Fighting Is Pointless. Literally.

Graphic Comments
August 16 2014 08:00AM

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Now that the Stats Wars are over, I expect the next bastion of hockey traditionalists to fall to be the role of fourth line energy guy designated fighter. Because, really, having a guy like Colton Orr taking up a roster spot is literally pointless.

If you missed it, Trevor Linden was on Team1040 a couple of weeks back and he openly questioned the role of fighting in hockey. Interestingly, Linden also singled out Coach's Corner as one of the leading influences in promoting the need for that role. Can't wait to see Cherry stomp on his "Trevor Linden for Rookie of the Year" button.

Anyway, Linden's bigger point is that this mentality that you need an enforcer to protect your stars or provide an energy boost, or shift momentum by doing some face punching, has been coached in. But if you look around the league, the successful teams have started taking that option away from their coaches.

Look at Chicago where Joel Quenneville stubbornly kept going back to Brandon Bollig in the Conference Final. So what did Stan Bowman do? Shipped Bollig off to Calgary for a draft pick.

MOAR TRUCULENCE!! 

Never change, Burkie. Never change.

Somebody should let the Sportsnet graphics department know that they're going to need to add more digits to the GRITCHART for Flames broadcasts this year.

And look at the supposedly rough and tumble Bruins, who let one of their key leaders leave town as a free agent. No, I'm not talking about Jarome Iginla. Come on, 30 goal scorers are easily replaceable in the NHL. You know what isn't as easy to replace? Shawn Thornton's personality in the dressing room.

Well, I did a little digging and it turns out Haggerty is right. Some things are easier to do than others, when it comes to the Boston Bruins. But he left out the hardest:

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But we'll let that slide. The important thin here, is that Joe Haggerty, who has never met an ex-Bruin he didn't slag, finally found it in his heart to heap praise on someone on his way out of town. And of course he chose to pen his ode to the man, the myth, the legend: Shawn Thornton, who once fought eleventy-three Canucks at one time, and would have beat up Tony Gallagher too, if it wasn't for those darn kids.

Anyway, I'm kind of getting off track here, but the best part of these is when a Bruins fanboy invariably pipes up to say that poor, poor Haggs can't win:

Unfortunately, when it comes to Haggerty, being an apologist and being too critical just means stepping through the black and yellow tinted looking glass:

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But enough of that. Let's get back to point of all this pointlessness of fighting. 

In Haggerty's paean to Thorton, he goes to great lengths to extol the virtues of having a tough guy patrolling the ice like a real-life Batman:

He played with a toughness and swagger that raised the confidence level of players around him, and made Boston’s skill players feel like they were protected from the league’s predators. 

The great part is that Haggerty doesn't miss a beat in completely contradicting this quaint notion of Thornton's role as a deterrent in the very next sentence:

It didn’t make the B’s bullet proof, obviously, as evidenced by the hard head shots that guys like Marc Savard, Nathan Horton, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron have taken over the years.

But the best part comes when he tries to back up this long-discredited justification for on-ice thugs by quoting Daniel Paille:

“With Shawn here, he had that intimidation factor where you knew you could get away with certain things because he was on the ice. This season it’s going to be different, and guys are going to have to fight because of it. I don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Go back and read that again. I'll wait.

Did you see what Paille is actually saying there? The effect that Thornton and guys like him actually have is not to deter the other team from taking liberties with your players. No, their main impact is to embolden the chippier, dirtier players on your team and act as an enabler for cheap shots the other way:

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Guys like Paille and Marchand know that if they go out and thrown an elbow here, poke a stick there, they won't have to answer the bell. No, good ol' Shawn will step in and fight your battles for you.

If you take Paille at his word, the best way to get cheap shots out of the game is to get rid of the enforcers. Or should we start calling them enablers?

So to bring this back to Trevor Linden's comments on the radio:

And I'm not sure that the intended use of fighting - which is to protect our stars - actually works. I think it's something that as we go down the path the NHL is going to have to look at.

You have to think that the NHL is starting to come around on this, and it won't be long before the designated goon is a thing of the past.*


* not applicable in Calgary or where prohibited by law


Switching gears, thought I would mention one development in the Pacific Division this week that is worth noting. The Winnipeg Jets Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Quebec Nordiques announced that they were changing the name of their arena. At first, I was little disappointed. I mean, given what the team and the NHL have been doing to the city of Glendale, I thought calling the it the Jobing arena was really fitting. But now that I see who the Coyotes' new naming partner is, I think it's still rather appropriate:

