Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fighting in the NHL, It's a Necessity

Pascal Morency is by no means an NHL-caliber hockey player. It's no secret that his fists win him tryouts in NHL training camps. He's been a regular at training camps for some time now, yet when it's all said and done, he finds himself playing at the ECHL level.

Just ask a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins. Morency skated in the big camp several years ago and found himself playing for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL shortly thereafter. In today's NHL, this minor league enforcer has one role and one role only, to protect his teammates on the ice and act as nightly security.

The New York Islanders invited Pascal Morency to Training Camp for the 2009-10 season. Morency reported to camp looking to make an impression and somehow fill a void on the lowly Islanders. Shortly following a devastating hit by Calgary Flames punishing defenseman Dion Phaneuf on forward and teammate Kyle Okoposo, Morency saw his chance. He left the Islanders bench immediately after the hit, chased down Phaneuf, and caused a scrum that resulted in a 5-game suspension.

Witnessing Okoposo on the stretcher, luckily alert at the time, was enough for me to believe that was the right thing to do. Someone needed to respond to Phaneuf for an unnecessary preseason collision (and possible cheap shot?). Morency leaving the bench, is certainly unacceptable, but a message needed to be sent to Dion Phaneuf and it most certainly was.

For years, there have been countless debates on the need for fighting in the NHL. Just last spring, Joe Romano and Mike Colligan took a look at the arguments on both sides of the table here on the blog. With the deep talent pool in the NHL, and the head-hunters a plenty, it’s interesting to think about what role it really serves in today's game.

Some tend to think the NHL is better off without fighting, while others believe the league simply cannot do without. There are so many different ways to interpret fighting in the NHL and the positive and negative effect it has on the game and those involved can be blurred in incident's like this. When it comes to taking care of the elite talent in the league, I feel enforcers are an absolute must. When players disobey the unwritten rules of the NHL and stars are injured without any retribution, enforcers can settle the score in a way that players in other sports cannot.

Take Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi for example. As most of us remember, former Canuck teammate Marcus Naslund was blind sided by Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore. Todd Bertuzzi took exception to the hit and sucker punched Moore to the side of his head causing him to fall to the ice unconscious. Yes, Bertuzzi was sticking up for his one time teammate. However, confronting Steve Moore face to face certainly was obviously the ideal scenario. It didn’t happen however, causing spectators to raise their eyebrows and NHL executives to rethink the enforcing in the NHL and the violence which it can sometime create in rare instances like this.

While Pascal Morency is unlikely to be employed in the National Hockey league anytime soon, his actions certainly didn’t go unnoticed. He crossed the line by leaving the bench, but by no means was he about to not do his job that night which first and foremost meant protecting his all costs. The Islanders can go on without Morency, but they can't survive without their young stars like Okposo and #1 pick John Tavares. I have a feeling Islanders Head Coach Scott Gordon would agree with me.

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AJ Petronzi said...

Fighting is an unquestioned necessity in the NHL. Without it, there isn't any check against dirty plays. Phaneuf left his feet on a head-hunting hit and deserved a 5-game suspension more than Morency.

As far as Morency leaving the bench, if you look the Islanders started changing lines, whether or not they sent him out to fight Phaneuf or not, that's Morency's job.

When every team had a guy like Bob Probert on their bench this kind of stuff wasn't as big of a problem. When you knew stepping up on a guy meant standing up to the big enforcers, you didn't leave your feet on a hit in order to take off a guy's head.

The problem is that the NHL doesn't want fighting, but it does seem to want career ending concussions. If every team had a couple guys to throw their fists around when a hit like this happens, the NHL would be a lot safer for the players.

Mike Colligan said...

I agree with your comments and reasoning, however I have a problem with fighting in the NHL today.

Years ago, guys like Dave Semenko made sure opponents answered the bell when Gretzky got messed with. These days, it rarely happens like that.

I watched most of the Capitals/Penguins games last year and saw Ovechkin elbow, cheap shot, and spear Crosby and Malkin numerous times. Both players fought back a little, but in the end everyone knew Eric Godard's role was to make sure Ovechkin's actions didn't go unnoticed.

Yet here's where the problem is. Godard didn't go and fight Ovechkin...he went toe to toe with Donald Brashear 3 times. What's the point of this? If Godard would've went after Ovechkin and stuck up for his teammates, he would've been berated by the media and probably suspended for attacking a superstar. To me, that is totally pointless.

Darren Coslov said...

I agree with both of your viewpoints. I also strongly agree with Flyer forward Ian Laperriere. If you take a trip down memory lane into the 2008-09 season, Pittsburgh Native John Zeiler, currently a member of the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, hit Veteran Dman Adam Foote from behind, while playing for the LA Kings. Laperriere let it be known, that the very next time the Avalanche and Kings would meet, John Zeiler needed to man up and fight him. I don't care who you are in the NHL, if your going to take liberties on opponents, you must pay the consequences.