I really wanted to write tonight about the plucky Ottawa Senators and how remarkable they’ve been for staying in the playoff race despite missing their three best players. I really, really did. But, as is often the case in the NHL, stupidity seizes the agenda.
(Spoiler alert: This column is going to rail against fighting in hockey. If that troubles you, feel free to move on and mutter under your breath – or in the comments section – about how pantywaists like me should go and cover figure skating or synchronized swimming.)
The reason I’m against fighting is not because it offends me. I’m against fighting because I believe the game has outgrown it and that it’s stupid. And there’s nothing more stupid than the kind of staged fights that occurred Wednesday night between Frazer McLaren of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dave Dziurzynski of the Ottawa Senators that left Dziurzynski concussed. McLaren, who was picked up on waivers and plays roughly five minutes a game, took it upon himself to jack up the boys on the bench by exchanging punches with a Senator. To that end, he asked Dziurzynski to fight and was turned down before Dziurzynski made a rash decision to engage him for no particular reason.
“It’s not often that’s the intention to fight right off the bat like that, but our team has been flat the last couple of games and we’re just looking for a spark and it’s just too bad that’s the way the fight went,” said McLaren, who received eight stitches to his chin in the same fight. “Most of the time it’s just going to be a good fight and get both teams into the game.”
Senators GM Bryan Murray wanted to know after the game exactly what Dziurzynski was thinking. He wondered why the player would accept the invitation to fight from one of the toughest players in the league and whether he felt “obligated” to do so. And this is where the argument about two willing combatants is flawed. If a player feels “obligated” to fight, exactly how willing is he to engage in combat?
“I don’t mind emotional fights in the game when there’s a reason for it, but there was no particular reason for that one for sure,” Murray said. “There’s nothing you can do.”
The chorus of “you just hope the kid is OK,” was an avalanche after the incident. “You hate to see that happen,” was another one. But many of these people are the same ones who laud fighters and truly believe it’s part of the game. If you really hate to see that happen, then stop doing it. Simple.
But Dziurzynski will probably get over his concussion and we’ll all move on. NHL executives will cluck their tongues about meaningless, staged fights and continue to do absolutely nothing of substance to try to stop them. And the madness will continue. The same day McLaren concussed Dziurzynski, Nipissing University defenseman Brett Cook was banned from competition for the rest of his university career by Ontario University Athletics for punching an official. Once again, hockey is in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Perhaps what was most depressing about the whole thing was Daniel Alfredsson’s reaction to it. As captain of the Ottawa Senators and one of the most respected players in the league, Alfredsson had the opportunity to speak out against staged fights. But when asked how the Senators reacted to Dziurzynski falling face-first to the ice after being knocked out, he spoke about it like it was a split lip.
“It’s part of the game as long as fighting is involved anyway,” he said. “We’ve seen it before and it’s unfortunate and I don’t think it’s intentional with either guy who’s fighting, but if you get a real good punch in that’s what happens. It’s never fun, but we’re kind of used to people leaving with injuries and you’ve just got to try to refocus.”
Carry on, then. There is no aspect of the game that takes up more space in the NHL rulebook than fighting. And the thing about it is there’s probably little anyone can do about staged fights as long as fighting remains a part of the game. But consider this. If Frazer McLaren and Dave Dziurzynski knew they were going to be thrown out of the game, there’s absolutely no way they get into a meaningless fight 26 seconds into the game. And Dziurzynski doesn’t get concussed and we’re all talking about the plucky Senators instead of this.
Once again, the NHL got lucky, at least we can assume that’s the case. But the day is coming when the league’s luck is going to run out. And when that day comes, the NHL will have to try to deal with a tragedy with blood on its hands.
– With a file from Andrew Schopp
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.