Don Cherry, the bombastic Canadian hockey personality, called out the Detroit Red Wings' toughness during a recent Coaches Corner segment. While he does commend Detroit for its skill, he also states “Detroit, you’re right, doesn’t fight at all. They’re not tough.”
Cherry’s rant starts at the 3:45 point of the video.
There are a few basic principles that Cherry seems to live by:
-Canadians make the best hockey players
-Europeans are weak players
-The Detroit Red Wings are evil not only because they do not have enough Canadians but they also have too many Europeans
These views seem to always taint Cherry’s point of view of everything NHL related and especially against the Red Wings. While there is a need for toughness in hockey and especially in the playoffs, fighting is a failed means to measure it.
Would anyone really question the toughness of Tomas Holmstrom? The man stands in front of the net night after night. He gets blasted by the goalie and opposing players repeatedly yet holds his ground to provide screens and tip in goals for the team.
Should we ask Ryan Kesler, Martin Havlat or Ales Hemsky about Niklas Kronwall’s toughness? He has gained a reputation for his hard hits and has players around the league paying attention.
Then there is Pavel Datsyuk who is never out of a play. Season after season he is at or near the top in takeaways. He never stops hustling and does not give up on the puck.
We could go through the roster and point out the toughness that is displayed throughout the team. But there is something beyond fighting the Cherry does not seem to recognize and that is hockey smarts.
Nicklas Lidstrom is one of the best defenders to ever play the game. Nobody would ever consider him to be the typical bruising defenseman. Instead he plays with such amazing hockey smarts. He seems to know where the opposition is going before they do. That high level of hockey IQ has spread throughout the team.
While fighting is fun for fans to watch and at times even needed, it also is the easiest way out. Teams that focus too much on bullying and fighting tend to be the easiest to score quick goals on.
Cherry’s point about the success of fighting teams is not supported by any stats. In fact, the opposite is proven to be true. Since the lockout season there have been six Stanley Cup playoffs. Only Boston and Anaheim have won the championship while being ranked in the top 10 in fighting. In direct opposition to Cherry's misguided view is that the other four champions all ranked in the bottom 10.
Looking even deeper at the teams that have made the conference championships over that time span, there are more stats to dispel Cherry's thought. Of the teams that reach the conference finals, they have averaged a ranking of 17th in fights, yes that means the bottom half of the league. There have been more teams that have ranked in the bottom 10 (12) make the conference finals then those in the top 10 (8).
Fighting does not even help a team make the playoffs. Of the teams that have finished in the top 10 since 2005-06 season, 60 percent have missed the playoffs and only 16 percent of those that make the playoff escape the first round.
The toughness of a team is more than just a fighter’s toughness. It is seen in how a team handles adversity, how it plays and what it does to win. The Red Wings are tied for fourth in the league in goals against. Not too many strong defensive teams are ever considered weak.
In the end, it is just another rant by Cherry. I’ll take six finals and four championships over the past 18 years over any of Cherry’s "tough" fighting teams. He can hold his tough mantra up, empty handed, while those Red Wings have raised the Stanley Cup four times and hopefully will again very soon.