It’s an innovative idea by a member of hockey’s royalty. And it might just get rid of a scourge on the game.
ALl RIGHT, I like a good hockey fight as much as the next guy. Especially because my chin isn’t on the line. And as I’ve discussed before in this corner, fighting serves a purpose in the game. It can be, ironically, a safety valve. And fighting isn’t going away any time soon in the NHL. That is a fact.
As it should be. Fights that are born out of a reaction to a play or a hit on the ice are part of hockey. But staged fights are a different beast.
Do we really need to see what happened recently in Vancouver—when the Calgary Flames decided to start the game with their truculent fourth line, which had never been out there for the opening faceoff, and the Canucks answered the bell with their heavyweights?
The result, as we all know, was a line brawl as soon as the puck dropped, involving everyone on the ice except the goaltenders. And goalies not getting involved in melees these days is not entirely the norm, either.
The end of the period aside—when Canucks coach John Tortorella incredibly and unwisely decided to visit the Flames dressing room—the whole start to the game was an unnecessary sideshow, offering more ammunition for those who question the merit of fighting of any kind in the game. Hell, it even became a punchline used by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman to lend some perspective to his post-game rant on national TV.
There has been discussion among NHL executives about whether it’s time to eliminate fighting entirely. A few years ago, the GMs contemplated having 10-minute misconducts issued for staged fights. And Tampa Bay GM and Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman has suggested it’s time to attach a game misconduct to any fighting major.
But former Toronto Maple Leaf Brian Conacher—yes, of the legendary Conacher family—has another idea. Over coffee at the Winter Classic, he said, “Have each team play short-handed for the full five minutes and, all of a sudden, coaches would have to re-evaluate the role and strategy of the fight in the game plan. The circus sideshow of the staged fight might be a casualty.”
It’s an interesting idea. It would negatively impact the organic fights intrinsic to the game, true. But it would also reduce the number of staged fights, without question. The added bonus would be five minutes of four-on-four hockey—and we all know how entertaining that is in overtime during the regular season.
Staged fights aren’t an epidemic in the NHL. But they still occur too often. And whatever motivation the coaches had that recent night in Vancouver, it was one instance too many.
Conacher’s idea might just get rid of such thinking, and add some entertainment value in the process.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.