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Moneyball Will End Fighting

I was going to post a Central Division roundtable that I’d put together with our blogging friends from around the division. But I’m going to shelve that until tomorrow, even though I’m hesitant to pile even more onto what is admittedly a tired debate about the place of fighting and goons in the game. But it needs to be addressed, I think.

As you know, last night George Parros took a nasty fall and had to be stretchered off. He’ll be ok, as only his Princeton-educated brain was bruised. Or however ok you can be when you have a brain injury (which we really should start calling it, just like “Global Warming” should be “Climate Change.”) His face-plant into the ice didn’t really have much to do with fighting, and could have happened in any portion of the game. I remember Kevin Stevens taking such a fall and having a very nasty injury, and that was just a play around the net.

But of course, it’s going to engender a whole new round of furious discussion. My views are well stated, but just to reiterate: Though I’m not one who calls for the end of fighting, I recognize that there really is no way to keep the fights I can accept (two actual players spontaneously getting angry at each other) while getting rid of those I abhor (the staged ones between two slobs who serve no other purpose, and neither does their fight). So I would have to accept a total ban on fighting, and would be all right with that.

But it doesn’t matter where you stand, because fighting will be phased out. And it will be phased out not only because of player safety, but because of the evolution of the sport.

As hockey and the NHL change, there is a better understanding of what actually wins games and championships, just as there is in other sports. In a salary cap era especially, more and more teams are realizing you just can’t waste a roster spot on a dolt who can’t give you more than four minutes. Or at least they will. The defending champs still might have one. But they didn’t in 2010. The Kings didn’t. The Bruins didn’t, and don’t say Shawn Thornton because he can actually play and give you 4th line minutes. Brandon Bollig has even come to realize he’d better try and become a player if he wants to be anything more than a sideshow.

It happens in every other sport. We’ve come to understand what really works for a baseball team. The idea of a closer has been marginalized, unless you have Mariano Rivera. The Giants won with two different ones in three years. Jason Motte and Brad Lidge are other guys to be closers on recent World Series winners. It’s just not a role that’s prized all that heavily, because you can get just about anyone to do it.  We know now that not wasting outs is paramount to winning, and hence grindy-bunty guys who make a lot of outs aren’t valued. Strikeouts are no longer taboo.

Rules changes play a part, too. The game is being sped up more and more. You just can’t throw a guy out there who can’t keep up, as thugs tend to not be able to. When Parros took on Colton Orr for a second time last night which led to his injury, it was because he was chirping at PK Subban. But you know what? I want Colton Orr out against Subban if I’m the Habs. I want him trying to chase down my best skater from the blue line. I want to take advantage of the space he can’t occupy. That’s what the game is now, finding space and exploiting it. Orr provides a lot of it.

Basketball has seen this. They’ve tried to open up their game, and all your recent champions were led by a dominant perimeter player. LeBron, Durant, Kobe, Pierce. Sure, the Spurs have Tim Duncan but they’re more and more led by Tony Parker (and I think Ginobli won a title by himself there once). Each of these teams had a plus-post player but they weren’t the go-to guy on the team. The NBA wants you to run and drive to the hoop.

But mostly, as hockey and those who run the sport have evolved in their thinking, this “code” that players like Orr and Parros supposedly serve is looking to have more and more holes in it. People aren’t afraid to put logic against it any more. And really, it doesn’t hold up.

This idea that a player, in the eighth of a second he might have before deciding to hit Phil Kessel or PK Subban into the boards, would consider that suddenly Orr or Parros would hop off the board to pummel them is ludicrous. Especially if that check is legal and they’re really under no obligation to defend themselves after. More and more, when we see a player confronted after he’s made a legal hit, he just passes up the fight. As he should. He’s done nothing wrong.

You could send Bollig out to kick the shit out of David Backes if you want (skeptical he could), but does anyone really think that’s going to stop T.J. Oshie or Chris Stewart from gunning for Nick Leddy? Come on. It just doesn’t hold up, and more execs and fans are realizing this.

Also, the idea that without real fighters, pests like Lapierre or Burrows or Marchand would run wild doesn’t work for me either. Because they do now, and they always have. In the 80’s when fighting was everywhere, there was still Shawn Burr and Sergio Momesso and about 100 other jagoffs just in the Norris Division who made our blood boil because they pulled this kind of cheap shit. You score on the power play. Remember when the Canucks tried all this crap in 2010 and were pretty easily dispatched by a lethal Hawks power play? There you go.

All sports evolve, through rules and finding the inefficiencies. Remember when you could essentially tear a guy’s head off on an NFL field? You can’t any more. Their TV numbers would suggest no one gives a shit.

Wherever you stand on this, you know how it will end. You might as well get on board.

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