It will not be long before fighting disappears from the NHL, simply because of a shortage of willing combatants. The league will be made up of young stars such as David Pastrnak, who are paid to skate, shoot, and dangle. Players like Pastrnak (zero career scraps) will not be expected to fight because they don’t know how. The end is coming.
This is what the NHL wants. The league’s stewards (commissioner Gary Bettman, the owners, and the general managers) would prefer fighting to fade away on its own instead of being written out of the sport.
Until then, there will be flareups between muscle-flexers like Kevan Miller and Evander Kane, such as the one that took place at 10:55 of Saturday’s second period at TD Garden. In these instances, the mandate appears to be for the linesmen (Trent Knorr and Ryan Daisy on Saturday) to throw water on the powder instead of letting it ignite.
It was the Bruins’ third straight game in which linesmen tried to break up a fight. The reasoning behind it is unknown to Claude Julien, who has not read anything official from the league.
“Maybe they’re trying to avoid scuffles,” said the Bruins coach. “They talk about concussions. They talk about different things. Maybe it’s their mandate. I don’t know. I’m speaking out of thinking of what I’m seeing. Maybe they’re trying to avoid those things. There’s concussions that happen from fights. If they can step in there quickly, I guess their mandate is to try and avoid those things. I have no idea. Somebody else is definitely in a better position to answer those questions. I’m not quite sure.”
Julien should be sure about one thing: It’s insulting.
Hockey fans are used to being marginalized, especially south of the border. It is an outlier on sports radio. ESPN pays little attention to the sport. We are considered oddities, perhaps rightly so. That’s OK.
It is not OK, however, for the sport to spit in its customers’ faces. Perhaps hockey’s younger fans turn up their noses at the violence of fighting. But the sport’s traditional consumers still like fighting, regardless of or because of its barbarism, and are not satisfied with how the league can’t make up its mind about the issue. It is an area where the NHL should be black and white, not gray.
In all three situations Saturday (Adam McQuaid vs. Josh Anderson, McQuaid vs. William Carrier, Miller vs. Kane), you had players willing to fight and observers anticipating throwdowns. All parties gave it the green light, only to have the linesmen shut it down — and, in one case, make it worse.
On Thursday, after McQuaid came calling on Carrier to answer for the Buffalo forward’s concussive hit on David Backes, Mark Shewchyk and Greg Devorski stepped in. Shewchyk and Devorski tag-teamed McQuaid, making the defenseman a defenseless dartboard for Carrier to pound.
Carrier should have stopped throwing. But Shewchyk and Devorski did not help the situation.
“The thing that happened with McQuaid, I think, was very unfortunate on both sides,” Miller said. “Moving forward, I just think you anticipate that if your gloves come off, you’re going to fight. If the referees happen to get in the way, then you stop. That’s kind of like a code between fighters. The onus goes on the other fighter for sure in that fight with McQuaid. A lot of that goes on Carrier for sure.”
Things would be far simpler had fighting never been allowed. In hindsight, the game’s founding fathers were clearly into too many Molsons when they believed bare-knuckled fighting was a good idea.
But 100 years into the NHL’s existence, fighting has become baked into the product to the point where a percentage of its customers (hand raised) enjoy its inclusion. I find it fascinating, entertaining, and sporting to watch fighters do their thing, take their licks, and skate to the penalty box with no hard feelings for the battering they absorb.
Had Miller and Kane been allowed to come together, they would have done the same thing, although the Bruins defenseman believed his would-be opponent’s exuberance elevated when the linesmen stepped between the two.
“I think he was excited to fight when the referees came in, not before,” said Miller, tagged with roughing while Kane was given an unsportsmanlike minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
Some of the game’s followers cite its speed, creativity, and athleticism as reasons they watch. Both the Bruins and Sabres executed those pillars in Saturday’s third period. It produced 20 minutes of decaf.
Fighting is not a deterrent. Nor is it safe.
But fighting also keeps people from changing the channel. These days, when the entertainment options are limitless, that’s a big thing.
These are fighting’s last days. For its proponents, it’s like being down to the last few darts in a pack of cigarettes.
So it’s not just discouraging but offensive when the final rolling kettles are extinguished before they boil over for a reason we cannot decipher. The more acceptable alternative would be to ban fighting and get it over with.
As much as we’d miss its passing, we would move on and find other options. Being half-pregnant, however, is not a solution. It is an insult.