Can the Maple Leafs afford to carry an enforcer this season?

Ken Campbell
David Clarkson (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the two full seasons Randy Carlyle has been the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, his team has led the league in fights both seasons and led in penalty minutes once. Whether or not the Leafs are at the top of either of those departments will come down to some interesting decisions they’ll have to make over the next two weeks.

In an effort to bolster their bottom six forwards, the Maple Leafs have 17 forwards on one-way contracts coming into this season. Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, when measured simply on their hockey skills, are their two worst. But they’re also the most truculent, combining for 15 of the team’s league-leading 48 fights last season. With the logjam up front, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be able to keep both of them in 2014-15. Read more

This is the worst flop you’ll see outside of a soccer game

Ryan Kennedy
Ryan Hollweg (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

So it seems like former NHLer Ryan ‘Hollywood’ Hollweg is having himself a tricky start to the year in the Czech Republic. The physical winger for Plzen has raised the ire of the hockey nation with his play, which has sometimes gone over the line and garnered extra discipline, including a 10-game suspension for kneeing Slavia Praha’s Tomas Vlasak.

But this post is not about that hit, which you will see below. No, this post is about the reaction, where Vlasak’s linemate, Michal Poletin, feigns as if he is going to defend his buddy, then drops like a rock when Hollweg takes a swing at him. But watch the video, specifically at the 40-second mark: Hollweg misses him with the punch!

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The top 10 fighters to watch this season

Brian McGrattan and Patrick Bordeleau (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:

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KHL coach Andrei Nazarov goes nuts, flips off refs and fans

Matt Larkin
Nazarov Mad

Andrei Nazarov had quite the heel turn in Wednesday’s Kontinental League tilt between Barys and Admiral.

Nazarov, Barys’ coach, wasn’t pleased with a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. He took it out on the refs, flipping them off, and when he was tossed out of the game, he turned his attention to the Admiral fans.

Nazarov was extremely efficient in his obscene gestures, packing many into a rapid-fire barrage. Take a look:

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Big, bad pointy heads may force change the hockey establishment has refused

Ken Campbell
Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Few things bother died-in-the-wool hockey people more than when busybodies such as governments and courts start meddling in the game. For the most part, old-time hockey guys think the game does just a marvelous job of policing itself, so the pointy-heads really don’t need to be sticking their noses into the business of hockey.

That’s why the alarm bells must be sounding fairly loudly these days. The concussion lawsuits, or the potential for them, are piling up. And a report by TSN that the state of Washington is looking into the way junior hockey players are treated cannot be good news for the hockey establishment. Read more

Do you really have had to bled on a sweater to mete out discipline in the NHL?

Ken Campbell
David Branch (left). (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Those of you looking for a fresh, new approach to discipline under new director of player safety Stephane Quintal are going to be disappointed. Quintal has made it clear that he has no intention of deviating from his predecessor, Brendan Shanahan, when it comes to filling the role as NHL sheriff and hanging judge.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you evaluate Shanahan’s performance during his three years on the job. There was no way Shanahan was going to please everyone when it came to handing out suspensions and there were some head-scratchers to be sure, but Shanahan did an outstanding job of communicating his methodology and reasoning behind each of his suspensions. Even if you disagreed with his decision, you could at least appreciate his reasoning behind it. Shanahan streamlined the process and spearheaded its evolution into a pretty well-oiled machine. Read more

What have we learned since Bertuzzi-Moore? Not much it seems

Todd Bertuzzi (Photo By Karl Gehring/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In the 10-plus years since the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident, you can be rest assured that NHL coaches and players have chosen their dressing room words very, very carefully when it comes to the issue of seeking retribution. And there hasn’t been an incident as egregious and disastrous since then, so the culture of revenge no longer exists in hockey, right?

Wrong. It has been speculated that with the civil lawsuit between Moore and Bertuzzi/the Vancouver Canucks finally settled, Moore will receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million. But there is so much we will never know. Such as, how was the amount split between Bertuzzi and the Canucks? That would go a long way toward determining whether Bertuzzi acted alone as a friend hell-bent on revenge or was simply a pawn that was contractually obliged to follow the instructions of his superiors.

Even though it went seemingly down to the last minute – the trial was to begin Monday – the reality is probably that this was never going to go to trial. Because if it had, the truth would have had to come out. And it would not have been pretty.

