Saturday, December 22, 2007

How not to fix the NHL

Recently the Vancouver Sun ran a column called "12 Ways to Fix the NHL" which listed...12 ways to fix the NHL. Well, it was actually more of a re-hashing of the same old problems that always get thrown around, but anyway, the point is that I'm getting sick of a lot of these complaints about the NHL being repeated over and over. The league definetly has some real problems, but they're not necessarily the ones that get brought up every day in the newspapers and the talk shows. So, every once in a while I'm going to discuss one of these long-hailed suggestions/complaints and point out what I think is wrong with it. (Take that, media establishment!). For today we're gonna start with:

Sugestion #1: Getting rid of the instigator. I don't have anything against fighting and I don't think the league should be trying to discourage it. My problem with this one is the argument that the instigator rule is the reason players don't respect each other anymore, and if we'd just let goons police the game things would magically return to the good old days when nobody ever got hurt playing hockey.

First of all, I doubt there was ever a period in NHL history when the players respected each other to the degree that it's claimed they did. I'm not really sure enforcers ever laid off Bobby Orr or whoever just because he was Bobby Orr. That just smacks of "back in my day...." type bullshit to me. Even if there was smewhat more respect among players back in the day than now, I'm willng to bet it wasn't because of the firm handed yet effective policing of the game by the good squad, but because there were fewer teams, fewer players, and so you ran into the same faces a lot more often back then than you do now.

Second of all, if someone goes after your best player and you want to punish him for it, there's a lot better ways to do it than fighting. It's not necessarily that easy to get someone into a fight. Even without the instigator, guys are still gonna be able to pull a Matt Cooke and avoid fights when challenged. Even if you do manage to get a player into a fight, he can just drop to the ice after one hit and let the linesman clean things up. If you really want to go after someone, a good hit is both more readily available and can do a lot more damadge. It doesn't even have to be a dirty hit. You can lay someone out pretty good with a nice clean check. Just ask Scott Stevens. So if players want to "police the game" there's still ways to do it. (Bonus side point: a hit's a lot more likely to leave a player injured than a fight, but by discouraging fights as a method of retaliation you're encouraging players to retaliate with hits instead. So the instigator rule actually encourages injuries.)

Third of all, why is "letting the players police the game" even considred a good idea? Is it because that's how it allegedly was in the old days, and therefore it must by definition be a better way to do things? Because in the old days we also had goalies playing without facemasks, and I'm not sure that was a good idea. I guess you could argue letting the players sort things out is supposed to reduce violence in the game by threatening players who commit violent acts with the possibility that violence will be done to them in return. At the same time, though, isn't allowing players to violently punish each other for their transgressions as likely to increase violence by creating a never ending cycle of "im fighting you as revenge for that time you fought me as revenge for fighting you"-type things. There's a plausible argument to be made for either one of these interpretations, but everyone out there seems to take the first side of the argument and not even consider the second.

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