NHL violence is no worse than ever, it's just different
If hockey had a think-tank institution other than
Is the NHL really "dirtier" today than in the past?
For every Matt Cooke hit on Fedor Tyutin (
For every Islanders-Penguins donnybrook, like the one last week (
As longtime Canadian newspaper columnist and author Roy MacGregor pointed out
Robertson said that in 1904.
In 1975, then-NHL president Clarence Campbell told Time Magazine, "Without doubt, this has been our worst year ever for sheer violence on the ice." This was the era of the Broad Street Bullies, when the name Dave Schultz was considered a profane term in every hockey rink in North America outside of Philadelphia, and when Bobby Clarke took a two-handed swing and may have broken the ankle of Soviet Union star Valery Kharlamov in the 1972 Summit Series. (Canada assistant coach John Ferguson, widely cited as the one who urged Clarke do
So why, despite the virtual elimination of stick-swinging incidents and
There are a few theories:
This no doubt the correct reason. There isn't one former player from hockey's Original Six or post-expansion era who doesn't readily acknowledge that today's game is
Peter McNab, who in his role as an analyst for the Colorado Avalanche sometimes stands between the benches as part of today's "inside the glass" broadcast era, says he truly feels that sometimes he is watching a game that is alien to the one his generation played.
"I'm telling you, it's not even close, the speed from when we played," McNab says. "In my day, you could look over your shoulder and see the hit coming and get ready for it. Every night now, I see eight or 10 hits that the receiver never saw coming. The game has gotten so much faster, it's truly mind-boggling."
McNab points out that players of his era and earlier usually worked a summer job. That meant players felt more kinship for one another, in the sense of, "Hey, I'm going to play you tough, but I don't want to take food off your table this summer by putting you in the hospital for months."
It might sound implausible, given all the fights and stick-swinging incidents of yore, but many players from older generations point to their low salaries as a reason why lines were rarely crossed when it came to truly dangerous behavior.
Observers often point out in hockey water-cooler discussions that are more detached from one another because of there are more teams, and hence more overall players, so they know each other less well. Also, the money now is so good that players are more afraid of losing their jobs after a year or two that they'll do anything to stay in the league, even if it means delivering dirty, dangerous hits.
Unless you caught a game on your local channel -- and watched it all the way, live -- you never saw much hockey in the old days. If you missed the Dave Schultz-Stan Jonathan fight (
There were no
In the U.S. especially, a "fight!" generally still elicits more national media coverage than any other aspect of the game. In the content-hungry, feed-the-beast sweatshops of today's media world, "If it bleeds, it leads" still prevails when it comes to hockey coverage. And that isn't fair to all that's right with today's NHL game.
As long as grown men on skates going 20-30 miles per hour with sticks in their hands are playing for money in a league where fighting is sanctioned, there will be behavior that is labeled as outrageous and actions that are injurious to bodily health.
Just how much worse it can get than it's already been? We're all still wondering about that. And we're likely to keep wondering.