I help run an Oilers blog, I have several pieces of memorabilia and an strange overwhelming interest in Marty Reasoner. But my interest doesn't stop at the Oilers. I'm a stats junkie, having written many pieces (that I should publish) about the economics of the nhl (especially relocation) and a thesis paper about women in sports broadcasting. (My first degree was in Economics and now I'm working on a diploma in broadcast journalism.) During the lockout, I went to Austria to see the World Hockey Championships. And my interest doesn't stop at hockey. I love sports, the competitiveness, and the athletic skill. I have played many sports at a high level and none of them were hockey.

So, why the lengthy intro?

Because I want you to understand the background behind someone who doesn't believe in fighting in hockey.

During the locked out period, many ideas flew around about how to improve the game. I think the best one I heard was to decrease bench size rosters by one player. Granted, the NHLPA was never going to agree to that - it would put 30 guys out of a job. Teams would have to allocate their fourth line players differently. With one less person, coaches would arguably want two players that could fill different roles on the team. Maybe a PK and a PP specialist? The "fighter" type would have less mobility in the lineup and would therefore be eliminated.

My biggest problem is the "fighter". If you're just going to send someone out there to drop the gloves when the puck is dropped, you might as well fit Mike Tyson with skates. And you know he'd be a draw to the arena in the US. What's the point of averaging as much ice time as penalty time?

I look at the international, junior and college play. Is anything lost in those games because you don't see the squaring off of two mediocre hockey players?

When I make this argument, usually the counterpoint is that a good fight can change the momentum in the game. I'd argue that a big hit (within the confines of the rules) can do the same thing. I don't condone injuring players on hits, but the effect of Raffi Torres in the playoffs was seen without him ever dropping his gloves. It's similar to a huge hit in football. It's within the parameters of the game and there's no stoppage for it to happen.

I think fluidity is what makes the game what it is. No other game has people travelling with that speed and skill. Ideally, stoppages would be limited to goals (obviously not possible). But the best games just fly by.

With recent rule changes, many teams are going without a fighter in the lineup. If a fight is needed, you see regular player take that role. But if Shanahan breaks his wrist or if (god forbid) Ethan Moreau throws out his shoulder when trying to punch someone, doesn't it seem erroneous? The clock wasn't even running when it happened.

No other sport gets to stop to fight. I think it's just an ancient tradition that has been held onto for too long. A lot has changed since pond hockey.

If purists believe that fighting is here to stay, then my suggestion is to let players fight. If they are that mad, fine. But you're out for the rest of the game and if it happens in the third period, you're also out for the next game. And your team isn't able to bring in an extra body to replace you.


Heather B. said...

I understand the logic behind eliminating fighting in hockey, but I have to admit, as a fan I get a little bit of a charge out of it. Maybe it's because I've never watched hockey at any level other than the NHL but I have a hard time imagining the game without ANY fighting. I do definitely agree with you on two things though. A big (legal) hit can change momentum as much as a fight, if not more. It makes me nervous when "non-fighters" fight. Afinogenov was in a fight a few games ago and part of me was happy to see him fired up, but part of me was muttering, "Please don't break your hand, please don't break your hand."

Objectionable Conduct said...

I know plenty of hockey players, both fighters, scorers and heck, even the odd goalie. None of them want fighting out of the game. In fact, every kid who played in the CHL has dropped the gloves at some time or another.

Players know the risks they take when they fight, but its all about PASSION. Love of the game. The willingness to sacrifice your body for your team.

I disagree with eliminating fighting. Fighting is part of the game - it always has been, and while a clean hit can change the momentum as much as a fight can, the players don't always get the opportunity to lay out that hit.

They can always talk someone into dropping the gloves.

After the 2005 World Juniors, Ryan Getzlaf and Colin Fraser - teammates in Grand Forks, but guys who played for the Hitmen and Rebels respectively, dropped the gloves off the openning face off. They wanted to show the fans that the World Juniors were over and they weren't teammates anymore. They PLANNED the fight back in Grand Forks.

Dion Phaneuf and Andrew Ladd decided it was a good idea - they dropped the gloves off the next face off to show the same thing.

Fighting in hockey is there for a reason, and hockey without fighting... we already have that. It's women's hockey - and we all know how popular that is.

E said...

wow, an intelligent post on a topic that fascinates me. must. exercise. self. control. so only 2 points now:

1. i'm in favor of players being allowed to fight, but right now i'd guess that maybe 1/3 or less of fights that happen are the result of genuine passion/anger. a lot of them are marginal players who are trying to keep their jobs, get some attention, and rile the crowd. real fights, as heather said, are a both scary and exciting, because of the prospect that somebody important to the team could get injured (my greatest fear is for souray's wrists), but also because you know that players who have a real role on the team don't drop their gloves without a damn good reason. basically, i think the fighter/goon/enforcer role just makes hockey more boring- the fights are dull because the outcome doesn't matter (i have yet to see the momentum of a game affected by two designated fighters mixing it up), and they just slow everything down.

2. OC, i understand what you're saying, but it troubles me when fans argue that hockey without fighting would be passionless. hockey is and will be a passionate game no matter what. there are plenty of guys who (for whatever reason) don't fight, and who display much more intensity and love for the game than habitual fighters. moreover, the players who are really willing to sacrifice their bodies are those who are willing to block the hardest slapshots, give or take a 'big hit' to make a play- things that entail a lot more physical risk than fighting and don't garner much personal glory. also, neither of the examples you give seem to have much of anything to do with commitment to the team or love of the sport- they're cases of guys trying to communicate something to the fans, decided in advance, and would have happened regardless of anything in the actual game. i'm not saying that makes it wrong, i'm just saying it doesn't really support the arguement that fighting is all about passion.

