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The NHL missed the mark on goalie fighting

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial hockey rock, then you at least heard something about the Ray Emery/Braden Holtby incident from a few weeks back.  For those of you who didn’t, here’s the short version: during a 7-0 drubbing of the Flyers at the hands of Washington, a scrum ensued down in the Caps’ end.  Clearly frustrated, Ray Emery decided to skate the length of the ice and viciously pummel a clearly unwilling Braden Holtby.  It was disgusting and deserved supplemental discipline.  However, Brendan Shanahan was unable to cite authority in the rulebook granting him the right to impose further punishment on Sugar Ray.

Fast forward to last week, where it became known that the NHL powers-that-be were going to discuss the incident at the GM meetings in Toronto.  The only hitch, they were talking about banning goalie fights.  Wait, what?

Contrary to the title of this post, this piece actually has nothing to do with goalies.  The only thing that makes goalies relevant to this discussion is that it’s the position Emery and Holtby happen to play, and the league is taking this ridiculous stance to solve the problem.  So, let me get this straight: a willing combatant assaults a completely unwilling combatant, beats him senseless and the solution is, to ban goalie fighting?

How is this not a conversation about supplemental discipline for those who engage in violent acts on the ice with a player who has no desire to reciprocate?  Think John Scott/Phil Kessel (minus the lumberjack chop).  Isn’t the bigger issue when an enforcer-type player essentially gives a weaker player no choice but to engage in a dangerous physical altercation?

This isn’t meant to be an overarching commentary about fighting’s place in the game (maybe I’ll tackle that in the future, maybe).  The point is that the NHL is wildly missing the mark on what the real problem here is.  This is a classic example of knee-jerk legislation.  There was public outcry due to a specific and isolated event, so the solution is clearly to legislate the hell out of the lowest common denominator.

Just look at this quote from Bettman cited in the ESPN article above:

 “There hasn’t been a rule against it, and if in the final analysis we think it’s a bad idea for goaltenders to skate the length of the ice and fight each other, then you make a rule to prohibit that,” said Bettman.

What in the world does this have to do with the reason people felt sick from watching Holtby get his brains beat in?  It had nothing to do with the fact that Emery skated the length of the ice, or that he was wearing goalie pads.  It’s the fact that Holtby wasn’t involved in the fisticuffs at all, and was forced into the fray by Emery.  That’s not analysis, Gary.  That’s patronizing dreck.  Also, no discussion of the Linesman Francois St. Laurent holding other players and officials back as Emery did his work?  Why is his conduct not being scrutinized?

This event should provide the league with an opportunity.  This type of incident should provide a body of professional hockey minds the forum in which to have a thoughtful and productive discussion about the concept of fighting in the modern game, and the most important lens to view that discussion: player safety.  It would take a tiny tweak to the rulebook to immediately dispense with this problem, in the form of mandating a match penalty and exposure to supplemental discipline for a player who ignores the unwillingness of a player he intends to engage in a fight, continuing to seek out that altercation.  Think of it as the “Two to Tango” rule.

Outside the framework of that rule, start taking a look at empirical evidence on serious injuries, head shots and other relevant data and at least start an exploratory committee on the subject of major penalties for hits targeting the head and the elimination of staged fights and other unnecessary risks to player safety.  After all, doesn’t it make more sense to actually address the true, underlying issue than throwing a PR band-aid at a problem that doesn’t really exist?

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  1. Right on with your viewpoint. It is a bit mind-boggling how far off the mark the League/GMs are here. And I don’t think it stems from incompetence. It would be impossible for these guys, some of the greatest hockey minds around- i.e. Yzerman, Poille, Sakic- to have their collective finger that far off the pulse of our game.

    They know what the problem is and can probably fix it. For whatever reason, they are intentionally complacent when it comes to addressing issues like these. And it’s particularly frustrating for fans and followers of the game. Don’t even get me started on Bettmangina and his use of politics, pointed statements and non transparent explanations. Nothing that puppet says is insightful or “significant”.

    1. I think we can all agree he’s a stooge, squid, and should be stuffed in lockers by guys in leather motorcycle jackets from now until the end of eternity haha.

      That was mostly a joke… but no, really, he’s horrendous and has done more to harm the game of hockey (a truly wonderful sport by any biased or unbiased measuring standards) than he has to help it. 3 Lockouts in 20 years(!!!!), no major network TV deal, and questionable internal hires and discipline (prior to Shannahan taking over for Colin Campbell) far trump his bringing hockey back to Winnipeg.

