Hockey fights are a double-edged sword

Updated: March 27, 2007, 2:44 PM ET
By John Buccigross | ESPN.com

As has been written in this space more times than Eddie Murphy sang "party all the time" in his 1985 song "Party All The Time," I enjoy NHL fights.

NHL fights "work" because the fighters are almost always willing participants who usually don't suffer serious injuries. The fighters also often tap each other on the head, smile and say in their expressions, "That was fun" or "Thank you."

The fights also "work" because the customers in the rink and at home watching on TV are exceedingly entertained. This is the case because NHL fights are very easy to decipher and because fights, like Bowflex commercials, televise very well. Some people claim they have a difficult time following the puck, but they never claim they can't follow the fists.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we present an NHL photo and I provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and the next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
Vinny Chase for the Cup. (Getty Images)

Your submissions:
Who knew that Danny Bonaduce liked hockey?
-- Steve Cestra (Seattle)

VICTORY!
-- Pat Salvas (Amherst, N.H.)

The first hobbit to be crowned Stanley Cup champion.
-- Ollie A. (Wolfville, Nova Scotia)

"No, really, ladies, we're from the Hurricanes. He's Ray Whitney, and I'm Rod Brind'Amour. Want to touch our trophy?"
-- Dale Rossmann (Edmonton)

"Let's hug it out."
-- Patrick (Burlington)

THIS WEEK:

Tim Thomas, bringing sexy back to NHL goaltending. (AP Photo)

NHL fights also work because after I see one, I don't have the sudden urge to wander into the woods and randomly strangle helpless squirrels. Watching NHL fights doesn't make me, or I believe anyone, more violent. NHL fights don't get my children closer to their violence threshold either. I don't think anything really gets us closer to any of our questionable thresholds unless it involves a ladle of Jack Daniels and a sledgehammer. We largely are what we are and there is nothing Darcy Tucker can do about it. Perhaps small tweaks can make small differences, but that's about it. A game like hockey cannot create or greatly alter a child's DNA. We parents can mold our children in certain situations and instruct and teach them the beauty and benefits of say, selflessness or good wedge play from 100 yards in, but I don't believe the act of punching and/or getting punched in the face is a variable we can teach our kids to be able to thrive in or tolerate. They are born with that.

There are two kinds of people in this world: People who don't mind getting punched in the face and those who do. There are people who will take one to give one and there are people who will not. Wade Belak will take one to give one. The Pet Shop Boys will not.

Now, things change when I see someone's orbital bone crushed during an NHL fight and the player is carried off on a stretcher. In those cases, my stomach feels like I just ate a live mackerel. In those cases, NHL fights don't work. If this were baseball, we would have congressional hearings.

A five-minute penalty for quasi-sanctioned, permitted bareknuckle fighting is hardly a penalty here in the 21st century. In the NBA, Carmelo Anthony threw a weak fadeaway punch/slap that was like a balled-up sock to the face of the Knicks' Mardy Collins and Anthony got 15 games! Baseball players are automatically suspended for their bareknuckle fighting. The NHL penalty for bareknuckle fighting is shorter than Soundgarden's 1991 classic, "Outshined." Looking California, feeling Derek Boogaard. I mean, even Ultimate fighters wear four-ounce gloves.

It makes you wonder what the NHL could get away with during a game. Cockfighting? Pit bull vs. pit bull? A polar bear mauling a box of newborn kittens? You wonder how bareknuckle fighting, on ice, with razors on the fighters' feet is even LEGAL. Could you attempt to sanction such an activity today if you started from scratch? Is John McCain even aware there is NHL hockey?

Todd Fedoruk of the Flyers said in an interview with The Canadian Press, "If it takes a three-ounce glove or something like that, that role players have to wear which would only cover the knuckle part, maybe that's something you can do. But I just don't think you can take fighting out of the game."

Gloves under gloves?

The NHL fighting participants ARE both willing participants as opposed to being an unsuspecting bug to Chris Simon's windshield. And these fights are often promoted, planned and staged, mostly because of the instigator rule. The only things missing are ring girls and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco. It's a tough way to make a living, but anyone who has seen the "Jackass" movies know people will do just about anything for good money including fighting on ice. It pays well, that's for sure.

There have been many nights I've been up until 4 a.m. watching NHL fights on YouTube. Like I said, these fights are very entertaining until someone gets injured. Most of the time, no one really does. And the fight charges up a crowd. And it gives the game a little lift. The heart rate increases without having to go to Starbucks.

But, the risk grows, with the increased size, balance and core strength of the NHL athlete, that someone might get killed. The odds are unlikely, but possible, that a sport that is craving to get a little more market share might have to deal with a player killed during a fight and then have to deal with Wolf Blitzer interviewing Gary Bettman. If most SPORTS talk radio shows ignorantly discuss the nuances of hockey, imagine C frickin' NN joining the misinformation super-hockey-highway.

