Fight or Farce?
Ray Emery continues his attack on a defenseless Braden Holtby.
It should come as no surprise that Brian Burke would come to the defense of fighting in hockey, as he did in a column for USA Today last week. After all, this is a man who kept his rosters well stocked with 'truculence, pugnacity and belligerence' during his tenure as a GM in various cities. This is a man who called a press conference to lament having to send enforcer Colton Orr to the minors in January 2012. He's clearly a fan of the rough stuff. Burke's article lauded the good that fighting brings to the game, and he makes a pretty good case.
Reduced to its simplest truth, fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game. Players who break the rules are held accountable by other players. The instigator rule has reduced accountability. Eliminating fighting would render it extinct.
It's not a perfect system. Not every fight is a good fight. Not every fighter is a perfect policeman. There are a small number of rats in the game who live outside the code. But our game is improved tremendously by players' ability to police the game. It makes it more exciting and honorable. It allows skill players to focus on the skilled aspects of the game because someone else can watch their back. And it fundamentally makes our game safer.
It's an excellent article and you can read it in it's entirety here.
However, any positive progress the pro-fighting camp in this debate may have hoped to gain from Burke's commentary was lost just over 5 minutes into the 3rd period of last night's Capitals-Flyers game. The Flyers antics during the 7-0 drubbing they received at the hands of the Ovechkin-less Caps were not only disgraceful, but flew in the face of Burke's commentary. With the score out of hand and a fight between Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and Washington's Tom Wilson breaking out, Flyers goaltender Ray Emery left his crease and raced down the ice with one goal in mind: to fight Capitals netminder Braden Holtby. This is a staged fight in that it was premeditated. There was no other reason for Emery to head to the Washington zone at that point. Emery knew what he was doing, of that there is no debate. What's worse though, is that this was the worst kind of staged fight: one which one of the combatants wanted no part of. When Emery reaches Holtby, it's clear that Holtby has no interest in engaging with Emery. Emery admitted as much is his post game comments.
"He didn't want to fight. I said basically 'Protect yourself' or whatever you know? He didn't really have much of a choice."
How noble of you, Mr. Emery.
Emery, a noted boxing enthusiast, rained blows down on a clearly over-matched Holtby, even as Holtby lost his footing and fell to the ice. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said after the game that he didn't have a problem with it, and Ray Emery was even named the games third star. His stat line for the night? 11 saves on 15 shots, a .733 save percentage in 22:47 of ice time. If it wasn't obvious from the 7-0 score that the Flyers were being outclassed last night, they went out of their way to prove it. The Flyers, and Ray Emery in particular, should be embarrassed by their actions.
There was no code of honor here. No players 'policing' players. No provocation. No upholding of tradition, no retaliation for a dirty hit, no coming to the defense of a teammate.
There was no excuse.
So when the subject of fighting in the NHL comes under fire again (and it will); when NHL players around the league come to it's defense and speak of the purpose fighting serves in our game, remember that night in Philadelphia. Remember that the players brought this debate upon themselves with ridiculous displays like the one the Flyers put on last night. Just as a respected hockey man like Brian Burke comes to the defense of fighting in our game with concise thought and reason, the 'Broadstreet Bullies' took it upon themselves to serve up an emphatic counter-argument. Turns out the biggest blow Emery and the Flyers landed last night may have been to the subject of fighting itself.