[*forcibly stops herself from typing more and thus ruining the comments section*]

Objectionable Conduct said...

e - I talk to the players. I know how they feel about fighting in the game - shouldn't a decision be left up to those who PLAY and not just those who watch?

Also, I NEVER said that hockey wouldn't have passion without fighting. But the fights, they are about an intense passion for the game and the players teams. That isn't taking away from the passion with which Sidney Crosby makes a pass, or Alexander Ovechkin scores a goal - that's still passion, and its huge.

I have plenty of other examples of guys fighting - I just chose those two because of the world juniors. And, actually it was about passion for their team, and putting aside previous commeraderie, but that's besides the point.

Iggy and LeCavelier fighting in the playoffs in '03, for example was all about passion for their team and the game, and their desire to play at the highest possible level.

I love hockey, and I am a purist. I hate shoot outs, and I love fighting. You want to see passion and desire? Watch an SJHL game - I've seen games FORFEITED and SUSPENDED because of the fights - and those boys play knock out, drag down hockey because they know that once they're 20, their careers are pretty much done.

I won't say more right now, but I'm a purist, and fighting belongs in the sport.

Jordi said...

I think the biggest worry for me is that players have forgotten that they freaking can't fight. Your all-star shouldn't be fighting. Even if he is the one getting cheap shotted. And so what if he's getting cheap shotted? The NHL has been breeding that kind of environment for a long while. Players can't argue with the refs as much and players who get letoff the hook easy have no flipping idea of how hard they can hit - resulting in nasty injuries. I mean you see a tough guy get so many penalties on the sheet. He's not the only guy who might have done a bad hit - hell it might've been clean. But it's easy for him to take the penalty - he doesn't take away skill from the game. Whereas some (you know who) are pampered and given a cushion of backup plans.

And I hate the idea of fighting in the heat of the moment. I know that's a stance many people take - "I hate the showiness I like the real grit". But the situation people are imagining is that "oh this guy stands up for his teammates". It's nothing like that. One cheapshots one. The other cheapshots another on the team. And a fight might happens against a random middleweight kid and another. The fight can actually stop being fun when the guy on top wont stop punching. Fans are going crazy because each side has their version "If (player) hadn't hit ours then this wouldn'tve started)".

The thing is I'm biased because one of my favourites is a tough guy. But that's merely character purposes. And the hostility from the role of an enforcer is mainly because people see him only as a circus dog. Sure some fights are staged - but what's wrong with it? They're the guys who know how to swing with hits - they know where to punch. I mean think of a game, it's absolutely amazng, you're on the edge of the seat. And two enforcers decide to duke it out. People might think it kills the flow - but enforcers don't fight at the end of the game or the worst possible moments. They're pretty much harmless. To me it sort of feels that this is how tempers shouldn't be flared. I mean I can yell obscenities at the other team, but when you know your players are doing something out of character - it goes horribly wrong.

Objectionable Conduct said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Objectionable Conduct said...

Jordi - The thing is, its not out of character for a lot of these guys to fight - maybe it is in the NHL, but they dropped the gloves all the time in junior.

Pears and Getzzy are prime examples of this. Even Sidney Crosby dropped the gloves more than once in Rimouski.

At the grassroots level, in Canada, fighting is part of the game - and it doesn't matter who you are, you will fight at some point.

Jordi said...

That's the juniors kids. The Europeans and possibly kids who didn't come from humble beginnings didn't get the same education. Remember when Perezhogin tried out his baseball swing? Ouch.

Objectionable Conduct said...

Jordi - Well yeah, that's why Europeans shouldn't fight or whatever, if they think they might get hurt, but the Canadian boys like Iggy? (Or Americans who play in the CHL like Robbie Schremp) Let 'em go.

Anonymous said...

I would hate to see fighting leave the NHL.

In the last year's Playoffs when the Ducks took on the Flames, Beauchemin and Iggy fought and it turned the whole series around for the Ducks. I understand that a good hit could do that too, but sometimes you just need to drop the gloves.

Miss. Scarlett said...

I haven't taken the time to read all of the comments but I will say this:

I am one of those people who get excited when the gloves are dropped but there's always the concern that players will get hurt and nobody wants to see that. Fighting is not a good thing to teach kids at a young age either, but the truth is when you put a bunch of competitive guys in a high-spirited game, tempers will flare. To absolutely eject fighting out of the game would be pointless. It's encouraging to see that the number of fights have been decreasing because on the one hand it greatly disrupts the game. However, nothing gets people energized more than to see a fight. It's encouraging to see that your team can't be pushed around when somebody is being a little bit too liberal with their hits.

The thing is, fighting is totally different now. Alot of them are orchestrated and pre-planned since enforcers know that their roles are being limited now but since they get the fans excited, coaches can't exactly tell them not to do it.

Everybody talks about there being a lack of passion in the game now but I don't think fighting is a fair measuring stick for it. Passion for the game should be demonstrated by how hard they play very night and how committed they are each night. People do it in different ways and I guess some through fighting.

Loxy said...

Fighting does not equal passion. Kids at 12 years old who are leaving every shred of themselves out on the ice at the end of a hard game - that's passion. They aren't being paid, they just love to play so much. Growing up, children don't recreate a good fight between Brashear and Laraque. They recreate the final 5 seconds of overtime in the stanley cup finals.

THAT is passion.

And as for "getting someone back" for attacking your star player?

Frankly, star players shouldn't have to defend themselves. The rules of the game should prevent vigilante violence. Again, I point to all sorts of different sports that don't have a "you hit my star = I'll fight you" clause.

I'm glad that fighting is down in the NHL. Tradition or not, it makes this league a side show.

And I know that if it never existed, we wouldn't have ever brought it in. That's the real sign of a good rule.