NHL Fights the Fighting

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about how to protect NHL players. Two weeks ago, Don Cherry was going on about it for like eight minutes. I wish I could follow what he says. I think he might have said something about no-touch icing potentially saving lives, but I’m not quite sure. To be honest, the suit just hypnotizes me.

It’s came again this weekend with Devils defenseman Mike Mottau getting a two-game suspension for elbowing Islander Frans Nielsen Friday night. Rich Chere, who covers the Devils, says the punishment fits the crime. Greg Logan, who covers the Islanders, thinks Mottau got off ridiculously easy.

The Good Point Blog recommends dumping the instigator rule, which would help in theory. But I wonder if it would work in practice, as NHL coaches have become conditioned to outcome-based coaching. The mentality for most NHL coaches is that the only thing that counts is a win. It’s not about revenge or standing up for your players so much as it’s about earning those Ws. Logan touched on this idea when he noted that Isles coach Scott Gordon didn’t even have his enforcer out after Nielsen went down. Gordon said he didn’t see the point when the Islanders were trying to mount a comeback.

The NHL game has changed. It’s all about skill. While there will always be a place for grit in hockey, less and less players are familiar with the concept of teammates whose only job is to knock the snot out of opponents who have stepped out of line. With the salary cap, most teams can’t afford to keep a boxer on skates. Most teams have enforcers, but these guys are way more talented than the enforcers of years past. Modern enforcers have to be able to skate and shoot to at least some extent. Because it’s all about the wins. The blood is an after-thought.

If you don’t think the culture of the NHL has changed, just ask Wade Belak, who was just put on waivers for Florida. He tried to avenge teammate Nick Boynton and couldn’t find anyone to fight: “I tried to fight guys there and they refused to go…What do they want me to do, fight and take a penalty? We were trying to win that game. I’m not a rookie.”

So I don’t know what you do to keep players safe. I’m going to recommend bubble wrap.