Saving the NHL from its own Stupidity: Why Fighting and "Finishing the Check" have Got to Go!
It’s not by accident that I help build teams for a profession; I love teams. Love working as a part of them, love playing on them, and love watching them. And like many Canadians, I happen to love watching hockey-especially playoff hockey when goonery is gone. Well, I should clarify, I want to love watching hockey, but the NHL and its macho culture of wild-west violence and vigilante frontier justice keeps getting in the way of my love. The recent assault on Max Pacioretty by Zdeno Chara leaving Pacioretty with a broken neck, concussion, and possible loss of career, left me frothing at the mouth and birthed the following rant. Join me in ranting, won’t you? Let’s save our game!
I am so sick of the hypocrisy and sheer stupidity of the NHL! The truth must be told, the NHL is an antiquated bush league run by dinosaurs and Neanderthals, overly influenced and represented by a blustering old man whose voice is the only thing louder than his suit. Enough is enough! You and I must pull the stale guardians of our beloved national sport kicking and screaming into the 21st century! Join me in declaring, “Fighting and ‘Finishing your check’ have got to go!”
The assault on Pacioretty was nothing new. Last year Washington forward Alexander Ovechkin pushed Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell from behind headlong into the boards. Campbell’s collarbone was broken and he missed the rest of the regular season. It was a completely cowardly act, and at first, Ovechkin was not going to be suspended. Then, possibly due to public outrage (see you can make a difference) league vice president Colin Campbell suspended Ovechkin for two games. Chara has not been suspended because league disciplinarian Mike Murphy stated accurately and stupidly that the assault was “a hockey play that resulted in an injury.” That was a stupid statement because it seems to have been made without trace of a sense of irony. Yes, that assault was a sanctioned “hockey play”, and that is the problem!
A week or so prior to the Ovechkin assault, Penguins’ Matt Cooke hit Bruins’ Marc Savard in the head with his shoulder. Savard suffered a concussion and missed the remainder of the season as well. Cooke was not suspended, but the hit caused NHL GMs to scurry together and attempt to come up with a plan to prevent players from being hit in the head-like that had never occurred to them before! Oh wait, I misspoke, they didn’t gather together to prevent players from being hit in the head-that’s actually still allowed, just so long as you use your fists, not your shoulders. Fighting, after all, as the old timer hockey bromide goes, “is part of the game.” Since then, that blow to the head concussion scenario has been replayed several times over including currently with the game’s marquee player, Sidney Crosby-also hit without puck possession. Nothing has changed.
Think about the stupidity of allowing fighting in a sport that has fallen behind tractor pulls in the States in popularity. Try to imagine how impossible it is to market a league so pathetic that it insists it cannot referee itself, but has to rely on vigilante action by players (and now possibly on the Montreal police) to mete out justice. Try explaining that to people who might become new fans if they could take hockey seriously and accept it as being on par with intelligently run leagues like the NBA and the NFL rather than the WWF. Consider how incredibly antiquated and dangerous a notion it is to argue that NHL players need to be able to fight in order to release their frustrations-after all if we don’t let them, they might hit each other with their sticks. Think about what that stupidity teaches our young ones about violence and being responsible for their emotions and actions.
As for the argument that fans love fighting and cheer it at the game; yes, many fans that go to games do seem caught up in the blood-thirsty moment, but then they did that at the Roman Coliseum as well, and I’d like to think we’ve gotten a bit better than having to appeal to, and give in to, the baser elements of our natures since then. Besides, for every fan that does go to the game, there are thousands who don’t, who, in fact, don’t watch hockey at all. Hockey needs to appeal to them.
Here’s what I really want you to think about that no one else seems to have the awareness and the guts to say besides myself and Bill Kelly on 900 CHML today. Think about all the times you’ve heard some loud mouth hockey know-it-all prattle on about how important it is to “finish your check”. What that means, in case you don’t know, is that you must make sure you hit the other player after he (or she) no longer has possession of the puck. The point of “finishing your check” is to send an intimidating message to your opponent punishing him for making a play. Next time maybe he will think twice. Well, that’s the thing that the Chara, Ovechkin and Cooke assaults had in common. All of the plays happened after their victims had released the puck. That’s what the old school, musty-minded, blowhards tell you is a crucial element of good ol’ hard-nosed hockey! And we’ve unquestioningly accepted that idiocy for decades as some sort of sacred hockey truism.
Think about that for a moment, and give your head a shake! Better yet, protest this nonsense so that the hockey poombah’s dusty cobwebbed heads are given a shake. Let’s talk about how ridiculous that philosophy is. If you have any doubt, consider applying that mentality to other major sports. Let’s take football, for example. Football is, after all, at least as manly in its violence (without, strangely enough, requiring fighting to add to its entertainment value or to police its participants). Can you imagine the NFL or CFL allowing players to hit each other after they no longer have the football? In football, the equivalent of “finishing your check” is called what it is, “a late hit.” Think of all the rules the NFL has put into effect protecting quarterbacks and other players from late hits because they recognize the value of the player, and because they aren’t stupid enough to insist that hitting someone when they don’t have possession is somehow fair play.
How many times do we need to have players seriously injured before we finally get it through the thick prehistoric skulls of the hockey ancients that fighting, and hitting players when they are not in possession of the puck, should be eliminated! You see, that’s the issue, the majority of us inherently know that this nonsense is wrong-and many of us are increasingly less inclined to encourage our precious offspring to play hockey and subject themselves to being assaulted. But the NHL is still run by an “old school” boys club whose minds have been untroubled by new ideas since they were taught that real hockey is played by “real men” who take the law into their own hands. As long as these hypocrites, who babble about fair play and sportsmanship, while believing in their heart of hearts that fighting and finishing checks is critical to masculinity and ratings are in control, nothing will change! And you will have players knocked out ruining your team’s chances of winning The Cup, or worse, have one of your children suffer broken bones, concussions, or even death. Speak up and put an end to this madness!
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Theo Selles, M.Sc.
President, Integrity Works