Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Backhander - Grim Scene In Sens Loss Sets Off Another Dead-End Fighting Debate

It’s somewhat rare to see someone actually get knocked out in an NHL hockey fight, but that danger is always there when 200 pound men start punching each other in the face. Just ask Nick Kypreos. And last night we all saw 6’5, 230 pound Leaf enforcer Frazer McLaren drop 6’3, 204 pound David Dziurzynski with a vicious blow to the chin, resulting in the Senator lying face down on the ice with trainers rushing to his side. It was ugly. No question about that.

Makes you wonder what Dziurzynski was thinking by taking on a bigger and clearly superior fighter like McLaren. Well, it’s actually not that hard to figure out. McLaren allegedly asked him “to go” and Dziurzynski obliged, partly because he wants to do whatever it takes to stay in the NHL and also because he found himself in a bad situation where backing down from a challenge would have made him “lose face”.

Such is life when a team like the Senators, without a real enforcer since Matt Carkner departed for Long Island, faces a team like the Leafs with a couple of guys looking to justify their role and give their team a lift. If Ottawa had signed or at least replaced Carkner with a similar player, chances are Dziurzynski doesn’t have to fight in that situation. He may have wanted to anyways and there’s nothing you can do about that, but generally an enforcer like McLaren won’t fight a regular, smaller roster player if there’s a guy like Carkner on the other team. That’s the way it works. Or supposed to anyways. McLaren doesn’t want to be known as a guy who takes on a smaller player and would have challenged Carkner in that same situation last year. But the problem is that there’s no natural partner for him on the Senators. So he asks Dziurzynski to go and that’s what you get sometimes – a mismatch that results in a sickening injury. You could tell McLaren felt bad about it and looked upset heading to the box as Dziurzynski lay there.

And then you look at it from the Senators perspective. All year they’ve watched their star players fall to injury and been outmatched physically at times because Zack Smith and Chris Neil aren’t fighting as much because their team needs them on the ice. Facing their biggest rival, a young AHL’er like Dziurzynski wasn’t about to back down even though he must have known he was in tough against the big Leaf. This also resulted in Neil having to fight the bigger Colton Orr (Carkner's former sparring partner), and even though Neil got the better of him in a close one, the Leafs ultimately win because Neil goes off for 5 minutes and that’s not a fair trade for a player like Orr.

Often, playing an enforcer just evens the odds up. If the two tough guys go at each other, they cancel each other out and the game goes on. In this situation, Ottawa lost both Dziurzynski and Neil, two guys who actually contribute points and quality minutes. The Leafs didn’t really lose anybody who would make much of a difference. So like it or not, employing an enforcer can really take some pressure off your team and serve as a deterrent. Sometimes it can actually lead to less fights, if you follow the argument to its logical end, or at least mismatched fights that lead to ugly scenes like we saw last night in Toronto.

In the end, Dziurzynski made his own decision and knew the risks. All players do. That’s why most of them don’t fight. It’s extremely hazardous. If you relate it to the visor debate, some would say that the league should just take it out of the player’s hands and ban fighting (and legislate mandatory visors, which I support wholeheartedly). Yet time after time, players share a much different view than the guy pushing a pencil for a living. They take all the risks, they want the choice. They keep saying they don’t want mandatory visors. They also keep saying that fighting is part of hockey and useful in certain situations. They’ve never wavered from this and show no signs now, even though player safety is pretty much the only issue we hear about on a daily basis.

It always comes down to fans and media thinking they know more about the game than the players do. That’s all it is. How else do you explain the chasm in opinion? The public can’t understand why anyone ever has to get hurt in a game, yet the players don’t even think about it. It’s just an accepted risk that they gladly take on for millions of dollars.

Take the emotion out of it and that’s what you come to realize. At some point there’s nothing left to argue if the guys who actually take the risks don’t have a problem with it.


.... Dziurzynski was credited with 3 seconds of ice-time last night. I don’t know if that’s a record but if it’s not, he’s only 2 seconds off of it..... Somehow Kyle Turris wasn’t credited with any giveaways on the stat sheet last night, which only proves how stat guys don’t always get it right. He had at least two blatant ones that I can recall but it felt like a lot more. Another tough night for #7. If it wasn’t for his faceoff ability, some of his recent games would have been a complete wash. If anything, it gives the fans a new appreciation for what Jason Spezza brings to the team when he’s healthy. Even when Spezza has a bad game by giving up the puck in the offensive zone, he’s creating 3 or 4 chances a period. Good news is that it sounds like he’s going to be back sooner than many thought. That’s going to give Turris a lot of room out there and a lot less pressure, which should naturally lead to goals. Hopefully it’s not too late for the Senators by that point..... Erik Condra only racked up 11 minutes and change of ice-time against Toronto and it’s been like that 3 out of his last 4 games. Yet he always seems to be on the puck or creating havoc out of nothing. I’m no coach, but you’d like to see Condra around the 15 minute mark most nights, even when there’s not a lot of penalties to kill. Somehow, Condra ended up a +2 last night, leading the team. The last game against Toronto on Feb. 23 he was +3. He hasn’t had a game yet this year where he was any worse than -1. ... Congrats to good guy Ray Emery for setting an NHL record with 10 straight wins to start a season. Nobody deserves it more... And finally, RIP to Stompin’ Tom Connors. One of my most treasured pieces of vinyl is the Stompin’ Tom Live At The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. I always thought of him as a modern Canadian Woody Guthrie. Have a drink for him next time you get the chance. I know I will.


