It is kind of like having pasta without the sauce, or the meatballs or the parmesan cheese.
I am talking about aggressiveness in the National Hockey League, or more specifically, fighting, the endangered ingredient to an otherwise perfect recipe.
It seems the NHL’s ultimate goal is to eliminate raw emotion in the sport. They will only be satisfied when every club’s resident tough guy is standing in the unemployment lines.
The year is 2004. Disputes with contracts between players and franchise owners over the summer months ended bitterly, resulting in a lockout. The hockey-less year brought many changes to the NHL.
Stricter interpretations of rules that have gone overlooked for years enable forwards to experience offensive zone freedom. These changes have turned gritty low scoring defensive battles into superstar driven five or six goal games.
Enter 2007. Fighting numbers are finally up after a huge decline since the lockout. The increase has reached 52 percent in just the first 130 games this season.
One of the main reasons? The “fighting” Ducks of Anaheim. The Ducks brawled their way to a Stanley Cup victory, beating opposing teams to the ground and re-introducing the role of the enforcer to the sport. Anaheim enforcers abided by the new rules and found their own way to open the ice for their superstars to score at will.
Fans are pleased from what one can see based on the crowd reaction to a fight. The men in Toronto however, are not.
The “hockey experts” argue that fighting is a true downfall to selling hockey in American markets, big hits leave black eyes on the sport. They claim enforcers have no real reason to be in the league and certain teams are considered out of control for their conduct thus far on the ice.
As you may have guessed, one of those teams under siege is the Philadelphia Flyers.
With three players facing suspensions, two of those being over 20 games long, the Flyers have been deemed dangerous, out of control and even compared to their infamous predecessors, the Broad Street Bullies.
Wait a second, didn’t those Broad Street Bullies win Philadelphia’s only two Stanley Cup’s in their 41 year history?
Yes, and they did that by scaring the opposing team’s goal scorers out of their defensive zone, while striking fear in opposing defensemen for even looking at past scoring legends like Bob Clark.
The Jaromir Jagrs of the game now dominate, as this new look NHL favors quick European forwards and does not leave much room for gritty older players to do what they do best. How do you play against New York’s Jagr or Washington’s Oveckhkin?
Bully style, of course. You hit them, repeatedly. You scare them. You make them paranoid out on the ice, looking for the player who will deliver that bone crushing hit.
What the NHL really did by their changes was install rules that in coming years would destroy its once aggressive aura. Or at least, try to.
It only took three seasons for the enforcer role to make its comeback to hockey. Why? Because they are necessary for success.
The Flyers suffered the worst season in league history last year. This year they went out after a new quick forward known for scoring goals. To protect him, they recruited several brutal defensemen.
The results thus far in the season have been quite triumphant.
No one wants to see Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby take a dive because he felt a hand on his back, get the man advantage for his team and than score a power play goal he didn’t deserve in the first place.
If he dares to come through the center, I expect Flyers captain Jason Smith to introduce Mr. Crosby to the cold ice that he skates on.
At the same time however, if someone dares lay a finger on Philly favorites Simon Gagne or Daniel Briere, I’d expect Ben Eager to send that guy off on a stretcher.
If a player wearing a foreign sweater dares to even breathe on net minder Marty Biron, I feel a bench clearing brawl absolutely necessary.
And that’s just it, it is this kind of passion that I watch my favorite team with.
For those of you who disagree with fighting in hockey, I propose this: Your pasta just does not seem to taste the same without the sauce and the sprinkle of parmesan cheese, does it?