The Battle For The Soul of The NHL Continues

Jonathan WilliamsCorrespondent IApril 29, 2009

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 7: Todd Bertuzzi #7 of the Calgary Flames sticks out his tongue during their game against the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place April 7, 2009 in Vancouver, Canada.   (Photo by Nick Didlick/Getty Images)

It has been five years, one lockout, a suspension, a criminal and civil trial since Todd Bertuzzi, then of the Vancouver Canucks, clubbed Steve Moore of the Colorado Avalanche from behind. 

As has been well publicized, Moore crashed to the ice with Bertuzzi on top of him and then combined with a dog pile of Avalanche players trying to protect him.  In the process, Moore, at some point, sustained career-ending injuries. 

As horrific as it was at the time, it still seems to dog the sport of hockey to this day. 

To this point, Moore has received little-to-no compensation from the Canucks or from Bertuzzi over the incident.  He is apparently back at court again.

Honestly, I am a fan of neither team or the players involved, so I have little stake in the situation.

However, it is obvious that many of Moore's teammates think he has stepped over a line.  Why else would they seemingly abandon support for his fight?

Much has been made, by the same folks who would love fighting banned, that the Moore incident was a horrid black-eye for the league.  They see his case as exhibit A in what is wrong.

Many of these people will point out that fighting and other violence in hockey is what makes it unpalatable for the general American audience.

I would argue that Americans, in general, do not grow up with hockey, making it much more difficult to interest casual fans.

Incidents like the Bertuzzi one is a rarity, not the norm.  The number of serious incidents is blown out of proportion.

At the same time, a cheap shot to the head or a blind-side shot which sends someone head first into the boards are just as dangerousin some cases more so because their frequency is much higher.

Violence in hockey is not new.  In the '70s, for example, the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins ruled the early part of the decade with thugs and cheap-shot artists. 

In the '80s, the rival teams played each other eight times during the regular season and more if they met in the playoffs.  This bred a lot of animosity and, at times, developed into bench-clearing brawls.

Since then, there have been a number of rules put into place to stop fighting.  For the most part, the fighting has eased off been replaced by tactical defense which slowed the game down, similar to the effect of the dead-ball era on baseball. 

Since the 1999 season, several famous incidents have occurred to bring fighting and hockey violence into disrepute.  Many argue that the game needs to evolve from the past and put away its more violent nature.

The problem with that is violence is the very nature of contact sport.  With that contact leads to altercations, cheap shots, dirty play.  In rugby, in the NFL, and other sports, violence is contained, but not eliminated.

When Joe Theisman had his leg broken on national television, calls were made to protect the quarterback.  When Tom Brady had a similar horrific injury, calls were made to protect the quarterback.

In each case, rules were modified but all realize that you cannot remove risk.  Quarterbacks, by their very nature, assume great risk of injury.  They are some of the biggest names injured each year.

In that same way, hockey violence, fighting and the like, may be managed but should never, can never be eliminated.  Otherwise the sport is not the same.

Hockey's soul is built on the ability to use violence in an effective manner; when it goes off the rails, much is said about it.

Still, you cannot take the soul away from the sport.  We can encourage better play, smarter decisions which lead to less dangerous situations, but we cannot eliminate risk.

If we did that, we'd rip away the soul of the sport.