Although recently the debate over the efficacy of advanced statistics has dominated the columns of many a sports writer of late, the presence of fighting in hockey has remained equally divisive among those that consider it an integral part of the game's physical nature and those that find it a dangerous and superfluous exercise in testosterone. As fighting has died down in recent years (at least as far as the enforcer position goes), the debate has died down too.
And then this happened yesterday:
In case you can't tell from the admittedly poor quality video, one of the participants in this fight is none other than Connor McDavid, presumed first overall pick and franchise game-changer to the lucky team that either sucks the most (hi Buffalo and Carolina), or rigs the draft lottery (hey Arizona). McDavid broke his hand in this scrap, which prompted a return to the soapboxes for pro-fighting and anti-fighting writers across the blogosphere. Let's look through some of the highlights, shall we?
Damien Cox, Sportsnet, The Shame of Connor McDavid's Injury
It is to be torn between the absurdity of it, and the sheer barbarity.
Oh boy. This is going to be fun.
Imagine what it says about a society that allows unpaid teenage boys to fight with their bare knuckles for the amusement of paying customers.
Probably about as much as it says about a society that does this.
For all the good things there are about junior hockey in Canada, and there are many good things, this continues to be an appalling black mark on the sport at this level.
Yes, there's a lot less of it than there used to be. A lot less.
That there's any at all is sickening.
Which brings us to the absurdity of the brilliant Connor McDavid being injured (injuring himself?) in a hockey fight while playing for the Erie Otters of the OHL on Tuesday night.
Alright, still a little melodramatic, but not too bad.
This is a 17-year-old magician who is all dekes, head fakes and deception, a scoring machine who is piling up points at a remarkable pace this season - 51 points in 18 games - while on a date with destiny to be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft next summer.
Not one little bit of this superb player's game is about toughness, or being tough, or fighting. He won't ever bring spectators to an NHL rink with the promise he might fight. He will pack ‘em in with his scoring talents and ingenuity.
Heck, he's already slated to pack ‘em in at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Bell Centre in Montreal next month when he suits up for the Canadian national junior team at the world junior hockey championships.
Ah, so maybe Canada having not won a World Junior Championship since 2009 has something to do with the outrage?
Was it McDavid's choice to fight? Ultimately, yes. But we know the pressure that is put on hockey players to "man up" and drop the gloves, and we know of the sport's general indifference to the abuse heaped upon the better players by the less talented.
Yeah, the nerve of those lesser players! Thinking they can play hockey with these good guys! Why doesn't everyone just get out of Sidney Crosby's way so he can score a bajillion points?
We also know that there are knuckle-dragging scouts out there who would excitedly put a star beside McDavid's fight as though it represents his guts and desire. These are the same folks who see PIMs are a big plus with any player.
Really? Is there anyone in the NHL that would not take Connor McDavid 1st overall because he doesn't fight?
So sure it was his choice, but then again, not really, right? The highlight shows put fights on display every night, the newspapers love to run pictures of scraps and there’s no shortage of those who argue that fighting is an integral part of the game that must never be eliminated for fear of the consequences.
Well, it's apparently not universal, given your column's subject matter.
Could McDavid resist this overwhelming attitude? Sure, but it wouldn’t be easy, and ultimately it seems, he couldn’t.
Or maybe he didn't like someone taking a run at him? That's a possibility too, right?
So if he’s been injured badly in a fight, let’s make sure the game, and the junior game, doesn’t get away without taking significant responsibility. If you permit players to fight and remain in the game, to some degree you are promoting fighting, allowing it to be used as a tactic and encouraging players to fight. It’s that simple.
I don't even know what this means. What do we do, fine the OHL?
While the three junior leagues have taken some steps to reduce fighting, for some reason they refuse to take the final step and get rid of it altogether. Of course, the same leagues have taken a hard stance against head shots while still allowing players to drop their gloves and punch each other in the face repeatedly.
This might actually be the first non-hyperbolic point that makes sense in this article.
But it won't change the basic issue here. Can't we produce major junior hockey in this country in which fighting is specifically outlawed and not tolerated? Can we not develop and nurture talents like McDavid without forcing them to confront the ugly, violent underbelly of the sport?
Hockey is a fast-paced, hard-hitting game that produces more than enough injuries without adding this extra layer of violence.
Shockingly, such physicality occasionally causes young men to fight each other. Weird, I know right?
So, that's the take of anti-fighting advocate Damien Cox. Surely pro-fighting advocates will be a little more even handed, right?
Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy, Stop Tying Connor McDavid to Your Anti-Fighting Agenda
Oh for crying out loud.
"Maybe fighting's not my thing."
You might as well call an exorcist with the way those words are going to haunt Connor McDavid.
From who? Online writers who feel persecuted because they like fighting in hockey and other people don't?
They're from a September interview with TSN, in which the Erie Otters megastar was asked what exactly would get him angry enough to fight another player. McDavid said that watching his teammate, Joel Wigle, break his hand in a fight served as a caution flag for his own fisticuffs.
"Maybe if, uh, someone took a good run at me, then maybe I'd have to take exception," said McDavid.
Soothsayer that he is, McDavid accurately described what led to his fight on Tuesday with Mississauga Steelheads center Bryson Cianfrone, in which McDavid reportedly fractured his hand. Cianfrone checked him hard and then gave him a slash. McDavid went back at him. They wrapped up, Cianfrone dropped the gloves, McDavid followed suit and starting pounding him. A punch or two missed and hit the glass. He skated away holding his right hand and went for X-Rays. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported it was a fracture.
Okay, so he's actually willing to fight on occasion. Cool. Story over, right?
So why would McDavid feel compelled to fight? Someone took a run at him, he took exception and, ultimately, let his emotions get the best of him.
NEWSFLASH: a 17 year old made a poor decision. And now you know why there's a legal drinking age, restrictions on car rentals and parental oversight of educational savings accounts ...
Holy false equivalency Batman!
But why focus on that when that soapbox over there looks so lonely?
No, this couldn't be a personal choice by McDavid to pound the ever-loving crap out of a bully.
Couldn't be, since nobody's arguing that it wasn't.
This couldn’t be about a 17-year-old superstar taking an unreasonable risk during a game. It could have been sliding to block a shot or crashing into the end boards chasing a puck or skating though the zone with his head down – any of which would have injured him, none of which would have led to a protracted debate about hockey culture.
Again, a reasonable argument about the spotlight on fighting given the dangerous aspects of the other sport that go largely ignored.
And so we’re treated to another round of pundits fashioning the latest controversy to fit their agenda.
Oh, the glorious, glorious lack of self-awareness.
Please note that most of this hemming, hawing and haranguing is trickling down from north of the border, where proud Canadians witnessed their flag-bearer for the 2015 world junior tournament potentially take himself out with a self-inflicted wound. And while there’s never cheering in the press box, we’re sure this emotional demonization of fighting and its conventions in no way coincides with a fear that the best player on a Canadian team that hasn’t won "their" tournament since 2009, and watched the Americans and Russians win in their stead, could be out. No sir. Not at all.
There's a reasonable way to make this argument, and then there's trolling. This was trolling.
Heh ... as if any of that matters when the agenda's been served. Even if fighting didn't injure McDavid - his decision to fight did.
You know, they call this kid the next Sidney Crosby, but on Tuesday McDavid accomplished something Crosby never did: He fought in juniors.
So basically, you're arguing that the best players in the world don't need to fight to be the best players in the world? That serves your argument how exactly?
Oh, Sid was poked and punched and prodded and abused in junior hockey with Rimouski Océanic, every bit as much as McDavid is. He was targeted on every shift. He'd lose his cool, but not his gloves. According to Hockey-Fights.com, Crosby's first career fight didn't occur until Dec. 20, 2007, against Andrew Ference in the NHL.
He hasn't had a fight since the 2011-12 season, and considering his battles with head injuries that's a more than understandable decision.
So perhaps this was an education for McDavid as well, to the point where he'll follow through when he says it next time:
"Maybe fighting's not my thing."
Give the kid a hand.
Again, I'm confused. So really good players avoid fighting because they're concerned about getting more injured? Doesn't that undermine your whole point about fighting?
Stop the melodrama
So what we end up with are two sides talking past each other. There is room for legitimate debate about the necessity of fighting given no other professional sport permits it to occur to the degree hockey does. At the same time, there is a deeply engrained culture surrounding fighting that can't be legislated away by suspensions or rule changes. Admitting that doesn't undermine the belief that fighting is bad for the sport.
What does undermine that belief is an inability to take seriously the arguments for and against fighting. So long as both sides continue to prefer straw man arguments and melodrama over serious discussion, there will never be an attitude change towards rectifying the divide between traditionalists and those who believe the game has evolved past fighting.
So stop the melodrama about fighting. For all of our sakes.