"I think it's wrong" - Mike Milbury
And with those four words another name was added to the growing list of people who are slowly but surely altering their views on the role of fighting in the NHL.
During the second intermission of last Saturday night's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks Mr. Milbury joined the Satellite Hotstove panel to discuss the latest news and rumors circulating around the league. About half way through the segment the ever popular topic of concussions was addressed.
This is when Milbury, who up until this time had been a huge supporter of the pro-fighting movement, appeared to do a complete 180.
His rant started off by looking at hitting in general and explaining that the rule changes made in 2004, which aimed to cut down on the amount of hooking and grabbing against players carrying the puck, has sped the game up significantly. He believes that the added speed, coupled with today's bigger players, has made collisions "crazy".
Next, a short video montage was shown outlining past hits that have taken place throughout the league. He pointed out that the league has failed to make it clear "what is what" with regards to what is considered legal and what isn't.
At this point most people watching (including Milbury's fellow panelists) had to wonder if hell was actually freezing over. Here was a man who, just last year, had famously (or infamously) lamented the "pansification of hockey" and who now was questioning whether that same sport is becoming too violent??
And just when we thought we'd heard it all, he kept talking.
"And this also has to go one step further. We're going to have to include a discussion on fighting and the role of fighting."
Wait a minute.
Is this the same guy who, in his playing days with the Boston Bruins, climbed into the stands during a game and beat a fan with their own shoe?? watch here
The thing is, the man was absolutely right!
"My point on fighting is we now have 25% of our concussions (setting a record) from this stuff (fighting)"
He then ended his rant by uttering the phrase that no one in the pro-fighting corner wants to admit or even hear.
"The only reason we have fighting in the game is because we like it."
Thank you, Mr. Milbury! Finally, someone willing to admit the one and only reason fighting exists in the game.
People like it. There is really no other valid reason.
Don't believe me?
Let's look at some of the main arguments people use to promote the 'importance' of fighting in hockey as well my rebuttals as to why I believe each one is not valid.
#1 "The threat of a fight deters players from making dangerous/cheap hits"
No, it doesn't.
Look at three of the dirtiest players in the league, Chris Pronger, Matt Cooke and Sean Avery. This trio constantly tops the Dirtiest Players In The Game list (voted on by players) yet very rarely engage in actual fights (10 for Avery - he normally hovers around 5 per year, 3 for Cooke, 1 for Pronger).
Seeing as how the top fighters in the league average between 16-20 fights so far this season, how can players coined as "dirtiest" have so few, if fighting is supposed to be a deterrent?
This is because after a dirty play is made by one of these players (or others like them) it is not the two players involved in the altercation that drop the gloves, it's both teams designated heavyweights - guys that were not even part of the initial play!
So how is a guy like Cooke supposed to be deterred from playing dirty when he knows he isn't even going to need to be the one who has to answer for his actions?
#2 "We need enforcers to protect the Crosby's of the game"
Do we really?
During the most intense, important part of the entire season - the playoffs, wouldn't this be the time that a team would most want to protect their stars?
Yet every year in the playoffs we see a huge decrease in the number of fights per game. In fact, we very rarely see the enforcers playing at all during the playoffs. If fighting is so important, then why is it not happening during the most important time of the season?
#3 "Ratings would plummet if fighting was removed"
First of all, no it wouldn't. Second of all, any "fan" who would stop watching hockey simply because fighting was removed, is not a real fan.
We're hearing a lot lately about how we need to make the game safer and reduce the number of head injuries. The reality is, hockey is a contact sport and with all contact sports come injuries. You will never get rid of them all. The league is left with two options; they can try and prevent the 75% of concussions that are a direct result of stronger, faster players, which is impossible or they can worry about the 25% they can control and remove fighting.
My guess is they'll keep going for that 75%