Goodbye to goons: NHL needs to rid itself of the enforcers

NHL must evolve, eliminate enforcers Photo: Ryan Remiorz AP

SANTA CRUZ, October 4, 2013 — The National Hockey League (NHL) dropped the puck on a new season on Tuesday and immediately the persistent controversy regarding fighting was front and center. Every year, the cries to abolish fighting grow louder, only to be countered by the view that fighting is an important part of the game.

Tuesday’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs served as a microcosm of where the NHL gets fighting wrong, as well as examples of the right kind of scrap. It is not a clear cut issue. It is a massive grey territory, riddled with subtleties and subjectivity.

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In the second period, Colton Orr fought George Parros. It was a predictable bout. Both men are paid enforcers, otherwise known as goons. While they are not the worst in the league, neither of them skates or plays the game particularly well. They are only on their respective teams to fight.

The people promoting continuation of fighting in the NHL say that players like Orr and Parros are necessary, that they serve to police the game and keep other players accountable. Other players know that if they take liberties with a smaller or more skilled player, they will have to answer to someone like Parros or Orr.

When the two fought again in the third period, Parros lost his balance and fell face first onto the ice, where he lost consciousness instantly. As 20,000 spectators stood in hushed silence, Parros was mobilized and rolled off the ice on a gurney. There was nothing glorious, noble or even remotely entertaining about the scene. The fight started in a vacuum, meaning it was not a result of a play or an incident. It was just two guys doing the only thing they know how to do. These types of fights, between this brand of player, need to be removed from the NHL like a cancer.

Hockey is an inherently violent game and, as such, tempers will flare and players will find it necessary to react in kind. It is the incidental, impromptu fight which should remain a part of the game. Tuesday’s action also provided prime examples of this type of scrap. Montreal’s Travis Moen was interfered with by Toronto’s Mark Fraser in the second period. Moen took exception and confronted Fraser and the two engaged. Later, in the third period Toronto’s Carter Ashton mixed it up with Montreal’s Jared Tinordi and the two became so agitated at each other that they dropped the gloves and went at it. 

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Both of these fights were the immediate outcome of plays on the ice and they occurred between the players involved, rather than some lumbering enforcer, settling others scores by proxy. 

Fighting in hockey is like a pressure release valve. Players who are fed up with one another can engage in a quick scrap, cool off in the box for five minutes and then get back to the game. Tinordi and Ashton are young, skilled players, each capable of handling themselves. They do not need protection or policing.

If a player is running around, taking shots at smaller opponents, that player should be held accountable, but by a skater who is regularly participating in the game, not a designated thug. There are many offenses that take place in a typical hockey game for which there are no penalties. It is up to the players to police themselves, and it ought to be up to the players who are playing in the majority of the game, not someone at the end of the bench who might play four to six minutes a night.

George Parros is a great guy, an exceptional teammate and hopefully he will recover from Tuesday’s concussion. He may continue to hang around the NHL for a few more seasons, but there is precious little space in the game for that type of player, and it will not be long before the league evolves, forcing the imminent extinction of the enforcer. 

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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