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Stop hockey fights off the opening draw, you’re embarrassing me (Trending Topics)

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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

A thing that seems to be happening a lot more these days, for reasons that I don't fully understand, is coaches across the NHL handing in their lineup cards with some terribly odd starters.

Tanner Glass, for instance, shouldn't be on a line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, as he was against the Rangers last Sunday. Nor should that trio be lining up across from Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and Arron Asham.

Meanwhile, Mike Babcock might think very little of the Blue Jackets these days, but rolling a line of Dan Cleary, Jordin Tootoo, and Justin Abdelkader in Columbus seems like it's beneath a coach we're repeatedly told is among the best and most honorable in the business. Small wonder Todd Richards decided to answer with Derrick Brassard, RJ Umberger, and Jared Boll.

Finally, isn't it odd that Guy Boucher chose to start the Lightning's Monday afternoon game on Long Island by playing 1,000-game boy Vinny Lecavalier with BJ Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie? Jack Capuano, who's been known to put some real knuckledraggers in his lineup just for the fun of it, answered with Marty Reasoner between Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin.

Not surprisingly, based on those starting lines, what all those games had in common was that fights broke out within between one and three seconds of the puck dropping.

Another thing they had in common is that they were pathetic.

I know it's not a controversial statement to say that staged fights have no place in hockey. The pacifists among hockey's relatively small fanbase have gotten a bit louder over the years, and had their opinions that fighting in the sport is Neanderthalic garbage, the relic of a bygone age, backed up by all those scary deaths of guys who made their living in the sport climbing over the boards for five minutes a night if they were lucky, and punching another guy with the same job in the face for a few dozen seconds.

Those people, generally, are wrong.

Fighting absolutely has a place in the sport of hockey. Or at least, the threat of fighting does. It often serves as a deterrent against other teams taking liberties, if you want to call them that, with star players (though the evidence that even that kind of martial law works is waning these days). It also, sad though it may seem, may occasionally serve to fire up a bench that is otherwise kind of going through the motions. The most famous example of this is the fight between Jarome Iginla and Lecavalier in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, which energized the Flames to a 3-0 home win after they'd previously gotten trounced 4-1 on the road.

The crap this week, with guys fighting right off the opening draw, falls into the latter category, but serves no purpose. A coach might say that he needs to see his guys get fired up (and indeed, Iginla fighting Lecavalier happened very early in the first period of that Game 3) particularly if the games followed tough losses, but that was only the case for the Red Wings.

The problem with this is that the decision to start these guys comes from the visiting coach. They submit their lineup cards first and, given the rules about home teams having last change, their counterparts hosting the game get to decide how to respond. The smart thing to do in this situation is to put your top line out there against the guys who aren't very good at hockey in general. If a visiting coach wants to start a guy who plays five minutes a night, wouldn't you just take that opportunity to win the opening draw and try to score just seconds into the game?

The answer, it seems, is no.

Worse is the fact that a willingness to start punching another person in the face with nearly 60 minutes of hockey to play is still seen as being valorous, rather than what it actually is, which is stupid.

Said Asham, who got worked pretty good by Tanner Glass (who's considered a lesser fighter but better actual hockey player), said of the scrap, "All fights are to try and get your bench going, get the crowd into it. I thought it was a good time to do it, but it didn’t work out."

No, it didn't work out. The Rangers got flattened 6-3 in their home opener.

A lot was made, though, of a study last year by Terry Appleby of powerscouthockey.com, a site which does not really exist any more. That study found that a fight creates a momentum shift in favor of one team about 76 percent of the time. Wow, you can't beat that! Except it also makes both teams play better the other 23 percent of the time. Other people, with actual well-known backgrounds in statistical research, looked at the numbers too, and decided fights have marginal impacts on a team's actual ability to win or lose a game.

Gabe Desjardins of Behind the Net and Hockey Prospectus found that winning a fight is worth about 1/80 of a win in the standings. So if you fight literally every night over the course of an 82-game season, you pick up about two points. That's not a lot. Similarly, Phil Bimbaum of Sabermetric Research found that, "At best, there might be a small effect in certain specific circumstances." Jonathan Willis of everywhere, drew similar conclusions based on everything he's seen and the above research.

There may be a limited placebo effect, in some way — who's to say, for example, that if you're out there starting Arron Asham that you wouldn't have lost by five instead of three? — but here's where John Tortorella, who's not unaccustomed to this type of tactic himself, makes a big mistake.

"High marks to Ash," he probably grumbled in the postgame presser. "That is what pisses me off. Ash goes in there, hangs in there and we don’t come in behind him. When a player does something like that the other players need to feed off of that and do their thing."

I guess Tortorella can take solace in the fact that nobody really feeds off that. Not for an entire game, not really. It's not even easy to attribute Neal's go-ahead goal at just 1:48 of the first period to the Penguins to the fight. Unless you're trying to say that Glass's decision to oblige Asham is what led to Neal drawing an interference call on Richards in the neutral zone 35 seconds later. Which hey, maybe it did. We'll never know.

But what we do know pretty much for sure at this point is that this kind of fight is a sideshow act gimmick and a joke that, no matter what anyone says about it, has a minimal impact on the game or the season.

Again, I'm all for a fight if it's warranted. Guy runs your star player? Sure, go beat his brains in. But staged fights, and particularly those that happen right off the opening draw, need to be legislated out of the game.

Why do we have a rule about instigating fights inside the last five minutes of games versus those in the first five? Or three? Or hell, even the first one? Is fighting when a game is for all intents and purposes over somehow more honorable than one when it's just beginning? In what way?

Here's a really easy fix: If a guy in your starting lineup gets in a fight and plays fewer than, oh, I guess, something like 12 minutes in a game, then just like an instigator in the final five, he should get suspended, and his coach should get fined.

For the record, Jordin Tootoo and Jared Boll played just 6:54 and 4:47, respectively, after their fight at 0:03 of the first period. Joe Finley (8:33), Martin (8:50), Crombeen (5:55), and Labrie (4:53) got similar runouts. As for Glass and Asham? The former was the busiest of these eight combatants, getting a whopping 9:00 following his fight at 0:02, and Asham pulled just 5:51.

Even if you suppose all of them would have played the entire five minutes during which they served their majors — and obviously they wouldn't have — most don't come close to that 12-minute mark. Congratulations are due to Glass, who again is a semi-useful hockey player, and Finley, the only defenseman in the group, who would have made the cut if you want to be extremely generous.

Boy, you wouldn't see guys like that in the starting lineup too much after that. Then actual hockey players could go play actual hockey. That sounds like something fans would pay to see.

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