Last Saturday on "Hockey Night In Canada," Don Cherry said that players today are not any bigger than players of yesterday. This is completely false. Look up the weights of these players yourself. It is also completely ignorant not to recognize how much more powerful and agile these players are with all of the nutritional supplements and weightlifting. These men are machines who are unleashing extremely dangerous punches. And the reward of an NHL salary is WAAAY more lucrative today than it was in 1975. Back then a roster spot may have meant $30,000 a year. Today it could be $1 million. Men in 1975 had other options to make their 30K. Most of these men today have only one chance to make $950,000 -- by punching someone, and getting punched, in the face.

Hockey is a dangerous game, more dangerous than football, and maybe the most dangerous of them all. Hockey is played at continuous, high speed. It has ice, walls and blades on everyone's feet. There are no face masks. And, yes, there is bareknuckle fighting. These dangers help give hockey its exhilaration and its small, niche, punk-rock market status. Some people crave the danger of hockey, others regard it as a part of the entire package along with grace and athleticism, and others will never recognize or stomach hockey because of its inherent dangers with fighting front and center. In America, hockey is a sport that is often introduced to children by their moms as opposed to baseball which is more a dad domain. If moms view a sport as dangerous, they will take Sparky somewhere else. Probably to the basketball court or soccer field.

None of the above concerns me. I like the niche-ness of the NHL and the culture of hockey. I like the fitness and challenge it gives my sons and the reward of effort over pure skill. I love the clean, competitive hard hitting, and I like the mystery of who really is the tougher, stronger fighter and man and what that does to the rest of the team. This all is our special mix that makes hockey different from all the rest. The video of Todd Fedoruk trying to wave off the stretcher as he lay woozy on his back flew right in the face of the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade CRYING and being taken off on a wheelchair in late February for a dislocated SHOULDER! If there was ever an example of why your son or daughter should play hockey (no fighting for the Sparkys, mom), this courageous display and attention-getting juxtaposition was it! Safety be damned!

But, if the safety of the worker is in growing danger and the league as a whole is playing with fire by risking a mass, corporate-cash exodus when the lead on the "NBC Nightly News" is an NHL player getting killed via a punch, then we might have some problems here and might need to rethink some things. If the NHL players as a whole are OK with that risk via an offseason, secret-ballot vote, and the fans continue to pack NHL arenas, then I have no problem keeping the status quo.

My sense is, however, that things will change soon. And Todd Fedoruk being carried off on a stretcher in New York City was the first domino. No one in the NHL offices wants a dad, a husband, a brother or a son killed on their watch.

Bucci,

All I could think of last night (referring to Colton Orr/Todd Fedoruk fight) was what you've written about before. Someday, someone is going to be killed in a hockey fight. Do we have to wait until that happens to get it out of the game?

Bo
Philadelphia

If we protect everybody by EXTREMELY penalizing head hits, dangerous hits, and stick work, then we would need to have an arranged fight between two heavyweights every time a star player gets hit. I mean, when an NFL star like Tom Brady, LaDainian Tomlinson or Marvin Harrison is clocked on an NFL field with a hard, clean hit, there isn't a fight. There isn't even a disagreement. If we protect the stars and every player from illegal activity, then these players can be hit legally. And if they have a problem with it, THEY can fight. Oh, to have a league of Cam Neelys!


Hey Bucci,

Since fighting in hockey is a high-profile subject, I wanted to take a few moments to sound off after the Colton Orr vs. Todd Fedoruk fight in last night's Rangers vs. Flyers game. Due to the fact that Todd Fedoruk was taken off the ice on a stretcher, undoubtedly the great "Fighting in Hockey" debate will begin again. Although it is unfortunate that Fedoruk sustained an injury, this was a statement which needed to be made by the Rangers. The Flyers have taken liberties with the Rangers all season causing multiple injuries, and taking cheap shots at Jaromir Jagr specifically (Darien Hatcher elbow on Dec. 12, Fedoruk hitting Jagr without the puck on Feb. 17, etc.). These hits, some not penalties however equally suspect, would not have been punished by the NHL. Without an enforcer to answer to, what's to deter these players from continuing similar actions? I'm all for a hard-hitting, tough hockey game, but not when singling out a particular player based on his skill level. In this example, the Orr vs. Fedoruk fight set the tone for the game, as well as (in my mind) illustrating fighting's place in hockey.

Justin Jaworski
Hartford, CT


The John Buccigross, Great work as always covering hockey. I have e-mailed you the past five years for your picks on the Frozen Four. I am curious again as to what you think the pairings in St. Louis will look like and who your national champs are? I think Maine and BC will go to St. Louis and I think it will be the battle of the ND's in the title bout with the University of North Dakota raising its eighth banner.

