Hockey fights. A long-standing tradition that has been said to 'get the crowd into the game' and 'cut out chippy-play.’ Goons like Dale Hunter, Peter Worrell, Stu Grimson, and many more oafs have broken up the smooth play of "The Greatest Game on Ice' since the inception of hockey in America.
Fist-fighters like Darcy Tucker or Tie Domi have shown occasional inclinations of scoring touch, but generally, goons are used to scare opposing meat-heads off the ice. Each toothless player than sits in the penalty box for five or ten minutes, unless they have been penalized with a game misconduct and thus are shown the way off the ice for the remainder of the game.
In a May 2008 article, Sporting News Magazine interviewed 2007-2008 season penalty minutes leader Daniel Carcillo of the Phoenix Coyotes. The magazine dubbed Carcillo an NHL "enforcer," and asked questions relevant to Carcillo's 'job.'
Carcillo described beating up "rat" Alex Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks, saying, "It was kind of like a caveman beating; he was on his knees and I was whaling away.” Me Daniel Carcillo. Me strong, punch man in face. The NHL does not need this type of PR. There is no place for slow-footed players on the ice.
Fights break up the natural swing of play, create injuries, and contribute nothing to one of the most team-oriented sports. Fighting does not prove toughness. Taking a puck to the face at 95 miles per hour and missing one shift while being stitched up does.
There are very few wimpy players in the NHL, but there are too many low-skilled players who make up for it with their fists. Players like Carcillo provide frustrating examples. He spent just shy of six hours in the penalty box last season, when instead he could have been out on the ice contributing. In addition, unlike some goons, Carcillo has some upside.
Carcillo admits in the same article that, "Wayne [Gretzky] and Shane [Doan, captain] both think I can be a 30-goal scorer, and I'd love to prove them right.” We would too, Daniel. Score some goals. Check someone into the boards. Stay out of the box. The NHL would do well to limit fighting. The TV ratings argument is a faulty one.
No casual hockey fan will watch a full game in hopes of seeing the occasional fight break out. It is not worth the wait, and the chance that a decent fight breaks out will not win over a viewer who is weighing the value of watching a hockey game. What might pull in that same fan is the increased excitement level of the game as a whole.
The NHL must step up. Make the nets a few inches wider and taller. Put a 3 on 3 OT on for show (see: 2008 young stars at the all-star game) and then resort to a shootout. Encourage ESPN to treat the NHL more fairly--that means a little more TV time, a little less wise-cracking ("No one watches hockey except Canadians, ha ha!").
In an era of cheating, point-shaving, fan-player fighting, and back-talking, the NHL is by far the cleanest of the big four (NHL, NBA, MLB, and NFL). Unfortunately for the NHL, no news is...no news. Instead, the NHL must convey the heart it takes to play winning hockey.
Highlight the skills that it takes to skate through three men. Glorify the goalie that makes a toe-save on a 99 MPH slap-shot. Cheer the big checks. Support the skilled players. Wave those playoff towels. End the fighting. Embrace the beauty of the game.