Thursday, March 8, 2007

USA Today Talks Enforcers

USA Today chimed in on the hot topic in hockey these days, enforcers. No matter which side of the fence you are on, talk of hockey fights and tough guys means more press for the NHL. And that it appears the NHL has begun to take note of.

A couple of quotes from Kevin Allen’s article:

Fighting doesn't play nearly the role it once did in the NHL — down 38% from 2003-04 — but when you combine the Penguins' decision to bring in a tough guy to look after their young stars, a 6.5% rise in fighting from last season and general managers' support of a proposal to weaken supplemental discipline guidelines for instigators, fighting isn't headed for extinction.

Have the Penguins been safer? "Absolutely," Shero says. "And Georges doesn't always have to fight, because the deterrent is there."

Burke says he wants to strengthen the hockey tradition of players looking after their teammates. In the Original Six days, tough guys were called "policemen."

"If my goalie gets run, I want someone in black and gold to handle it," Burke says. "I don't want zebras (referees) to handle it or the league office in Toronto to handle it."

Burke's position is when players have two instigator penalties, they don't feel like they can do their jobs properly. He uses the case of the Florida Panthers' Steve Montador.
"He's a good, honest player," Burke says. "He's not a heavyweight. He doesn't fight all of the time. But he has two instigator penalties because he jumped in to help his teammates. The next time he jumps in to help his teammates, he gets suspended. Don't we want him to jump in and help his goalie next time?"

Adds the Ducks' George Parros: "The way they put the division rivalries this year, there is a lot of bad blood. If something happens, you have to be held accountable for it. I think if it goes from three to five instigators, guys aren't going to try to take advantage of it. It will allow someone not to hold back when something happens."

The bigger problem for the NHL might be the perception it is trying to embrace a fighting style again. Fighting has always been a hot-button issue, with some fans passionately supporting the history of fighting and some strongly opposed.

From a marketing standpoint, fighting has always been both a help and a hindrance.

"The question is still where is the big bastion of fan base going to come from and what role will fighting have for keeping them in the building or keeping them away," says Paul Swangard, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.

"Fighting remains the mysterious component that in some way makes hockey hockey, and we are trying to live on the edge between making this a version of no-touch hockey and what it once was when the bullies were out there."

One note: Allen does a wondeful job of covering the grass and the sidewalk, but he should note that most hockey fans (up to 90%) prefer fighting.

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