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I'm not a hippie or on welfare. I don't live in Kits, wear Birkenstocks or own an umbrella. I've never been to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but I'm sure it's very nice. I have a mayor, not a crack addict. I drink pale ale, not Blue. And I call it a cabin, not a cottage. I can proudly say my team's been to the Stanley Cup Final in the last 45 years. They may not have won, but at least they got there. I believe in sunshine, not haze; heat, not humidity. And that sushi is a healthy and tasty meal. A coho is a fish. A ski hill is a mountain. And the plural of leaf is leaves. Okay? Not leafs. Leaves! Vancouver is the country's third-largest city, certainly the most beautiful, and the best part of Canada! My name is petbugs and I am a Canucks fan! ... You can find me on Twitter @petbugs13 or send your hate mail to petbugs (at) gmail (dot) com but it better be funny or it's getting plonked.
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#1 bookofloob
August 16 2014, 08:34AM
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Haggerty's column was the funniest damn thing I've read all year. That Paille quote had me laughing once he said "I don't think it's a big deal"

there's another quote in there by Tuukka Rask: “He’s also a great guy off the ice, and in the community. Our team has grown and matured over the years, though, and I think there are people that can take his role"

so he's basically saying "Yeah, Thornton was great, but I guess we can all basically do what he did without trying"

the best part though was the implication that Iginla's 30 goals will be easily replaced because you can thrown ayone on the wing with David Krejci and he'll easily score 30 goals (Right, Lucic?), meanwhile Shawn Thornton is virtually irreplaceable.

Haggerty should stick to the 13 year old girls comments

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#3 PB
August 16 2014, 11:47AM
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I don't know which part of this post was the best, the Haggerty hate (I don't even think that guy is respected on NESN I think they're always kind of making snide comments about him), the shot at Burke (1/3 of the flames roster are face punchers), or the upcoming Linden hatred for this season's coach's corner (how much screen time will Cherry spend hating on Linden? That bike riding union loving commie…)

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#4 Paul Busch
August 16 2014, 12:44PM
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Another great column. I think the growing use of advanced stats is going to shine a bright light on the enforcers and drive them out of the game. It will also provide facts to coaches and owners that fighting has a negative impact on winning and do more to change the culture than concussions and lawsuits.

My own research has shown that fighting increases the amount of cheap shots in a game. And the opposite is true, when fighting is reduced the cheap shots disappear. An example can be found here - http://itsnotpartofthegame.blogspot.ca/2014/03/beating-dead-horse-fighting-increases.html#more

The best thing I have read lately comes from the 2014 Hockey Abstract - http://www.hockeyabstract.com/2014edition Iain Fyffe's chapter on the impact of enforcers should convince anyone that giving ice time to Colton Orr is truly pointless.

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#5 JFR
August 16 2014, 02:05PM
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Using the Blackhawks as an example is pointless because they have 4 legit stars and great role players. Winning isn't a big problem for them.

The bottom line with fighting is that the new instigator rules mean that "dirty" players don't have to face any discipline. If anyone counts missing a couple of games and missing a few bucks, then go watch soccer. The NHL has gotten dirtier like the European leagues are. Mason Raymond's back, Danny's head shot by Kieth.....what happened to those guys versus losing the cup and Danny playing one game vs the Kings.

If a Dave Semenko was patrolling the ice and was allowed to make a Marchand or Kieth pay for his actions, then it would happen less. Instead Alex Burrows will fight or Bieska.....

These are giant men playing a fast game carrying large sticks! Suspensions and fines don't work.

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#6 NM00
August 16 2014, 07:02PM
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Instead of having a bunch of goons and mascots, I think it would be more useful to treat the "4th line" and healthy scratches like an MLB bench.

Assemble a group of "defective" but versatile players with a couple of skills and pick and choose who plays based on the situation.

An extra centre, 7th defenseman, PP/PK/shootout specialist etc.

Somebody like Kyle Wellwood for example might have been able to prolong his NHL career this way not unlike a LOOGY reliever in baseball.

And eventually the dinosaurs would realize how little can be gained from deploying facepunchers...

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#7 PB
August 16 2014, 08:48PM
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@JFR

This is exactly the logic that keeps John Scott employed.

And is verifiably false. As the article and many others have already pointed out, having Thornton on the 4th line did nothing to prevent any of the Bruins stars from getting concussed. The NHL has got dirtier? Please. We have nowhere near the idiotic line brawls that used to pepper games throughout the 70s and 80s.

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#8 andyg
August 16 2014, 09:19PM
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NM00 wrote:

Instead of having a bunch of goons and mascots, I think it would be more useful to treat the "4th line" and healthy scratches like an MLB bench.

Assemble a group of "defective" but versatile players with a couple of skills and pick and choose who plays based on the situation.

An extra centre, 7th defenseman, PP/PK/shootout specialist etc.

Somebody like Kyle Wellwood for example might have been able to prolong his NHL career this way not unlike a LOOGY reliever in baseball.

And eventually the dinosaurs would realize how little can be gained from deploying facepunchers...

I think we need to just stop looking at the 4th line as a place to put all the useless players.

