Is Hockey Getting Soft?

Have we seen the beginning of the end of the physical play displayed in the above videos? It’s looking more and more like the NHL is moving towards a less physical game. The recent tougher suspensions handed down by Brendan Shanahan has got players, coaches, GM’s scared. Some players have stated it’s probably better laying off a potential game changing hit due to fear of punishment. This has caused a seemingly daily debate on hitting and fighting. Both sides make valid points, but I tend to side with the old school hockey brethren in that the NHL would just not be the NHL without hitting and fighting. I’m not saying I’m a fan of cheap shots, head shots or any other dangerous, illegal play. Those types of plays do need to continue to be punished. I’m talking about legal hockey hits that can change momentum, create energy and excite the crowd. A game without hitting would look like what we see during All-Star weekend…boring ticky tack pond hockey.

The reason fighting needs to stay is because it keeps players in line. The Matt Cooke’s, Brad Marchand’s, Sean Avery’s (now jobless) would run around un-checked in a no-fighting league and would get away with bloody murder knowing they will never have to face up to their hockey sins. I heard a statement during a HockeyCentral broadcast that one hockey father thinks there may be more concussions and serious injuries in his son’s canadian university hockey league because there is no fighting. The father stated players have no fear in this league of any retribution and thus are skating around like madmen killing each other.One argument I hear a lot is…there’s no fighting in the Olympics or the World Championships so why does it need to exist in the NHL? There are 30 teams in the NHL and there are far less in these superstar tournaments. Why are the number of teams important? With a small number of teams you have teams full of superstars or highly skilled players. These types of players typically aren’t of the fighter variety and even if they were occasional fighters like say an Iginla, he’s not being pestered by annoying Marchand type players in these tourneys. Also, teams in these superstar tourneys are scared as f@#K to go on the penalty kill because of the deadly power plays so you’re not often going to see a bum take a run at a top player and risk facing a 30+% PP unit. However, there is fighting in the game that I even think is pure BS and that is the pre-meditated goon fight. You know the one where they talk before the face-off and say, hey man we should fight to earn our pay today. That type of fighting is garbage, there’s no reason for it and if you were to take any fighting out it would be that type. It’s just two guys chucking knuckles because they feel they have to, not because they are protecting someone or sending a message to someone that you aint gunna hurt our stars.

Hockey is a rough sport, just like football is a rough sport. Taking the physicality out of the game would tarnish the appeal of the game. I would bet, if you surveyed current NHL players, an enormous majority would say fighting and hitting needs to stay in the game. Even Sidney Crosby who has been out since early 2011 with a concussion has stated fighting and hitting need to be part of the game because without it it wouldn’t be hockey. The players know what they are getting into, parents know what they are putting their kids into and fans should know what they are getting into when they watch. If you don’t like watching physical play then hockey probably isn’t the game for you.