Saturday, October 27, 2007

Living and Dying by the Sword

There's been a 56 percent increase in fighting majors so far this season, and a 78 percent increase in games that have more than one fight. It's not just the usual suspects that have been dropping the gloves this season, even the stars have been getting into it. A lot of this has to do with the perception that the Ducks scrapped their way to the Cup last year so naturally there's going to be a copycat factor at play this year. However, there's a big down side to this approach as teams are discovering. Important players are being taken out.
Yes, fighting is way up in the NHL this season. And often it's big-name, big-money players dropping the gloves.

Wade Redden set the trend opening night, getting in touch with his inner-McGrattan, scrapping twice. He's been followed by the likes of Lecavalier (twice this week!), Staal (first ever), Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton (twice already), and Zdeno Chara, who Thursday broke both an 18-month fighting abstinence, and David Koci's face.

Welcome to the NHL's hot new reality show: Punching With The Stars.

Judge: "I thought the choreography was brilliant! Especially when you lifted up his sweater and smacked him in the ear. And the spewing of blood was a wonderful touch. Just try to smile more."

Oh, but there's a nasty twist to this show. Scrappers are going down faster than Marie Osmond.

At least seven players have been injured in fights this season, most notably, Edmonton Oiler Sheldon Souray, who separated his shoulder in a fight with Byron Ritchie of the Vancouver Canucks.

And hence we have a dilemma -- or at least NHL coaches do.

Do you really want your $5-million-a-year stud defenceman risking his season fighting ... Byron Ritchie?

"Probably not," admits a downcast Souray, who is likely out at least a month.

"It's crazy," says one NHL coach, who preferred his name not be used (speaking out against any kind of fighting is never popular). "The league is too close now. You lose a key player like that for four weeks, that could be your season."
Well, there's a large group of people that passionately believes in this stuff (me included), and the Ducks have created a new sense that by using these tactics a club can be successful. Just like the Flyers did in the 1970s.

So, it's back to the future for the NHL. For better or worse.

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