John Scott’s hit on Loui Eriksson has once again created controversy and outrage among the hockey media about headshots in the league. This particular instance was a bit different from the others because the aggressor, 6 foot 8 John Scott, is a well-known enforcer in the league and injured a star player for the Bruins. The two perennial arguments that come up 3-4 times a year in hockey are the role of enforcers, and the number of headshots that still occur in the run of a season. This issue has successfully brought the two together.
Admittedly, John Scott plays a very limited role for the Sabres and usually averages sub-5 minutes a game. Pundits have claimed that he has no value outside face punching and shouldn’t be in the league, I disagree to an extent but this is not the point of this post. If you remember, the Buffalo Sabres acquired John Scott after Milan Lucic ran over Buffalo’s star goalie Ryan Miller in the previous season. The Sabres were criticized then for not having a guy who can answer the bell and take on a player like Milan Lucic, who is a trained boxer to go along with his great hockey skills. This is the hypocrisy that circles hockey every year.
Hockey is an aggressive sport that markets itself on being a game that demands toughness from players and the ability to separate pain from injury. Although very physical, most players in the league respect a certain line that is not crossed and play by a ‘code’. Players who cross this line and take a run at a star player (such as Lucic’s hit on miller) answer to a guy like John Scott whose purpose is well known around the league.
It is my opinion that fighting still has a place in the game, and without it there would be more dirty plays and injured star players. Former NHL and KHL head coach Paul Maurice speaks on the issue here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzArIIv_N6I) and talks about his experience coaching in Russia where there are game misconducts for fighting. He says that he’s “never been more scared” that one of his players were going to get hurt with all the dirty plays/hits in the league.
The fact is you can’t have it both ways. In my opinion hockey has never been better to watch. The game is faster than ever. Although unfortunate, players will get injured. Its important to try and limit these injuries as much as possible but taking fighting out will have the opposite effect in my opinion. The instigator rule has brought with it the “rise of the rat” (players like Avery (formally), Kaleta, Cooke), removing fighting all together will make avoidable injuries even more prevalent, as you are removing one of the main deterrents from playing dirty.