Thursday, October 31, 2013

Burke: Fighting Regulates the Level of Violence in Hockey



Calgary Flames' president of hockey operations Brian Burke penned a piece for USA Today in favor of fighting of the NHL, and in it the well known hockey executive says that he loves and respects the game, and its unique stance on fighting.

"Reduced to its simplest truth," Burke writes, "fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game. Players who break the rules are held accountable by other players. The instigator rule has reduced accountability. Eliminating fighting would render it extinct."

Burke seems to cling to the notion that fighting protects non-violent players who, if not policed by their teams' enforcers, would be threatened on a consistent basis by hockey goonery. He mentions that the most violent plays that have occurred in the NHL this season are scary bodychecks and hits from behind, and he believes that without fighting as a deterrent, there'd be more of those scary hits.

Here's an excerpt from the piece:
"It's hard to quantify where our game would be without fighting. It's easy to be repelled by a scary injury such as George Parros'. But I thought the hits on Danny Boyle and Niklas Kronwall were much more dangerous, as was the hit on Max Talbot (which I believe was legal). These are examples of times when fighting did not act as a deterrent. In fact, we can all recite a list of players who clearly operate outside of a system of honor. But today, these are the exceptions. Horrific injuries, stars being mugged, rats who run around hitting people from behind — these stand out to us because they don't happen with regularity. It's fighting that keeps these incidents to a minimum.

Horrific injuries, stars being mugged, rats who run around hitting people from behind — these stand out to us because they don't happen with regularity. It's fighting that keeps these incidents to a minimum."


Is Burke right? Is a player like Maxim Lapierre, who got five games for sending Dan Boyle to the hospital earlier this season, really going to temper his enthusiasm for tattooing the opposition in the boards simply because he may have to deal with an enforcer in the hits' aftermath?

That's a shoddy argument at best. Big, tough NHL players don't shy away from fights--they love them--so why would fighting deter them from dirty play against the opponent's skill players.

There are other, more sensible arguments to make, but I'm not so sure about Burke's assertion that fighting protects the players. Would the NHL be an even more violent game without fighting? That certainly isn't the case in Olympic hockey, so why should it be in the NHL?

Should the inmates really be running the asylum and policing themselves on the ice? According to statistics, fights are down this season, but serious injuries from high-speed collisions are on the rise. Is there really any connection between the two?