Julianna Margulies Teaches NHL About Fighting

06 March 2012: New Jersey Devils right wing Cam Janssen (25) fights with New York Rangers defenseman John Scott (28) during the first period a NHL matchup between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to come out and say it.

I watch The Good Wife.

I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to justify it by mentioning the quality writing or the amazing performances.

I’ve never written about The Good Wife here because it’s never intersected with hockey before.

This week it did.

This week’s episode featured a case about an NHL enforcer whose wife was killed while the enforcer was driving what might have been a defective snow mobile. The episode spiraled into a debate about if the player’s mental faculties were impaired due to his time in hockey, and then slid into the role the fictional hockey league might have played in the accident.

What really matters is that the episode was basically a one-hour indictment of fighting in hockey. Viewers were treated to an overview of the issues. The concussions. The enforcers fighting (literally) to hold onto their jobs, even when they’re hurting themselves. And the tacit approval the league gives to this behavior, even as it talks about protecting its players.

The episode was a huge black eye for the NHL. Instead of an hour of prime time devoted to the beauty of the sport, it made hockey seem like wrestling on ice.

The NHL could write off this episode as meaningless. They could say scripted TV has nothing to do with hockey and ratings. But NBC is promoting the NHL through its sitcoms. So obviously, somewhere there’s data showing that this kind of synergy is effective. If cross-promotion might bring in viewers, whose to say something like The Good Wife won’t cost the NHL viewers?

Of course, without the fighting/concussion angle, The Good Wife probably wouldn’t have done an episode around hockey (noted Canadian Michael J. Fox’s presence in that particular episode notwithstanding), but the league probably would have been better off without the negative attention.

Slap Shot picked up that one night after that Good Wife episode, the Rangers and Devils organized a synchronized fight to start their game.

Stu Hackel followed up with a great post about what a joke those kinds of stage fights are for the NHL.

The frustrating thing is that these kinds of staged fights are allowed to go on, yet players are routinely penalized for clean checks. It’s almost like the league wants to remove all physicality out of the game, except for fights, which more and more have nothing to do with the game being played in the moments leading up to the fight.

The wake up call to just how lost the NHL has become should not come from a legal procedural. But for whatever reason it has. Over 11 million viewers saw an episode portraying the NHL as a bunch of fights punctuated with some skating. Over 11 million people didn’t see breath-taking breakaways or courageous shot blocks, or saves so magnificent, you think they might be CGI.

Instead, over 11 million people saw grown men fighting for dubious reasons.

The league has an image problem. How many millions of people will the league allow to see these negative images before it decides to do something to fix its fighting problem?