It is time to build a team that has 4 solid lines that can play 15 minutes a game. We need to have players that are tough and play with an edge but not goons that only have one purpose.

You are probably not going to totally get rid of fighting in hockey but the staged ones need to go.

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#10 JFR
August 17 2014, 02:47PM
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PB wrote:

This is exactly the logic that keeps John Scott employed.

And is verifiably false. As the article and many others have already pointed out, having Thornton on the 4th line did nothing to prevent any of the Bruins stars from getting concussed. The NHL has got dirtier? Please. We have nowhere near the idiotic line brawls that used to pepper games throughout the 70s and 80s.

Wow you completely missed the point!

Stick work has gotten dirtier. Guys take cheap shots/ head shots with only a 5 game suspension and minor fine. How many games did Kieth miss vs Danny a couple of years ago when he viciously knocked him out? Guess that is the type of hockey you appreciate. If you don't think flagrant shots to players heads have not gone up you are delusional. Look at any interviews regarding Gretz and how everyone on the opposing team knew not to take runs at him. Idiotic line brawls are not the point... Again you have no idea what you are talking about. Players one on one policing the other players, I have no problem with. No cheap shots, no runs from behind.... If you take a player like Danny out for 6 weeks then that player should know he will pay a price. There is no reason to have players that can't skate on a team for fighting alone... My main concern is the instigator call. Kieth takes a run at Danny, another comes over to challenge him... That player goes in the box and it's even. Defending a teammate is now considered mean.... Uncivilized ! That is the point PB, players can not protect their own teammates, they have to rely on Bettman and minuscule fines to do the job. 5 games versus 6 weeks and an early playoff exit. That's obviously the NHL you embrace.

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#11 PB
August 17 2014, 08:04PM
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@JFR

There is no question that there has been an increase in head shots and certain kinds of injuries in the NHL. It is not, however, the result of "dirty stick work" or the lack of intimidation but because players are bigger, faster, stronger and wear crazy strong kevlar and hard plastic equipment.

By your logic there were no injuries in the pre-instigator era, because everyone was so afraid they'd have to "pay the price" that a cheap shot would earn you. And yet I remember Messier pole-axing Gradin on the top of his head and clotheslining Rich Sutter and knocking out a bunch of teeth, all while our enforcer Craig Coxe skated without the leash of an instigator rule to constrain him. Didn't Scotty Bowman's career end because of a cheap shot? Didn't they think Wayne Maki's life was cut short by stick work? Unless you can actually show something material that suggests that a) injuries are on the rise and b) that they have anything to do with the lack of an instigator rule you are talking out of your ass.

The reason there are more injuries isn't because players "respect each other less" or because they can't fight. It's because the game is faster and they're bigger with heavier equipment. Removing the instigator rule will do nothing to change any of that.

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#12 PB
August 17 2014, 08:07PM
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@PB

The other implication in your ill-informed rant is that suspensions are somehow down from some imaginary point in the past. The enforcement mechanisms in the NHL are still completely idiotic, but don't pretend that lax or completely incomprehensible suspensions are connected to the instigator rule era. They've always been like that.

What was the suspension Messier got for sending Gradin to the hospital, for a whack that many suggested would have been a hell of a lot more serious if Thomas hadn't been wearing a helmet? Zero games you say? But how can that be? There were goons in them days weren't there?

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#13 Ray
August 18 2014, 12:02PM
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Not even going to read this broken-record themed piece.

Arguing that enforcers aren't needed has to be one of the most redundant and one-sided arguments in the world.

Fighting isn't at all pointless, It's a way for two athletes two take out their anger on one another without resorting to dirty hits and cheap shots (staged fights aren't this). It's a mans game with lots of manlyness, man.

You know what is pointless?

This article.

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#14 NM00
August 18 2014, 12:46PM
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@Graphic Comments

An extra centre/PP/shootout specialist such as Wellwood would not necessarily be relegated to a few minutes a game.

And increasing the minutes of 2nd/3rd line wingers such as Hansen wouldn't necessaily be a bad thing either.

It's not as though these guys aren't fit enough to play first line minutes. They just aren't skilled enough.

Though I concede that with Vancouver's travel schedule & division it may be tougher to pull off.

Perhaps a lowly Eastern conference team would be a better test subject...

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#16 Paul Busch
August 20 2014, 07:00AM
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@JFR

Sorry PB, but the facts don't support your argument. As fights per game have decreased over the past several years the cheap shot penalties have also decreased.

http://itsnotpartofthegame.blogspot.ca/2014/03/beating-dead-horse-fighting-increases.html

Fighting is 90% retaliation. Players don't agree with the ref's call so they try to pound respect into their opponents.

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#17 PB
August 20 2014, 08:05AM
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@Paul Busch

I don't think you're disagreeing with me, but with JFR. Everything I've written agrees with the link you've posted.

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