I 've changed my attitude about fighting recently, after an exhaustive study of the forthcoming Derek Boogard lawsuit that was just filed by the Boogard family versus the NHL. Derek Boogard had almost 200 fights over the course of his junior and professional career, including 66 in six years in the NHL. The damage to his body both physically and psychologically was astounding. Routinely taking pain pills, the severe trauma to the head from repeated blows,and the emotional upheaval that came with the likelihood of fisticuffs, it did not make for a pretty picture.
At the OHL game that I called on Thursday, I cringed during the two fights, hoping that the combatants would not get injured. In one fight a player was felled by a flurry of punches, likely breaking a nose. I know that I do not call fights with the zest that some broadcasters do, nor with the enthusiasm I did earlier in my OHL broadcasting career.
Despite this, I still see a role for fighting in the game, still see it as a momentum changer in the right circumstances and still see a role for the skilled enforcer. Argue all you want, but Tie Domi was a skilled enforcer. He could drop the gloves to set the tone, change the tone or protect a teammate but was also good for double digits in goals and 20-25 points per season. Nothing wrong with that for a role player with 4th line minutes. In the right time and the right place, fights are an integral part of the game.
However, I saw Sunday nights donneybrook as neither game changing nor momentum shifting. It was exhibition play for goodness sake. The Sabres, from what I can gather, took issue with a one sided brawl involving the Maple Leafs Jamie Devane, a former OHL enforcer, likely to play a similar role in the pro's. Enter Jonathan Scott, and more importantly delete Colton Orr and Frazer McClaren, neither one of them in the lineup. Scott, an imposing 6'8 270lbs with a total of 1 goal 4 assists and 305 PIM in 180 odd games was a central figure in a wonderful mini-documentary done by the New York Daily Times on the late Derek Boogard. He was also a former teammate. During the documentary he spoke of his role as an enforcer and all of the angst that goes with the job.
Scott, after a word or two with Phil Kessel, broke the alleged "Code" by attempting to jump the diminutive Kessel who responded with one or two desperate lumberjack swings to the giant enforcer. At that point everyone jumped in, including David Clarkson, he of the hefty contract , who emerged from the bench for a dance partner. That turned out to be a very costly move as it is an automatic 10 game suspension and carries no salary cap relief for the Leafs. Kessel himself should face supplementary discipline for his attempt to injure. Despite the chest puffing, this was a costly venture for the Leafs. While Scott, who may have broken the rules of the Code, really broke no rules as defined by the National Hockey League. If he is suspended it would be via a media driven agenda rather than an interpretation of the rules.
All of this nonsense may serve as a prelude to the regular season when the Leafs and Sabres, divisional rivals and frequent opponents. No doubt the next time these two teams play Orr and Maclaren will be dressed, along with Scott. What happens before the two teams play will play a large role in how the next match up is viewed. If the NHL moves to suspend those who sinned and issues warnings to teams that any rough stuff will be harshly punished then the issue will be settled on the ice, as it rightly should. However, if the NHL inflicts the minimum punishment and does nothing to warn the teams they are, in my opinion, cononding or even encouraging another potential explosive situation.
Here is hoping cooler heads prevail. Remember, the Bertuzzi/Moore incident was the culmination in a war or words, fights and questionable hits where the NHL allowed one of its players to issue a bounty on another player and stood idly by.