Should staged fights be eliminated from the game?

The referees are sure to get involved in any Devils-Rangers match. (CS Smith/Flickr)

Tim Kolupanowich: It was written a lot earlier in the season how fighting was down 25% in the NHL, but that doesn’t mean it is anywhere close to being purged from the game. We still see fights of all kinds; quick and spontaneous, defending a teammate after a big hit and, of course, the staged fight. The staged fight has never been more evident than when the New York Rangers took on the New Jersey Devils on March 19 and three fights broke out right off the opening draw. The two teams are fierce rivals, but you have to wonder if those fights were completely necessary. What do you think, Scott?

Scott Rennie: There’s history here, obviously. The Devils-Rangers game on Dec. 20 was all but the same three seconds old before Rupp squared off with Janssen. And on Feb. 7, there were two fights a mere two seconds in the game. So last night, when Devils coach Peter DeBoer listed his three tough guys in the starting lineup, Blueshirts coach John Tortorella didn’t back away from the challenge. Although as you can see in the video, he didn’t seem exactly thrilled about the way things were starting.

TK: Devils-Rangers games are always a tough affair, but it is definitely still surprising to see three games in a row start off this way. And I think Tortorella was just upset his fighters were outnumbered on the forward lines; he knew what he was doing putting Prust and Rupp out there. But what do you think about the staged fights? Is there a place for them in the game?

SR: I’m not going to carry any water for fighting in hockey. I think it’s, at one end of the spectrum, completely juvenile, and at the other end, completely dangerous. You’ll see me write on this site, eventually, why a ban on on-ice sparring is inevitable and necessary. However, I’m not delusional. The spectacle of two rivals starting a game with three scraps, crowd roaring, in one of the game’s oldest barns, broadcast camera zooming out to show all the punches in glorious high-definition wide shot. I can’t argue that’s not compelling for the fan and television viewer alike.

TK: It certainly is a way to get people pumped up for the games. However, I have to disagree and say I would not like an all-out ban on fighting, just the staged fights. I find them to be boring, predictable and have no major effect on the game’s outcome. It’s nice to know the Devils and Rangers have such a distain for each other, but three seconds into the game? That’s pointless.

SR: In era of whitewashed media speak, where players and coaches are trained by PR and communications professionals on how to act and talk, it’s refreshing to see legitimate hatred. I’d take this sort of sandpaper over the Leafs’ playing of the sacrificial lamb to the Bruins last night. And to both teams’ credit, the fights seem to have settled the tension — there were no other fights after the line brawl.

TK: That is a good point, of the 15 penalties called during the game, seven were called in the first three seconds. And having sandpaper is definitely good, but you don’t need dynamite to do it. People still talk about the Jarome Iginla/Vincent Lecavalier scrap in the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Both are skilled players who were able to handle the situation without having a goon do it for them. The same thing happened in the 2009 final when Evgeni Malkin took on Henrik Zetterberg. That fight, instigated by Malkin when his team was on the verge of going down 2-0 in the series, allowed Pittsburgh to get momentum and condifence and win four of the next five game to win the Stanley Cup.

SR: Mike Emrick and Pierre MacGuire’s outright shilling for fighting during the fisticuffs is worth mentioning. Both of those guys are members of the game’s old guard, and I don’t put much stock in their opinions. But how insightful was it for Doc to point out that the crowd and players were both on their feet for the scrum? Fans and players get excited about all sorts of things that are outside the rules of the game, in any sport.

And what about McGuire’s comment about how Gretzky would have been in more fights if they were staged? How is lining up three fighters against three other fighters anything less ‘staging’ in the most literal terms? I’ll listen to arguments defending fighting to a point, but let’s be honest about it.

TK: Crowds will always be cheering for a fight; it’s in our blood as humans. I’ve been to enough games in Philadelphia to know people really don’t care how much pain you’re in if you’re uniform color is different from the home one. Hockey isn’t the only sport either as you pointed out. I would like to know how many people are fans of NASCAR just because of the major crashes.

As for McGuire’s comment, that is just ridiculous. Gretzky most certainly would not have been in any staged fights because staged fights don’t involve players who actually have skill in other areas of the game.  Staged fights are specifically for the players that can’t do anything else. They go out there, fight only other goons, settle nothing of relevance and slow down the game. I’m not sure how to eliminate just those specific types of fights, but the NHL needs to start working on it. There was a good idea I heard on Twitter last night via the Down Goes Avery blog: suspending players who have more penalty minutes than time on ice. That’s definitely not a bad idea.

That concludes the latest segment of Two For Roughing. We hope you enjoyed it.

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