The feeling is growing in the league that fighting should be put
to an end
As the NHL prepares for its first postseason of the new
millennium, there's a growing conviction among league power
brokers that the time has come to end fighting. "We had a
crusade to eliminate it a few years ago, but it pretty much fell
on deaf ears," says Bruins general manager Harry Sinden. "Maybe
now the ears won't be so deaf."
Thanks partly to the instigator rule, which was implemented in
1992-93 and assesses a game misconduct against a player who
starts a brawl, fighting has waned. Through Sunday, there had
been an average of 1.0 fighting majors per game in 1999-2000,
down from 1.2 last year and 1.6 in 1997-98. This season 63% of
the games had been fight-free, the highest percentage on record.
"If the NHL were starting today, I doubt that fighting would be
allowed," says Sinden.
The hockey traditionalists' arguments in favor of fighting seem
flimsier now than ever. Here are some of them, along with the
The traditionalist: Fighting cuts down on stickwork, because
players who wield their sticks in a menacing fashion fear they
may have to drop their gloves.
The response: Next season all games will be officiated by two
referees, greatly diminishing gratuitous stickwork. Also, NHL
higher-ups know that Marty McSorley's heinous stick attack on
Donald Brashear, which has been a public relations disaster for
the league, came about precisely because fighting is allowed.
McSorley was avenging a fight he had lost to Brashear earlier in
The traditionalist: Fighting is a spontaneous act that allows
players to release the frustration that builds during a game.
The response: Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden, who favors the
abolition of fighting, points out that the vast majority of
bouts are among a small minority of players. "The rest of the
guys have never been frustrated?" Dryden asks. As for
spontaneity, Flyers enforcer Gino Odjick says, "Ninety-five
percent of fighting is [preordained]."
The traditionalist: Fighting lures fans.
The response: Last year 83 of 86 postseason matches were
fightless, yet arenas were nearly filled to capacity. Brawling
appeals to a niche of hard-core fans, but banning it would
please the queasy masses.
A discussion about eliminating fighting will most likely arise
at a general managers meeting before the entry draft in June.
Adopting dramatic legislation that would give a 10-game
suspension to a player instigating a fight, a five-game ban to
his coach and a $50,000 fine to his team's owner might effect
change. Perhaps, if the traditionalists are correct, fighting is
so ingrained in the game that it will survive even those harsh
measures. All we are saying is give peace a chance.
New Jersey's Trades
Go Away--and I Mean Far
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello says his sole motivation
in making deals is to "improve our club," and his March 14
acquisition of Canucks sniper Alexander Mogilny for forwards
Brendan Morrison and Denis Pederson seems likely to do that for
the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. The trade had the
added benefit of banishing Morrison, who had asked to be dealt
after a contract holdout, and Pederson, who had complained about
ice time this season, to the far side of the continent and the
low end of the NHL. Vancouver's travel schedule is grueling, and
the Canucks are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the
fourth straight year. "I didn't think about that," says
Lamoriello. "I just tried to make a good trade."
Yet a look at Lamoriello's 13-year record reveals that
cantankerous Devils don't simply get dealt; they get exiled. In
1990 Lamoriello resolved a contract squabble with center Bob
Brooke by sending him to that dreaded outpost, Winnipeg, home of
the now-defunct Jets. More recently, discontented New Jersey
forwards John MacLean and Bill Guerin got relocated by roughly
3,000 miles: MacLean to San Jose in '97 and Guerin to Edmonton
in '98. In the words of one rival general manager, "Lou's built
such a good team that if he has a player he doesn't want to see,
he just sends him far away."
Berard's Eye Injury
A Nightmare for All Involved
The life of Maple Leafs defenseman Bryan Berard has been forever
altered by the heel of Marian Hossa's stick. Hossa, a Senators
left wing, took a wild swing at the puck during a March 11 game,
and his follow-through accidentally caught Berard flush in the
right eye. Within hours Berard underwent surgery to stop the
bleeding. At week's end he could distinguish nothing more than
shadows with the damaged eye. The condition, which doctors say
may never significantly improve, imperils Berard's career.
The TV images of the blow and of Berard kneeling as blood
darkened the ice beneath him haunt many who saw them, but no one
more than Hossa, a soft-spoken 21-year-old Slovakian. He
appeared shell-shocked as he faced the media three days after
the incident. "I think about what happened all the time," he
said. "I can't stop thinking about it. I just want the best for
Bryan Berard." The Senators ended the press conference early
when Hossa became emotional. He has sought counseling to address
his feelings of guilt.
The injury might have been less severe--or might never have
occurred--had Berard been among the roughly 20% of NHL players,
including Hossa, who wear visors. Last week a group of players,
among them Rangers forwards Theo Fleury and John MacLean,
Capitals defenseman Sergei Gonchar and Senators forward Radek
Bonk, joined those ranks. Bonk had worn a visor early in his
career. "I never thought about wearing one again until what
happened to Berard," he says. "You see that, and it's scary."
For Hossa, the memory of the play is nightmarish. "I'm having a
hard time sleeping," he said. "When I sleep it is all I see."
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Fights per game are down, but some traditionalists still feel brawling is good for hockey.
COLOR PHOTO: J. LEARY/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
COLOR PHOTO: A. PICHETTE/B. BENNETT STUDIOS
WHOM WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE?
He was acquired from the Penguins at the trade deadline because
he has won two Cups and, at 34, remains a daunting postseason
presence. With Pittsburgh this season he had a 3.18 GAA.
Although teams pursued the 31-year-old at the deadline, Montreal
held on to him hoping he'll be effective in the playoffs--even
though he's never won a postseason series. Through Sunday he had
a 2.41 GAA.
The Verdict: Barrasso can be divisive in the dressing room, but
we'll cast our lot with the new Senator and his big-game