In this current era of the professional hockey, it's far more intimidating to play a guy who can hit than one who can fight. I have to believe it's only a matter of time before more general managers realize this, and stop paying thugs like Derek Boogaard(notes) one-point-anything million per year to not impact the game.
The reality of the league today is that some players simply never have to fight, and that's a good thing. In most cases, those are the same players who affect the scoreboard at the final buzzer, relegating the fighters to this odd little in-game sideshow.
As a Twitter follower once asked me: How much does it prevent Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke(notes) from running, say, Mats Zuccarello(notes) of the New York Rangers from behind if the price is that now Eric Goddard is going to fight Derek Boogaard because the game is getting out of hand?
It doesn't prevent it at all. Matt Cooke is never going to fight Boogaard, so there's no reason for him to change the way he plays.
For me, I knew there was a zero percent chance that I would ever end up in a fight against our opponent's heavyweight, so when that guy was out there, it was like being on a powerplay. Most hired goons can't play (especially at the lower levels), so unless they were the type to use cheap stickwork, they were irrelevant to me.
The real heavies aren't exactly fleet of foot either, so they generally aren't the guys flying about mowing people over. They're commercial planes battling jet fighters.
But when you play one of those human wrecking balls that can skate and time the type of monster hits that leaves gloves and helmets and sticks strewn about the ice like it's a yard sale, you're rarely thinking about the next nifty stickhandle you're about to make when you're cutting across the blueline.
Think of a guy like Nashville Predators winger Jordan Tootoo - as a skill guy, would I rather take a shift against him or George Parros(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks? It's a no-brainer. I'm not going to have to fight Parros, but I'm sure as hell not exempt from Tootoo's wrath.
In the past couple days, Toronto Maple Leafs
defenseman Dion Phaneuf(notes) has put two people into other dimensions - he had a
solid check on Matt Beleskey(notes) of Anaheim the other day, but the big beauty was
Jussi Jokinen(notes), Tuomo Ruutu(notes) who made two mistakes: (Ed. Note: Hit was on Tuomo Ruutu, not J.J.)
A) He hit Phaneuf earlier in the game and got himself on the most wanted list, and
B) He had the audacity to try to corral a pass in the neutral zone against a guy who's somewhat notorious for blowing people up there.
Of course, Phaneuf's hit was somewhat selfish (the
puck carried on to a third Hurricanes forward who continued the rush), but I
can guarantee you next time
Jokinen Ruutu gets a pass in that spot against Phaneuf,
he'll be less worried about the puck. If that situation arises again he may even
miss the pass, given that it's a touch distracting trying to make a play when
you're concerned about the connectedness of your collar bone.
Big hits like that have an effect on future plays far more
than watching two lumbering oafs chuck piles of boney meat at each other's
Jokinen Ruutu would never fight Phaneuf, let alone Colton Orr(notes), which is
exactly my point: for skill guys, heavyweights are a complete non-factor on how
they play, and thus, a non-factor on game outcomes.
The sad part is, the thugs of the league are even less relevant come playoffs, which is the complete opposite of players who can time big hits, and throw a lot of them. You'd rather put Minnesota Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck(notes) on your playoff roster than Derek Boogaard, yet he makes $700,000 less than him this year because apparently GM's value having that nuclear option on the bench over troops that are actually armed.
It's a preposterous misjudgement of what matters in today's NHL.
I'm not sure if we'll ever see fighting fully weeded from hockey, but our skill guys know that they're already exempt from getting involved in anything too lopsided. They love to play those one-dimensional monsters, and won't even give them a second thought.
A human cannonball on skates, however?
That'll wander across your mind when you're considering trying something cute with the puck.