A shortened and hastily arranged NHL season where players have lacked proper preparation has brought to the forefront a number of issues which pertain to player safety. In what would normally be one third of the way into a normal 82 game schedule, the league has seen an epidemic of overzealous head shots, cheap shots from behind and bruising hockey fights.
The latest serious injury due to violent behavior on the ice involves the Toronto Maple Leafs Frazer McLaren knocking Ottawa Senators David Dziurzynski unconscious to the ice after their fight just 26 seconds into Wednesday’s game. The league marketing department must be salivating at the interest this fight will generate when the two teams meet again.
Dziurzynski’s concussion is just collateral damage and will do little to sway the NHL’s stance towards fighting. Seemingly, there is an unlimited supply of players to replace him, so what is the problem? According to the league, there is no problem, since fighting has always been part of the game.
One can clearly see how fights do occur in a fast game which permits liberal amounts of physical contact and is played within a contained space. More often than not, tempers flare and emotions get the best of players. However, it is difficult to see how things could have reached the boiling point less than half a minute into a game. This was nothing more than a “staged” fight, which really has no place in the game, regardless of the unfortunate injury to Dziurzynski.
It is highly unlikely the league will do anything to remove fighting from the game, since it is a marketing and cash cow. The NHL is a league in search of customers and cannot afford to start losing the ones they do have. If they can get someone to sit in an arena for over two hours for the hope of watching a twenty-second fight, they will gladly take it.
Similar primal instincts in humans are also in play when spectators flock to auto racing tracks in the hopes of witnessing a spectacular crash. Of course, many would have a change of heart if they knew they would witness a mishap in such close proximity that it would end up injuring them, as was the case in Daytona several weeks ago.
Unless the league contracts the number of clubs (which seems unlikely), goonish behavior is likely to continue in the NHL. There are just too many roster spots to fill at this point and not enough skilled players to fill them. With the talent pool being watered down, General Managers are not sacrificing much carrying an unskilled heavyweight or two on their teams.
By failing to increase the penalty for fighting time and time again, the league has sent a clear message they are not interested in clamping down on pugilistic behavior. It seems they are not even interested in coming down hard on dirty and dangerous play. After all, this is a sport which has a history of leniency and tolerance when it comes to excessive violence.
As long as there is roster space available for players who belong in a boxing ring instead a hockey rink, hockey fights will not be going away anytime soon.