Anshu said...

I don't know if you've followed some of the discussion around football in the US, but I think there's reason to believe safety concerns will go beyond the players and their willingness to accept the risk.

The threat of lawsuits from the families of injured players is a distinct possibility. And while the argument "he knew the risks" might sound clear cut in a blog debate, the same may not be true in a courtroom, where "expert" testimony and huge resources are brought to bear.

If the league is found culpable in such a future class action suit, the implications could be severe. Some predict that football is already living on borrowed time, and that the vaunted NFL may not be able to survive once the liability floodgates open.

That might be excessively pessimistic, but it should be a real concern. Though it is a penalty, hockey is the only sport to effectively condone bare fist fighting. Regardless of where you stand on that, the real question is where will the courts stand?

I think the NHL needs to get out ahead of this.

Anonymous said...

McLaren could have just chosen not to fight someone in the first 30 seconds of the game. Saying that he had no choice but to challenge a Senator for no reason to start the game is a little dumb. If things turned ugly and we needed an enforcer, then I might be inclined to agree with your logic, but a fight at that time really wasn't called for.

Jeremy Milks said...

Anon - Didn't say McLaren had no choice. Both players had a choice and both chose to fight. You might think there was no need for a fight but obviously the two players did. It's exactly what I said in my piece. The fans think they know more about hockey than the players do and it always mystifies people when players do things they don't agree with. It may not have been a good time to watch a fight for you sitting at home but the players don't give a shit what you think. They're the ones on the ice trying to win a hockey game. Who am I or you to argue?

Oman said...

I understand that Dziurzynski was fighting for a roster spot and for his own pride, but this whole thing doesn't happen if Toronto doesn't put out a goon for that face off.

The game doesn't need these guys, and it doesn't need staged fighting. I'm all for the skilled middle weights getting into it in the middle of a scrum or battle for the puck, but dropping the gloves after the puck drops has to go. It kills the play and changes the whole nature of the game as the audience succumbs to its darker nature.

Sure it's exciting, but this kind of blood lust diminishes the game in my opinion. I would much rather cheer for an amazing goal than for a thug smashing another player's face in.

I think the league needs harsher penalties for fighting so close to the face off, and it needs minimum ice times (eg. if Colton Orr plays less than X number of minutes, the team is fined). Rules like this won't eliminate fighting, but it will definitely help to eliminate the kind of crap we saw the other night. There should be no place for it in hockey.

If you want to make the enforcer argument, there's still nothing stopping a guys like Neal or Zack Smith, or Kaspers Daugavins (haha), who can also play at the NHL level, calling out a player that makes a dangerous hit or whatever on a teammate.

The goons gotta go!

Anshu said...

I agree with Oman and this is something Gary Galley mentioned on the Team as well. There is a small number of players who serve no useful purpose in a hockey game and are just there to punch someone in the face, or to recklessly attempt to injure opposing players with illegal/questionable hits.

Get the "rats" and "goons" out of the game, and you have a much better product.

I can't ever see it happening, but I kind of like the minimum ice time thing. Its like in house league minor hockey - every kid gets equal ice time. The Sens would actually be quite well positioned for that right now, given their lack of top-line talent.

Anonymous said...

At the end of the day it's pure and simple: Money talks. If the NHL believes it can generate more revenue by banning fighting, it will. If they believe the contrary to be true, fighting will remain.

Although I understand your point Jeremy and I tend to agree with you in theory when you say that it is up to the player to decide what's best for them (and that extends past fighting), in practice, ignoring external factors such as revenues, press coverages, etc. is impossible.

With regards to the bigger debate here, I am sure there's a middle ground that can be reached here. I agree with most people who say that fighting has a place in hockey ... but in very circumscribed situations. An emotional tilt can have a major impact in the unfolding of the game (think iggy vs lecavalier, iggy v. Beauchemin in the playoffs a few years back) and,like everyone else at the rink, will get me off my seat. That being said, staged fights by two guys who's sole purpose on a team is to dance with his date on the other team, are to me somewhat boring and pointless.


Anonymous said...

I though that the DD Vs Mclaren fight sucked the life out of the game. The energy level seemed to really drop after the fight.

The difference in the game ended up being a few softies that got past Bishop. Not blaming him, he's been great all year. The difference wasn't the fight.

The concussion/staged fight issue is a real issue, but the hysteria about the Sens need to re-arm by acquiring a goon is a major over reaction, in my view. Why waste a roster spot.

Part of Detroit success, or any successful team, is that they dont' take the game to the opponent's strengths. They play to their own strengths.

Mclaren plays 4 minutes a night. Ignore him. If the Sens turn it into a hockey game, he won't see the ice.