We can’t have it both ways. If we like or tolerate fighting in hockey, especially the “organic” variety, we have to accept that players, even the biggest of starts, might get hurt.
The hypocrites have taken over the asylum.
Connor McDavid gets hurt in a fight and there’s a groundswell of finger-waving, tongue-cluckers wondering why the most talented player in junior hockey is trading knuckle sandwiches with someone he should be battling on NHL 15.
Seriously? This is exactly what we want. Minus the broken/fractured/bruised metacarpal, of course.
McDavid’s ouchie comes at a coincidental time as far as The Hockey News is concerned. We’re putting the finishing touches on our Fighting Issue, which will be followed in a few weeks by our World Junior Championship special edition (hmm, who do we put on the cover now?).
One of the strongest themes that has emerged from our fisticuffs special is that brawling still has a place in the game. Not the staged fight; there’s near unanimity that the goons are, and should be, dying. But the emotional, heat-of-the-moment scrap serves a purpose, is needed and accepted.
We know this via a survey we conducted among hockey insiders. We polled NHL GMs, assistant GMs, scouts, former players and agents and it’s how, as a group, they responded. They acknowledge fighting is on the decline, but they see its value and feel the game would be less safe without it.
Fan polls in recent years mirror our expert results. If anything, Joe Fan is a more ardent supporter. In the 2014-15 THN Yearbook, 74 per cent of survey respondents said they either like fighting in hockey the way it is now, or they want to see more of it.
Anecdotally, support for the “organic” fight is prevalent in our themed magazine. And if I had a dollar for every time someone lauded the Vincent Lecavalier–Jarome Iginla tilt from the 2004 Stanley Cup final, I’d be able to afford a pair of tickets to a Maple Leafs game.
But what was the McDavid-Bryson Cianfrone fight if not Vinny-Iggy? Cianfrone had zero PIMs before last night, so you know he’s no goon. It was two hepped-up youngsters, angry at each other in the moment, doing what we’ve told them is acceptable and encouraged to do.
Sidney Crosby has fought a handful of times in his career. The only reason we didn’t hear the same outcry about those punch-ups as last night’s McDavid bout is because he didn’t get seriously hurt. Had Sid suffered a boo-boo that kept him out of the Olympics, we’d have had a summit in Canada, maybe a Royal Commission, about brawling in the game.
This is truly a black and white issue. If you support fighting at any level in hockey, this is one of the consequences and you have to live with it. Just like Steven Stamkos’ broken leg last year or John Tavares’ torn knee ligaments, unfortunate things happen to great players in a sport that is often-times brutal.
When that brutality takes place within the bounds of what we tolerate, it’s on us to man up and own it.