Just curious again,
Jason Mazigian

Good call, Jason! Three out of four. The Frozen Four is in St. Louis this year and they don't play again until April 5. ESPN2 will have the semifinal games and ESPN will have the national championship game. I'll take Boston College to win it all.


Hey Bucci,

So there's been an uproar out of Dallas and I'm torn. Is it Nashville's responsibility to celebrate Modano's 503rd? I was in Dallas the night they celebrated Patty Roy's 300th win and thought it was cool, but I wouldn't have necessarily been upset if the team neglected to do anything. It seems like they should have said something, but that doesn't mean they had to, right?

Cheers,
Wes
Austin, TX

Nashville had a responsibility to address and educate its fans on this important piece of USA Hockey history, especially considering that, in 2001, Predators general manager David Poile was a recipient of the Lester Patrick Award in recognition of contributions to hockey in the United States. Yes, they should have stopped the game for a short second, had a video screen message ready, and made an announcement recognizing this important piece of NHL history. It's easy and good sportsmanship. The devil's advocate is that "Do we do this the next time or when someone breaks the Russia, Canada or Slovenia record for career goals?" I say, any time we can make a USA/NHL history connection, especially in the United States, we should do it. Oh by the way & Most goals by a player born in: Canada -- Wayne Gretzky, 894 Czech Republic -- Jaromir Jagr, 617 Finland -- Jari Kurri, 601 (Watch out for Selanne!) Sweden -- Mats Sundin, 523 Ukraine -- Peter Bondra, 503 Russia -- Alexander Mogilny, 473 Slovenia -- Anze Kopitar, 18


Hi John,

I was wondering about Marian Gaborik. Since his return from a nasty groin injury that has limited him to playing only 41 games this year (last I checked), the impact that he has had on the Minnesota Wild in the second half of this season is unbelievable. In 41 games, he has scored 49 points (28 goals and 21 assists) and is a +12 while playing in Coach Jacques Lemaire's defensive system. Gaborik for the Hart would be a huge stretch, but as far as players who are important to their team, Gaborik has to be up there with the Crosbys and the Brodeurs of the NHL. So goes Gaborik, so goes the Wild. Would he even be considered a dark-horse candidate?

Nate
Rockwell City, IA

Marian Gaborik is a player whom some casual NHL fans have actually never even heard of. He is an extraordinary talent. He is scoring goals at a 50-goal pace this season. If he can produce in the playoffs against the other teams' shutdown defenders, that makes everyone else on the Wild more dangerous. That's the value of a player like Gaborik and he, had he played a whole season, would have been at least in the top 10 players in the league. He is a player who does everything at top speed and he has a Joe Sakic-like release.


Hey Bucci,

I have one little complaint about Stars president Jim Lites going off on the Nashville Predators for not acknowledging Mike Modano's milestone goal. I'm fine with an organization being upset when one of their players reaches such a mark and it isn't announced on the PA system. However, when that same complaining organization didn't acknowledge a career milestone of an opposing player in their arena, I get upset. I was at the Stars-Pens game when Mark Recchi recorded his 500th career goal. Not once did Recchi get the respect and acknowledgement from the Stars, nor an announcement from the PA system. So, I believe that the Stars had it coming when that happened. Before Lites opens up his mouth and criticizes the Preds for not "selling the game," he needs to look under his own roof!

Devin (Pens Fan)
Dallas,TX

That is incorrect. Dallas announced it after the goal and Recchi received a standing ovation.


John,

I'd like to get your take on the Dallas owner blasting the Predators last week. Modano has never been a fan favorite here in Nashville ever since he said the Preds should be retracted at the 2004 Olympics. Yes, Nashville didn't address Modano becoming the all-time leading American-born scorer, but this came shortly after the Tootoo incident (as the Tennessean put it: "Robidas' face flew into Tootoo's fist") and Modano hitting Tootoo in the back with his stick and not getting called. The crowd was booing Modano every time he touched the puck. It was a judgment call, and the right one in my book.

J.T. - displaced Wings fan
Nashville, TN


Bucci,

How about a little love for my Rangers? Everyone, including yourself, gave them up for dead about three weeks ago, and since then, they have been on a tear. Like Travis Warren has been to Blind Melon, Sean Avery has been to the Rangers (hate to steal one of your lines, but it's appropriate, trust me). Avery has brought a tough, physical presence to the team, as well as a scoring touch -- 15 points in 21 games, six of which came on the power play. And with all the injuries to this team, the kids they are bringing up from Hartford (i.e. Ryan Callahan 6 games, 2 goals, 1 assist) have done exactly what they were called up to do. Point being, this team has turned it on. I'm just the guy making sure all the people who counted them out realize that it's not over 'til Nancy Wilson plays MSG. Never miss it. Keep up the great job, and thank you for keeping hockey alive. I NEED MY NHL2NIGHT BACK! MAKE IT HAPPEN BUCCI!

Adam Rodriguez LET'S GO RANGERS,
Orlando, FL

The cry for the return of an "NHL 2Night" type highlight show has been filling my inbox. I guess three years of not having hockey adequately covered on a nightly basis in the United States will do that to people. Thanks for the love and support of the show and the sport. As far as the Rangers, they did look dead. But, it's pretty simple to see what is going on. Jaromir Jagr is playing at top speed again and Henrik Lundqvist is their best player. Last year, the Rangers lost their last five regular-season games while the Devils won their last eleven. It was not hard to see what was coming in their playoff series. This year, the Rangers are playing much better and if they make the playoffs they will do so playing well, because the tight playoff races are forcing teams to. For my preseason prediction's sake, I hope the standings stay as they were when the week began. I'll be seven of eight in the East and West -- 14 of 16. That deserves a bonus. A little something, you know, for the effort, you know.


Bucci,

Why isn't anybody talking about the possibility that Ryan Smyth will re-sign with the Oilers this summer? When they traded him, their playoff hopes were all but gone. Isn't it possible that Edmonton picked up two prospects and a first-round pick from the Islanders knowing that they were going to miss the playoffs and could get Smyth back this summer?

Nate Susi
Bangor, ME

I thought about that Nate, but unless Smyth lowers his price back down to $5 million a year, the Oilers will go in a different direction. They need LOTS of help. It doesn't seem like a good fit at that price. That said, I don't see why getting the salary down to $5 million and maybe adding an extra year can't be achieved.


John,

Not a question this time, but can we get a mention of Oswego's first national title in next week's column? All of us who bleed green and gold (like Steve Levy and Linda Cohn) were pretty excited over this.

Thanks and enjoy the playoffs,
Mike
Alexandria, VA (by way of Binghamton and Oswego, NY)


JB,

Fellow Pittsburgher here. You should check out Jack Johnson's "Better Together" as a wedding song. It's going to be mine this September. Now if I could convince the lucky lady to name our first child (boy or girl) Sidney!

Jeremy Jester
McLean, VA


John,

Wheeler's goal was certainly sweet, but was it really better than Mike Legg's?

Thanks
Chris
Hartford, CT

Good call. I'll call Legg's the coolest. Wheeler's, because it was in overtime and won a conference championship, is still my choice.


John,

Wheeler's goal was phenomenal, but I think there was an even greater one in NCAA history. Neal Broten's game-winner to beat North Dakota in the 1979 championship game was nearly identical to the Wheeler goal. Not an OT goal, but given the game, I would say a better one. Check it out on YouTube.

Chris Melsha
Blaine, MN

Wheeler's still has my vote over Broten's, but just by a little bit. Broten's was a great individual effort of skill and smarts. Thanks for the YouTube heads up. I watched them both 20 times each. Sometimes things that happened long ago, like The Beatles, are better and sometimes they are not.


John,

I was at the Phoenix game when Ovechkin scored his goal. That goal was the most unbelievable sports moment I've ever witnessed live or on TV. Let me put it in some perspective -- the 10,000 or so fans that were in attendance gave Ovechkin a standing ovation for a full minute -- and these were predominantly Coyotes fans. Nobody believed what they saw. That being said, the Wheeler goal -- with its significance as the OT game-winner -- was pretty sweet. With Wheeler, Hanzal and Mueller coming up and the young defensemen currently in place (Michalek, Ballard), does this organization have a good chance of turning their losing ways around in the near future?

Chicken parm forever!
Jordan Ellel
Philly faithful living in Phoenix

P.S. "The Luckiest" is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

The Coyotes need to keep losing and get that first or second pick in the NHL draft and choose Patrick Kane of Buffalo, N.Y. Even if they fall to No. 2, they will get a stud. And Kane should be able to play next year. He's Daniel Briere's size and skilled. Put him on a line with Shane Doan to give him some room, and the Coyotes will at least be better. They still have a long way to go, but this is the road to take. Not Roenick, Nolan, Scatchard, Ricci, and what they were doing going into this season.


John,

Have you had a chance to see the Sabres' rookie winger, Drew Stafford? With his emergence, the acquisition of Zubrus and the return of Afinogenov, Connolly and Kotalik, the Sabres are going to be rolling four dangerous lines every single night. Is there any other team in the league with as much depth up front?

I've attached a picture of my 3-year-old, Caleb, who is playing "Danny Briere." According to him, Danny can do anything, including playing goal. By the way, check out the plastic cup that Caleb placed on the top of the net … he refuses to play hockey unless there is something on the net to mimic the water bottle.

Thanks for the column. Go Sabres!
Best,
John
Rochester, New York


















John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.