Saturday, March 14, 2009

Follow Up: "Pugilists" and "Kariya"

This post is a follow up to two previous posts: "9: A Problem Like Kariya" and "Punishing The Pugilists." In the Kariya post, I repeated the popular hockey rumor, which I agree with, that Kariya wanted out of Anaheim or should have wanted out of Anaheim because he wasn't being protected. One of our readers from Facebook asked me to defend that opinion. Now, I have always thought that this rumor was tacitly confirmed when Kariya continued to get cheapshotted after the holdout, and when Gauthier made a trade to get back Stu Grimson. This seemed to confirm that Karpa and the existing squad of enforcers since Grimson left were not getting it done. But our reader from Facebook found that opinion laughable, citing the overwhelming fighting statistics during the no-Grimson era.

I continue to disagree because I think there's a difference between two enforcers fighting, and the real strategic enforcing that protects players. Grimson had a Claude Lemieux kind of nastiness to him where he would cheap shot small players, and really let the other team know that there would be consequences. A GM has to decide to have a nasty player like that on his team, but that player will potentially send stronger messages with his fights. For recent Ducks fans, the effect is the difference between Parros fighting Boogard and Beauchemin fighting Iginla.

The GMs seem to agree with me, as they voted to make recommendations to create a 10-Minute Major for 'staged' fights i.e. two enforcers fighting for the sake of fighting, as well as an enforcement of the instigator penalty for unnecessary fights i.e. a guy should be able to take a bodycheck once in a while without it turning into a brawl.

Now, Daniel, this is all you, as my opinion is clear from the feed question, but what do you think? If the NHL approves these adjustments, will they neuter fighting? Are the fights between two non-enforcers just as effective or more effective than having two 'designated hitters' drop the gloves every game? Should a Duck let a teammate get laid out every once in a while?

Hitting is a part of the game, and I think we do a good job of not letting every hit get us down. Getting laid out is part of the game and, let's be honest, good clean hits are usually met with good clean hits. That is, you hit our star, we'll hit yours. These types of exchanges are pretty common and hardly result in fights. But when cheap shots start happening, or worse you have a Sean Avery not even following the play and just putting his stick in the goalie's face, someone has to pay the price. I don't think these new penalties will have the effect that people think. Sure, guys will stop dropping the gloves right after the faceoff and instead wait 5-10 seconds and skate to a different part of the ice. Or, guys will just avoid that problem all together and choose a better time to have their fights. Hockey is a tough game and the enforcer will never really go away, they will instead evolve. Think, Steve Ott in Dallas, or Parros when he was on a line with Ryan. The enforcer will still fit into that mold of a guy who can skate, forecheck and at least provide a good shift and some energy on the 4th line. "Goons" like Grimson and Domi may be gone for good, but the job of enforcer will never truly leave. I don't think the NHL's new rules will do anything to deter fighting, it'll just make fighting occur in more creative circumstances.

As I've said, I don't think the enforcer will go away, but will instead evolve. This also means that the Beauchemin-Iginla style tilt will become more common. Not because the enforcer will be gone, but because we might start seeing 15-20 goal scorers becoming enforcers. I also think that because of the new circumstances and penalties surrounding fighting you'll see some skill guys dropping the gloves and sticking up for teammates. I think we do this more than any other team. Perry and Getzlaf have fighting majors this year. I think Perry has more than one. When the circumstances of fighting become unpredictable, so do the participants. I'm not saying I want to see Getzlaf and Perry throwing down every game, but you never know what will happen. In the end, fighting will just become something that falls in the hand of the more rugged forwards and defenseman who only contribute minor minutes, but still have the skill to not be dead weight.

Finally, I think there's one part of fighting that no one has explored, and that's fighting as a momentum tactic. It's not always your teammates getting laid out that triggers these altercations. If the ice is tilted one way and the opposition is carrying play, a fight can really alter the energy in the building. I think that's a good reason to leave fighting in; the players like it and use it as a part of playing the game. Yes, protection and self-policing is important, but sometimes a guy showing he'll go as far as fighting another guy to help his team win builds camaraderie in the locker room and creates an appreciation in the fans that our heroes aren't all overpaid primadonnas. I appreciate fighting and I think the players are as interested as anyone in keeping it in the game, and they know better than the rest of us just how dangerous it is.

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