      1. Appreciate that.

        From a dollars and exposure standpoint, he’s done good. He’s put money in the pockets of owners and league executives.

        Some of the game’s growth he can take credit for. Although, much of it would probably have been achieved on it’s own. It’s a great sport. No one likes the last 2 work stoppages, and had he done a better job behind the scenes, we would have avoided the lockouts completely. That said, I’d gladly take the sabbaticals, to have an improved product delivered to us each time upon the sport’s return. Which, in my opinion it has. Hockey has it’s flaws (supplementary discipline, diving) but as a whole I enjoy watching the game more now than I ever have before. Admittedly, much of that has to do with HD television, improved equipment and advancements in sports science, not with Bettman.

        He also gets alot of knocks for the whole sun-belt movement, and I may be in the minority, but I support him on this. In the name of growing the game, reaching fan bases, developing youth programs and ultimately cultivating professional athletes from non traditional markets, subsidization is necessary. Revenue sharing should be used to prop up markets such as Florida, Southern California, Nashville, and others in the name of exposure. Toronto, New York and Montreal account for over 90% of league wide revenue, if for no other reason than location. I think it goes without saying that they are not deserving of all of it. Obviously it should be spread around for the betterment of the league. Recently we’ve had California residents drafted in the 1st round of the NHL draft for the first time in history. Best believe that wouldn’t be happening if we kept the sport in traditional cold weather markets.

        Despite any good Gary has done, I will always dislike him for his demeanor and dis-ingenuousness.

  2. Justin

    Your article is spot on!!

    When the fight took place, I called out Emery as nothing but a low life piece of human fecal matter, and I stand by that. It was clear as day Holtby wanted nothing to do with a scrap, but the goon assulted him, and if nothing else, I would have brought civil charges against Ray Emery.

    If the NHL want any credibily, it would suspend Emery for at least five games, their coach the same, and fine the organization $50 K. When something alone these lines is done, it would make sh*t heads like Emery think twice before he assults anyone again. Shame on you NHL, Shanny, and the Filthadelphia organization for this act of cowardness!!!!!

  3. Well said by you Justin, as well as Hatrick and Walt, but can we really be surprised by this?

    The NHL product – as far was the on ice product – is one that I thoroughly enjoy, however the league itself is run by a bureaucratic, egomaniacal, hypocrytical goon. Rarely do Bettman’s actions actually coincide with his words.

    This is just another example of the league cutting off its nose to spite its face.

    Opportunities arise for the betterment of the game, and the wrong path is chosen, almost without fail.

  4. Couldn’t agree more, Justin. A good old-fashioned goalie fight between two willing netminders within the context of the game is no different, and no worse, than any other fight between two players who willingly drop the gloves.

    Clearly, this incident was something far more egregious and deserving of a much more pointed response that addresses the issue of attacking an unsuspecting or unwilling opponent. The League is massively dropping the ball on this.

    One note regarding St. Laurent: while I don’t understand his decision to actively prevent the Caps player from intervening on behalf of Holtby, he would have been forced to penalize that player if he had jumped in due to the ‘3rd man in rule.’ It’s a bad rule, but I suppose St. Laurent was basing his decision to prevent anyone from helping Holtby on that. It needs to be amended to apply only to 3rd man in on willing fight, not 3rd man in to help teammate who was jumped (see Boyle, Brian, 2012 Eastern Conference Quarter Finals; Dubinsky ejected for intervening when Carkner attacked the unsuspecting and unwilling Boyle).

    1. It’s kind of a reoccurring thing, no?

      Emery’s beatdown on Holtby- unpunished
      Lucic’s hit on Miller- unpunished
      Kadri’s elbow on Backstrom (Min)- unpunished
      Carcillo’s beatdown on Gaborik- unpunished

      Certainly curious…

  5. So correct me if I’m wrong, but any goon can still beat the snot out of Lundqvist and get away with it within the context of the rule because it only applies to a goalie fight right?

  6. You can take the goieniut of the bush league, but you can’t take the bush league out of the goalie

  7. Nice article, but I’m a bit suprised you didn’t mention the ‘Avery-rule’ that was not in the rulebooks was it? Because there they interfered to change the rules or add discipline. No problem.

    Just as headshots, if they are not called a player can get a conversation with the sheriff right?
    So is it not possible to suspend or do something on the grounds of unsportsmanlike conduct in hindsight?

    Ah well, it isn’t the first time the NHL is inconsistent…

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