Earlier this season, Pavel Datsyuk and Corey Perry dropped the mitts. (Getty Images)
In his super-duper, outstanding, excellent THN.com blog last week, Jason Kay relays an entertaining yarn about longtime enforcer Jim McKenzie from former NHL referee Kerry Fraser’s new book. (How’s that, boss?)
In any event, McKenzie was toiling for the Hartford Whalers in 1990-91 and needed just four penalty minutes to cash in on a “performance” bonus with the Whalers. Alas, he didn’t play a shift in the last game of the season, so he went to Fraser and told him to “f--- off” and received a 10-minute misconduct and everything just turned out swell. A true good old Canadian boy’s story if ever there were one.
What goes unmentioned, of course, is how absolutely absurd it was that McKenzie had a bonus based on penalty minutes in the first place and how ridiculous it was for the league to approve a contract like that one. And what if McKenzie had received one shift in that game and, in his attempt to hit his bonus level, drilled a guy from behind or elbowed him in the head and gave him a career-threatening injury?
Yeah, I know, only we anti-fighting, limp-wristed pansies think about stuff like that.
It’s nice to know that almost 20 years later, nobody has contract bonuses based on penalty minutes anymore, largely because no players aside from those on entry-level deals and players older than 35 can collect performance bonuses now. And it’s also great to know the league has evolved beyond that kind of caveman type of thinking – or so old-time hockey apologists and the NHL would have us all believe.
But who do they think they’re kidding? The culture of violence is still alive and well in hockey and it continues to be perpetuated and sold by the NHL. Those who do it are just using more sophisticated means these days.
Case in point is NHL.com, the league’s website, where you can view highlights of any number of fights in all their high-definition glory. An unofficial count of the number of fights archived so far by NHL.com this season is 21. Included in that is everything from Pavel Datsyuk taking on Corey Perry to Colton Orr trading punches with Derek Boogaard.
And if you think the NHL doesn’t glorify this kind of stuff, think again. In an Oct. 23 fight between Paul Bissonnette and Jay Harrison, the website talks about the players throwing some “serious haymakers” while all 42 people in attendance in Phoenix look on. But the best is an Oct. 9 fight, which the website titles, “Clarkson Cleans A Clock,” and goes on to describe how David Clarkson, “tries to inspire a flat Devils team in a third period slobber-knocker versus Jason Chimera.”
Seriously. It said that.
We’re not sure who’s responsible for putting fights up on the league-sanctioned website, but given how much commissioner Gary Bettman micro-manages everything, you can be sure it is being done with his blessing. It’s difficult to count on how many levels this is just ridiculous.
But let’s start with the fact fighting is still a violation in the NHL rulebook. We know this because instead of abolishing fighting, the league devotes 5.5 pages of its rulebook to rules that govern fighting.
But what makes all this even more insipid is that when Bettman talks about fighting, he frames it as a necessary component of an emotional game. He’ll maintain the league does not glorify it or revel in it, but then allows fisticuffs to be displayed on its website for all to see. (Of course, the NHL also posted video of Steven Tyler singing the national anthem in Boston, which just goes to show how clueless it can be sometimes. Think Chaka Khan and Robin Thicke headlining the NHL Awards show a couple of years ago.)
Imagine the NFL highlighting all its recent head shots on its website or Major League Baseball posting highlights of bean balls and bench clearing brawls. That’s basically what the NHL is doing here.
When Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore and ended Moore’s career, fighting apologists vehemently claimed that it had nothing to do with fisticuffs because, hey, fighting is far more honorable than that. I couldn’t disagree more. It is the culture of violence, of which fighting is a huge part, that leads to things such as the Bertuzzi incident. It also leads to incidents such as the Daniel Briere crosscheck that will likely land him a suspension after a Monday hearing with the NHL.
There will be a lot more fights in the NHL this season and, thankfully, we won’t miss too many of them thanks to NHL.com. And somehow, the league seems to think all of this bloodlust is not only acceptable, but worthy of promotion.
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