Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shanahan vs. Cherry

Brendan Shanahan has caused quite a stir by suggesting that the NHL is seriously looking at whether fighting has a place in hockey.  I'm certain that Don Cherry will have something to say about this on Coaches Corner when the season starts.  But, are we really suggesting that hockey is BETTER with sanctioned fights between goons?

There are three compelling reasons that fighting should be eliminated:

1)  When you think of the BEST games, what comes to mind?  Stanley Cup intensity, Olympic Gold medal games, World Junior Championships.  Is there fighting?  Nope...or at least very rarely.

2)  Is it a tactic that works?  Most likely not.  Drew Remenda on his radio sports show took a look at the teams with the players that had the most PIM last year and with one exception none of the teams even made the playoffs.  So, does fighting equate to Stanley Cups--really, not since the era of the Broad Street Bullies.

3)  This past summer three well-known hockey tough guys (enforcers, pugilists, role-players) all took their lives.  Each, it was subsequently learned, suffered from depression.  Is there a correlation between fighting and mental health?  If that possibility even remotely exists, until evidence suggesting otherwise is produced, the NHL MUST eliminate fighting.  To not do so would be like Toyota not recalling vehicles it suspected of having accelerator sticking issues.  How many people are required to die before taking action?

For those that say fighting is a part of hockey; every sport evolves.  Boxing used to be bare-knuckled and 15 rounds.  Now they have gloves and only go 12 at a maximum.  And, how often do boxers fight?  Once every few MONTHS.  In an era where we have 82 games, pugilists face the possibility of fighting 2-3 times a WEEK--bare-knuckled fighting at that.  And, it's not just the fights.  The pace is quicker.  The equipment is lighter and more lethal.  The players are bigger and stronger than they were in the 1950's and 1960's.  Is the culmination and frequency of hits and fights too much for the brain?

Do you see fights in the NBA, MLB or NFL?  Yes, occasionally when things get entirely too heated you do.  The same would be true in hockey if you eliminated fighting.  From time to time, a spontaneous Iginla/Lecavalier fight would break out.  Suspensions would ensue.  That is how it should be.  But, to sanction bare-knuckled fist-fights that could potentially add to the risk of a mental health tragedy when we KNOW better--that's an egregious error that is akin to using asbestos or lead.  When we have facts at hand that suggest there are health issues, we are compelled to take action.  To not do so is criminal.

To those that say that fighting cuts down on the amount of stickwork in the game.  Baloney.  As the league is demonstrating with it's video reviews of illegal plays and subsequent suspensions, this is not an either/or issue.  Both need to be eliminated.  And, both can be eliminated.  If we eliminate illegal stickwork and goonery from the game of hockey, what would we be left with?  Fast, hard-hitting, skilled hockey.  Hey, we might just have playoff calibre hockey year round.

And, maybe we won't be faced with another summer of monthly reports of hockey players funerals.

This post is now up for discussion.


  1. The only thing I can't agree with is the connection between the three deaths and them being enforcers. What if next summer three goal scorers take their lives? Are we going to go Timbits style of not keeping score to take the pressure off goal scorers?

  2. There may not be a connection. But, what if there is a connection between brain trauma and depression? When you listen to the arguments that the stress of being an enforcer knowing that specific nights you would have to fight another enforcer combined with the knowledge we have about concussions...what if the repeated brain trauma is the final trigger that makes that pressure unbearable? And for what? Does it really add to the game?

    But, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

    Thanks for your input.

  3. Perhaps we should prevent adults from making decisions for themselves altogether? Maybe I should be "protected" from myself because I may decide to smoke? Maybe my husband should be protected from himself because he occasionally chooses to ride a cycle with no helmet? Think of all the adults out there making poor decisions for themselves on a daily basis! Oh the horror!!
    I think that the problem most likely has nothing whatsoever to do with fighting, rather, is likely due to being paid millions of dollars to play a game for a living and the result of life in the fast lane. Drugs, alcohol, fast cars - should we protect athletes from the downfalls of being rich as well? Perhaps actors and rock stars - they are dropping like flies! Maybe instead of paying talented athletes or talented anyone - maybe we should keep them in government regulated housing where they can be "protected from themselves" at all times. We won't allow them to make bad decisions for themselves. That being said maybe we should just do that for everyone. You decide what I should and should not decide for myself and make sure that I am "kept safe" from myself and my poor decision making! That doesn't sound like much fun to me.
    Nobody is forced to play hockey. Not all of the players decide to fight. Those who do clearly enjoy it and it is exciting for the fans. But they are grown men and can decide for themselves just as they decide what to do with the millions of dollars a year they are paid. I dont think the world is a better place for all of the rules, regulations, and the protecting people from themselves. Nor do I believe for a second that because someone decides to have a fight in hockey he is going to commit suicide because of depression.

  4. So, you clearly take issue with point number 3 of the 3 point argument. You think hockey is a better game because of fighting? Really? You think teams are better if they have a pugilist on their team? Really?

    The NHL wouldn't necessarily have to ban hockey...just decrease roster size and make it such a hinderance to have a goon take up a roster spot that they wouldn't do it. Do you really need 3 players sitting on the bench getting 3 minutes a game?

    As an aside, would you also go back to 15 rounds in boxing? Would you allow knee-shots to the head in MMA? Eye-gouging? Perhaps we should bring back gladiators?

    Let's not confuse governmental regulations with rules in sport.

    Thans for joining the discussion!

  5. Last night on Coaches Corner Don Cherry lamented that we would no longer see big hits like Scott Stevens used to dish out. I kept thinking...maybe so, but Paul Kariya would still be playing. So would Eric Lindros. So would Marc Savard. So would Sidney Crosby. The game has evolved. And so have we. Who can really relish a hit like that knowing that the persons life could be in jeopardy?