On My Soapbox: Looking at Post-Hit Fights in the NHL

Blake BenzelCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2010

DALLAS - FEBRUARY 02:  Left wing Steve Ott #29 of the Dallas Stars fights with Cal Clutterbuck #22 of the Minnesota Wild in the first period at American Airlines Center on February 2, 2010 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Here’s the deal. It’s not like I think that Steve Ott is a horrible human being...


Well, okay. Let me rephrase that. While I may think that he’s a horrible human being, I’m sure that he’s actually a really nice guy.


Wait, let me rephrase that again. I’m not sure, but he probably is actually a really nice guy—just a nice guy who enjoys annoying the hell out of anyone and everyone on the ice.


But I’m going to be flat out honest here. What he did—not once, but twice—last night might not have been wrong, but it was certainly was dishonorable, as Puck Daddy made mention of.


Here’s the deal. I am a Minnesota Wild fan. I make no bones about it. While I try my hardest to remain objective, there are many times that I view plays during Wild games through Iron Range Red tinted lenses.


But what Steve Ott did last night is a growing epidemic in the NHL in general, as Bob McKenzie pointed out at TSN.ca.


I’m all for fighting in the game and spontaneous fighting at that. But there’s one thing that gets me on both of the fights that Ott started.


Each one followed a 100 percent good, clean check by Cal Clutterbuck.


Why, pray tell, should Clutterbuck be expected to defend himself against someone other than the man that he just embarrassed by knocking his brain about 10 rows up into the seats?


A couple seasons ago, Wild defenseman Brent Burns jumped in on something that was much similar to this. He set up forward Stephane Veilleux to get Phaneufed, so to speak.


My response then was the same as it is now. Why in the world should the hitter have to defend themselves for a good clean hit against anyone but the recipient?


Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing players skate with such raw emotion. But this is now bordering on ridiculous.


In his postgame comments, Ott brought up the '60s and '70s bench-clearing brawls, saying that a hit like that on a star player simply can’t go without a response.


Yeah. He may be right, and you at least have to respect his sentiment. But at what point did we start saying that this response has to be in the way of a fight? Or even that the star players can’t respond, themselves?


McKenzie brings up a great list of what he believes would constitute as “appropriate responses” in his column. I happen to agree 200 percent with him:


“I suppose I'm old fashioned but for me the appropriate response to the Stuart hit would have come from a menu that includes the following: a) Kopitar gets up and exacts revenge by scoring a goal against Boston; b) If Kopitar was really incensed by the hit, he drops the gloves himself with Stuart (don't laugh, the point is the game had more honor when players fought their own battles); c) the Kings take Stuart's number and the first time he's in a position to get hit, he gets creamed; d) the Kings begin laying more hits and physical abuse on Boston's best offensive players Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron, and believe me Wayne Simmonds would be excellent at this; e) all of the above.”


Why does the response have to involve a player now having to drop his gloves with someone nowhere near the play, just because he cleaned the clock of a star player?  My guess, in both situations, is that the star player got to his feet thinking to himself: “Damn, I should have kept my head up.”


But if he were really upset over it, he should fight his own battles like McKenzie suggested. To Ott’s comment, I’m certain that’s what would have happened in the '60s and '70s.


What’s more, the NHL instituted the “instigator” penalty to prevent just this. As Mike Russo mentioned in his postgame blog, the instigator rule at hand (and make no mistake, Ott was the instigator in both fights), would punish Ott with a laundry list of penalty minutes (2-5-and-10 ) for his role in starting the fight.


As Russo said:


“Tonight, for some reason Ott didn't get an instigator (2-5-and-10) for going after Clutterbuck after he lay a clean check on Brad Richards. I don't know why. The league has publicly said that if you start a fight after a clean hit,. it should be a 2, 5 and 10. The refs tonight gave him 2 for roughing.”


I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment, but I don’t want to get rid of hitting in the NHL—especially not the open ice kind, nor do I want to get rid of fighting. Both aspects of the game are absolutely electric and can energize a crowd and a team. Each are as much of a part as the game’s fabric as scoring goals or making saves.


But, for the life of me, I just can’t understand why a player would have to defend himself for a clean hit—especially when he’s not defending himself against the player that he hit. I can’t understand why the NHL would institute such a rule as the instigator penalty if they refuse to enforce it to the letter of the law.