With the recent death of another hockey player, those who love the game of hockey are thinking deep thoughts. We love the passion of the game. We root for the underdog who has scrapped and clawed his way into the game with pure toughness. We are appalled that this may end up in mutilation of the player. This is not what we want.
As Columbus Blue Jackets fans, we are all too familiar with the underdog role. As an organization, we struggle to try to rise above that, and often don't do well when other teams refuse to treat us as an underdog (something we have earned at times over the years, see Hitchcock, Ken). I love Jody Shelly. The thought that the niche he has carved out in hockey means he may end up like Derek Boogaard frightens me.
But I am not against fighting. So I think it is time to change some rules to increase protection of the players. The trick is to do it so that you preserve what is good in the game.
So what is it about fighting that is bad?
- Players may be permanently damaged, or worse, loose their life.
- There may be a huge, unseen psychological toll on the players.
- I guess I am willing to (barely) add that it sometime reflects negatively on the game we love.
What is it about fighting that is good?
- The passion. A fight that arises out of passionate play is a wonderful thing, and a true expression of competitiveness and team spirit.
- The fact that by having the raw courage to be a tough guy, that a marginal player can carve a niche in the game by playing hard, and fighting hard. It is a measure of the passion they feel for the game.
- It is a truly thrilling event, certain to engage the crowd.
- It allows the players to police the game. Pittsburgh deserved to be gooned by the Islanders. It is not a good idea to taunt people. They take it personally. The Islanders rose to the occasion. Good on them.(Authors Note: the players did not deserve to get hurt with cheap head shots. That's another issue. But if you taunt someone, you should not be surprised if they punch you in the mouth.)
So how should we change the rules?
Since changing the rules is the only thing the NHL can constructively do to respond, that is what should be done. The following are my suggestions for rule changes.
Get rid of the Instigator Rule
First things first, the NHL should rescind the instigator rule. The situation requires a different thought process. The instigator rule is meant to deal with people starting meaningless fights late in hopeless games. It should be retained only as such, and the rule should be narrowed to cover this situation only. It should be the 'stupid fights at the end of the game' rule.
Preserve the sanctity of the first responder
Hockey is a game of passion, played at lightening speed at the edge of human endurance. Things happen. People take cheap shots in the heat of the action. Your teammate should be able to respond, to help police the game. The first responder should get a minor roughing, and the referee should deal with the initial cheap shot in an appropriate fashion. The first responder should not be given a fighting major, unless he engages another player away from the action. Anyone else coming in from either side should get double minors. Its between the cheap shotter, and the cheap shotee's teammate. (Please note new additions to the English language).
This suggestion is about preserving the passion of the game, not to encourage fighting. Fights should be able to happen in the flow of the game. Its how people let off steam. Then they go sit in a box and feel shame. A good system. What we DON'T want is something like the No Fun League (NFL) with a sanctimonious Baptist preacher saying 'why can't we all just get along'? The NFL would be a much better game to watch if the guys could come out of the pile and take swing out of pure adrenalin. The NFL lacks a place for them to go and feel shame, so they can't allow that level of passion in the flow of the game. The NFL game is starting to turn very cold and calculating, and everyone is supposed to play like they are Belichick. (UPDATE: Suspending Pryor for the first 5 games is exactly the type of stuff I am talking about with Goddell. Either Pryor is a pro, or he's not. But the Czar of Goodness in the No Fun League has now decreed there is an in between! Why does what he did as an amateur have anything to do with it?)
Five Minutes for Fighting is now Ten Minutes for Fighting
If two guys agree in the circle to drop the gloves, they should get 10. This is about preserving their noggins. More time feeling shame, less time beating on each other.
I think these types of rule changes could be made constructively to retain the things that are good in the game, and minimize the things that are troublesome. What do you think?