There’s nothing wrong with a little fighting, the neutral zone trap is hockey’s real enemy

Let’s get this out of the way early. I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t like the fighting they see when the flip past an NHL game.
To all of you people: change the channel, but don’t whine about the conditions of a game you don’t understand.
My esteemed editor has no real clue what goes on during a hockey game. He sees the occasional fight, makes a snap judgement and takes off running to the moral highground.
Fighting isn’t intregal to hockey, this much is true. Youth and college hockey survive without it, and are in many cases the better for it. But if the NHL wants to make its league more fan-friendly, fighting is the last place they should start.
This is, after all, a contintent full of people addicted to professional wrestling. At least the fighting in hockey is real and fair. If we’re going to ban fighting in professional hockey, where would that leave boxing?
If hockey wants to attract more mainstream viewers the barrier they face is not fighting. The barrier is a wall of defensive players making no attempt to forecheck, lagging in the neutral zone and blocking not just rushes up ice but the average fan’s understanding of a wonderful game.
The neutral zone trap is ugly. It’s boring. Hockey purists hate it. Hockey fans raised on the old Gretzky-led Oilers are baffled by it. The only people who have benefited from the trend toward trapping are several older, less-skilled players who have extended their careers.
My advice to the NHL: forget talking about fighting until we live in a perfect society. Instead, get rid of the red line and the two-line pass rule. Crack down even further on obstruction penalties in the neutral zone. Add room behind the nets, stretching defenses thinner. Do anything, but bring back the offense.
As for fighting, I don’t see the big harm. If two guys out in a parking lot want to go, and as long as the fight is fair, whose business is it whether they fight or not? A good, old-fashioned fistfight has rarely killed anyone.
Fights break out in hockey for numerous reasons. Sometimes one team just needs a spark, and an enforcer will pick a fight to pick his team up. Sometimes two teams don’t like each other and let the enforcers fight their battles.
And sometimes, two guys just don’t like each other. They have beefs about how the other guy has played, correct or not. So they drop their gloves and fight.
The rest of the players pair up, to ensure no cheap shots. The linesmen stay ready and end the fight as soon as either player hits the ice. And they fight.
Big deal.
It’s much less dangerous than unercutting in the NBA. It’s certainly safer than the cut-blocking which is regularly practiced in the NFL. And I’ll take my odds in a hockey fight over having a major league pitcher throwing at my head.

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected]