In the wake of the most controversial aspect of last night’s game, Andrew Desjardin’s hit on Jamal Mayers and Duncan Keith’s subsequent response, I’d like to offer a long form dissenting opinion to Sam’s approval of the actions taken.
My distaste of situations like this is well documented, and have repeatedly suffered the slings and arrows from the masses for it. But just to restate it as plainly as possible, retaliation in the form of a fight for a legal, borderline, or illegal hit in the instigator penalty era is always the wrong response, conventional hockey wisdom be damned.
Let’s first address the notion that response in the form of a fight will act as a deterrent of future similar hits being exacted. This is patently false, proven by the fact that this discussion needs to be had multiple times in a season. Did John Scott fighting Derek Engelland after he put a shot on Marcus Kruger prevent Raffi Torres from launching himself into Marian Hossa? And after that, did Brandon Bollig’s scrap with Torres make Desjardins think twice before blowing up Mayers? There are countless other examples to be taken from different teams, both finesse (“soft” or “weak” to Meatball Nation) and “tough”.
Next is the idea that not responding in this fashion in someway impugns the toughness and masculinity of the team, the city, and its fanbase. This is outmoded bullshit as well. Let’s take a look at an exhibit with a familiar face from a few years ago.
While the hit Soupy laid on Umberger resulted in a bit of grabass with matching roughing minors, there was no actual fight that took place. Think anyone then therefore questioned the “toughness” of a team with Derian Hatcher and Donald Brashear on it? And any player who isn’t a complete moron would much rather be avenged on the scoreboard in the form of a W than via a meaningless 30 second fight. This culture shift has to be instilled at every level of hockey, and it’s time the NHL and its players took a top down approach to the situation.
Furthermore, responding in such a way often times not only doesn’t deter a team from taking such hits, it flat out encourages them. Case in point: last year against the Penguins, Engelland pops Kruger, Scott fights Engelland, Pens to the power play, where they would score the eventual game-winning goal. Whether a call is penalized at the time or not, the resulting punishment, be it an in game penalty or a suspension after the fact, a fight with an instigator attached to it mitigates the effect of those punishments, making it a worthwhile risk versus reward situation. Obviously the first part of the solution is to improve the in game officiating, be it through the training of the zebras, or the ability to make such hits reviewable to be able to get it right (as was the case with Torres). The other onus is on the players to police themselves, but as adults, not in the form of vigilante justice. If the other cheek is turned and the resulting power plays are cashed in on and suspensions provide ripple effects through a roster’s depth, players who frequently violate this will either play themselves out of the league, or be forced to adapt. Nothing speaks louder than the bottom line, as wins and losses as a result of a player’s actions turn him into a liability. Matt Cooke, he who once burgled all the turds with his relentless cheap-shottery, managed to reform himself and actually turn into a useful player for the Penguins. So change is possible for those that are willing.
The instigator rule is one that is not going away any time soon, and such is the culture of the league at this juncture in time, as it has been since the rule’s introduction. It’s time for players to deal with that reality on its terms, rather than trying to police the game the old fashioned way. That way is dying, and it’s time everyone at every level get on the right side of history.