The NHL and its culture of violence/revenge would have been on trial every bit as much as Bertuzzi and the Canucks were. It’s a culture many in hockey would have us believe is no longer a part of the game. Fighting has been trending downward for some time and fewer and fewer teams have space on their rosters for the second coming of Ogie Oglethorpe.

But have we really learned that much from Bertuzzi-Moore? That’s debatable. At the very least, Shawn Thornton seemed to have missed the memo. Last season, in response to what he viewed as a dirty hit on teammate Loui Eriksson, Thornton attacked Brooks Orpik, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in an incident that looked eerily like the Bertuzzi-Moore attack. Thornton received a 15-game suspension for his act, with then director of player safety Brendan Shanahan justifying the ban by saying: “It is our view that this was an act of retribution for an incident that occurred earlier in the game, the result of this action by Thornton was a serious injury to Orpik.”

And did Thornton get ostracized from the game for what he did? Actually, when the Boston Bruins decided not to sign him after last season, the Florida Panthers offered him a two-year contract. As my colleague Adam Proteau pointed out recently, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux calls out the league to get violence out of the game, then allows his team to sign Dan Carcillo and Steve Downie because the Penguins star players get pushed around too much in the playoffs. I’m not sure that makes him a hypocrite. It’s more an indication that Lemieux knows his message is falling on deaf ears, that the league is not going to protect his stars and he has no choice in the matter. (There’s a reason why Carcillo, who is on his sixth NHL team, has the survival instincts of a cockroach. It’s because teams continue to see worth in what he brings.)

And when Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks seemed to push the envelope by getting a little too cute on his fourth goal against the New York Rangers, there were almost as many critics as there were admirers. One of them was Nashville Predators color commentator Terry Crisp, who said, “Let me tell you young man. You pull that move too often and somebody’s going to want retribution on you.”

And how often do we see a player being forced to stand up for himself and face an onslaught of punches after executing a perfectly clean, but devastating hit on a star player? How often do we see teams still “sending a message” to its opponent late in a game that is out of reach? And really it wasn’t that long ago that former director of hockey operations Colin Campbell made his infamous, “We sell hate. Our game sells hate,” comments. How often do we see the league’s own website tag a video as a “Must See” when that video involves fighting and mayhem?

It’s great to see the Bertuzzi-Moore incident finally settled, even though there are a lot of people who would have liked to see this thing go the distance. So, that has been put to bed and confidentiality agreements will likely keep us from ever knowing the minute details of the case. We know Moore will never play in the NHL and Bertuzzi, after reportedly rebuffing a pitch from Mike Keenan to play in the KHL for Mettalurg Magnitigorsk, is a veteran free agent still waiting to find a team. But to suggest the game and the NHL have made enormous strides since then is probably a stretch. A big one.

The OHL’s new rules against “staged” fights and what they mean to the NHL

The OHL brought in rules to crack down on fighting two years ago and are taking them to another level next season. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Does fighting have a place in the game of hockey? It’s a question we’ve debated again and again and again. Each injury, each staged fight, each donnybrook that breaks out after a clean hit leads to the inevitable conversation or shouting match.

Whatever you think of the subject, it’s clear the fighting role and its place in a lineup is slowly changing.

In the NHL, we’re seeing fewer one-dimensional fighters taking up five-minute roles on a fourth line. They’re still there (Shawn Thornton found work in Florida and John Scott somehow got a contract from the San Jose Sharks), but for the most part, the teams who acquire and use these types of players are either scrambling in disarray (San Jose) or have a history of bad, behind the curve management (Florida).

Analytics will dictate you need skill players, even on your fourth line. Recent Stanley Cup champion rosters will show how important it is to have a depth of quality talent without wasting a spot on a player whose best or only feature are his knuckles. Perhaps the one-dimensional fighter will never be eradicated from the highest level of the sport, but they do appear to be in decline.

Two years ago, the Ontario League instituted a rule that a player would be automatically suspended after his 10th fight of the season. Only one player reached that threshold the following season and nobody in the league did last year. This year, the OHL is expanding its discipline not just for fighting, but for dangerous infractions, which could potentially lead to a fight too.

Here are the new rules being adopted by the league, from its website: Read more