Everyone has noticed the trend in this year’s NHL playoffs. There are more head-shots, more players carted off, more serious injuries than in any playoff season I can remember. There are also more fights. A LOT more fights. There was a time when Zenon Konopka would never have stepped out of the press box for the Senators during the entire playoffs.
But then, game 2 of the Ottawa-Rangers series and there he is, skating around menacingly and glowering at people while Matt Carkner beats the crap out of Brian Boyle, making the most of his 40 seconds of ice time before leaving the game and being suspended. But Carkner was just standing up for little Erik Karlsson, right? Who got punched a couple of times by Boyle in the previous game? And that’s what hockey is about, right?
Well, let’s look at that premise for a second. Karlsson is roughed up, but not injured. Boyle takes a penalty, Karlsson stays in the game and runs the power play. A full 48 hours later, Carkner is going to send a message – you don’t rough up our stars! Boyle takes his pounding. Stays in the game. Then joins the Rangers on their 5-minute power play while Carkner leaves for good. But Boyle will know better than to go after those Senators players now, won’t he?
Strange, it almost seems like the 6-foot-7 Boyle didn’t get that message. He hit every Ottawa player in sight on Monday night. Oh, and scored a goal. The only goal. While Carkner served his suspension in the press box.
But the REST of the Rangers were intimidated after Ottawa came out fighting, right? Well, except for Carl Hagelin, I guess. I suppose he wasn’t too worried about Carkner, cause he was out of the game. And maybe he knew, after his elbow to Alfie’s head, that he would be ejected and therefore wouldn’t have to worry about Konopka either. Now he’s gone three games, but if Alfie’s gone three games also, it seems like a pretty good trade for New York.
It seems to me that it’s time to retire this old, tired, cranky-old-man adage that fighting prevents cheap shots. It doesn’t. Not even a little bit. We have seen more fighting AND more cheap shots than ever before in these playoffs, and the fighting comes solely as a result of the cheap shots and does nothing to prevent more of them.
Witness last night’s brutal headhunting hit on Marian Hossa of the Blues by Rafi Torres of the Blackhawks. No question about the intenet to injure. In the immediate aftermath of the hit, Brandon Bollig goes after Torres. You know, to fight him. Problem solved, right? Two messages have been sent – one, there are consequences. And two, you can’t intimidate us!
OK sure. But now, the Hawks are killing back-to-back penalties, while their star player Hossa is being taken out of the rink in an ambulance on a stretcher. And what will actually prevent Torres from doing something like this again? Only the suspension that comes along with the hit. And what will prevent another Blues player from taking a run at another star? Nothing.
I’m not saying take fighting out of the game. I AM a fan of hockey fights, and I think there’s a place for them in the game. What I’m saying is, shut up about this nonsense that fighting prevents cheap shots and dirty play, which NO true fan likes. It does nothing of the sort.
It’s the same mentality that looks back to the Broad Street Bullies and Boston Bruins of the 70s and says “those guys played the game right – tough, but not dirty”. Which is revisionist history at best, and completely insane bulls**t at worst. What was Bobby Clarke most famous for? Some goal, or his slash that broke the ankle of Valeri Kharlamov? He was the star, AND one of the dirtiest players of all time. Does your memory of the Bobby Orr Bruin glory days completely forget Wayne Cashman? And the myriad of injuries inflicted by both of those teams on opponents all over the league?
So keep fighting around. The crowds love it, the players want it, and it can serve a useful purpose – giving a team that emotional boost that comes from watching their guy land more punches than the other guy, or just getting out some frustration (which leads to the funny fights, like Crosby-Giroux the other day). Just stop pretending it’s anything more than it is, or that it prevents the really bad stuff. The days of Semenko creating a bubble around Gretzky are long gone.