Maple Leafs’ GM Brian Burke would like to see more guys punched in the face
Hockey has historically been a sport defined by physical play, tough athletes, and fighting. The last of which was seen as a reason that the sport had trouble gaining popularity with younger fans whose parents wouldn’t want to subject them to that kind of brutal example. For other fans, the chance to yell, “FIGHT!!” as two grown men dropped gloves to punch each other in the head was one of the main draws of going to the arena. Since the latest lockout, however, the NHL has made a conscious effort to minimize fighting in hockey, shifting the focus of the game towards skill and speed. The role of the enforcer, who would skate around looking to punish any opponent who wanted to get physical, has been largely eliminated from the sport. The league is taking responsibility for retribution of cheap, dirty, or excessive hits away from the players through fighting and put it in the hands of NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who reviews any questionable hits and levies suspension for any egregious or excessive violations. Proponents of the old-school tough guy model of hockey, like Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke, are none too happy about the transition.
“If you want a game where guys can cheap-shot people and not face retribution, I’m not sure that’s a healthy evolution,” he said Thursday. “The speed of the game, I love how the game’s evolved in terms of how it’s played. But you’re seeing where there is no accountability.”
“To me, it’s a dangerous turn in our game,” Burke said.
“The players (used to) police the game and now it’s Brendan Shanahan.”
“(Shanahan) needs a telephone receptionist in his house because of all of this crap that’s going on on the ice,” Burke said. “These guys that won’t back it up, won’t drop their gloves, run around and elbow people in the head and hit people from behind. They never have to answer for that in the game. They used to have to answer for that in the game.
“I wonder about the accountability in our game and the notion that players would stick up for themselves and for each other,” Burke said. “I wonder where we’re going with it, that’s the only lament I have on this. The fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other that the rats will take this game over.
“You see guys that run around and start stuff and won’t back it up and it makes me sick to my stomach.”
Burke’s comments come a day after he was forced to send his own enforcer, Colton Orr, back down to Toronto’s AHL affiliate, a move Burke obviously did not enjoy. According to the NHL, the amount of fighting this season is down significantly from last season. At this time last season, there was an average of 1.2 fighting majors per game. So far this season, that average has dropped to 0.8, a figure causing some intestinal distress for Burke.
However, in this case, Burke is on the wrong side of the evolution of hockey. The NHL has taken deliberate steps to focus on the speed and skill of hockey rather than the old school rock em sock em style of the past out of necessity. With a rash of concussions plaguing top-tier players this season, on top of the tragic summer of hockey where three former enforcers, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, all dying and the diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition, in Boogaard, the NHL has had to take player safety more seriously, continuing a trend towards a friendlier NHL started after the lockout. Knowing what we know now about the effects head trauma has on athletes, especially after they finish playing, it makes it impossible to not take steps to protect players, including cutting down the amount of punches thrown during games…no matter how sick it makes Brian Burke.