<
>

When does the 'code' go too far?

2/8/2008 - NHL

Bob Gainey is one of the quiet, but respected voices in the game of hockey.

So when the vice president and GM of the Montreal Canadiens -- and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- says something is wrong with the game, others should sit up and take notice.

While speaking to Gainey recently about his rising star on defense, Mike Komisarek, I mentioned that the physical blueliner plays a rough and tumble game, yet doesn't drop his gloves that often. Through 53 games, Komisarek had engaged in just four fights.

What bothers Gainey is the way Komisarek -- and just about all NHLers, Gainey claims -- is challenged to fight almost every time he dishes out a solid bodycheck.

"It's goofy," Gainey says.

That is an understatement. There used to be a code in the game -- hit one of the opposing team's top stars and expect to be challenged to drop the gloves. You can understand teammates wanting to protect their bread and butter players from harm. But now it doesn't seem to matter who gets hit, a teammate is hot on the trail of the hitter, looking for a fight.

It's funny; when the NHL put an emphasis on scoring after the lockout, there were all kinds of complaints about the lack of hitting. Frankly, I never bought into it. I enjoyed the more wide-open play and felt there was ample bodychecking. Oh, and fighting went down ... for a while.

But when The Hockey News reported last season fighting numbers were on the decline, enforcers (who can apparently read, even if they can't really play) started to get busy. Fighting numbers went back up again. Talk about safety in numbers -- as in numbers of fights.

Fighting in the NHL is at a comfortable level. I prefer fights that evolve naturally, rather than the many premeditated battles we see, but so be it. What I'd really like to see, however, is a return to players being able to deliver bodychecks without having to look over their shoulders to see who is charging in their direction with their gloves lying on the ice behind them.

You hit a star player ... you break the code ... expect retaliation. But let's get serious; do we really need to see a fight after every big hit? Haven't we bragged for years that hitting is one of the biggest attractions of our game?

Gainey loves the way Komisarek plays.

"He has worked hard at making himself a dynamic player," the Habs boss says. "He is difficult to play against because he has size and mobility. He is a passionate, emotional player who enjoys playing the sport because of the energy and physical play and teamwork. He plays a physical style of play because he enjoys it."

Komisarek says he has no intention of changing.

"I got into hockey mainly because I was a big guy and a physical kid," Komisarek says. "I played other sports like soccer, basketball and baseball, but those sports never really allowed me to use my size.

"I have always taken pride in being physical and trying to block shots. That is what my team needs me to do. Every game I get the tough guys on the other team talking to me and chirping at me [trying to fight], but for me to go off the ice with one of those guys instead of, say, [Jaromir] Jagr or one of the other team's top scorers, doesn't make sense. You have to look at the tradeoff."

Mike Brophy's Double OT appears regularly on thehockeynews.com.

Can't get enough Brophy? Subscribe to The Hockey News at http://www.thehockeynews.com to get the column delivered to you every issue.