I am on a mutli-city road trip for the next couple of weeks so I will take my inspiration from news stories found in the local newspapers: As I am currently awaiting a connection while at the Montreal airport I will comment on the Globe & Mail's (Canada's national newspaper) cover story regarding the amount of fighting during the National Hockey League's Play-Offs.
Being an avid hockey fan myself and a former Junior player I have always seen fighting as part of the game and just a by-product of the roughness of the game.
The amount of violence in this years play-offs is so over the top that there has to be more to it than in earlier years. For example, in the article posted within the G&M, they point out that in the first week and one half of this years play-off season (2012) there has already been 8 suspensions (and more are pending rulings from the league). During the entirety of the 2010 play-off season there were none. There were four in 2011.
There are three over-whelming causes at the root of this dramatic increase. The first is that the Boston Bruins won the Cup last year; the second is the attention given to head shots during the 2012 season; the third is the win-at-all-cost mindset held by NH:L players (or at least the keep my job mindset).
The first situation is that the Boston Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup last year through a style predicated on intimidation and rough play. The NHL owners all seem to have the same reaction when this happens and that is to encourage that type of performance from their own team. The instill GM's, coaches and players that are able to deliver what appears to be the appropriate methodology to win. Much like life, when one sees a winning formula it is not too long before others follow. The mindset is that to defeat the Champions the competition has to do more of what they do rather than devise a plan to overcome them. In this case, where toughness and intimidation ruled last season, every other team has to be tougher and more intimidating this year. Escalation of violence inevitably leads to worse and worse behaviour.
The second situation is that head shots have been on the radar all season which has forced some players to adjust how they play. What used to be a tough hit on what many would consider an inattentive opposing player is now a suspendable action. Human nature tends to replace unacceptable behaviors with new behaviors that deliver the same result. It takes years to eradicate societal ingrained actions. Therefore other measures by the players are implemented to overcome the now banned tactic. The dramatic increases in boarding penalties and fighting is testament to this occurrence.
Finally, players themselves are responsible due to the all out competitive nature to play and stay in the NHL. In a new age of team parity and quality of talent, there are only a few players in the league that seem to have the superior talent to rise above the fray and it is rare that even they as top players over-achieve. The highest paid players in the league are now 30 goal scorers and defensemen who can log 30 minutes a game. Let's face it, 30 goals is no guarantee of a long and prosperous career nor is playing twice as much as everyone else. I an age where distinct and natural talents are less and less achievable, then players have to bring other talents to the table in order to stay in the league. Player leadership has all but disappeared from most players due to the single-minded goal they have all pursued which was to just get there. And as most players hold comparable skill levels it becomes about brute force as to who gets to stay. Therefore, more and more players are arriving in the league with an extremely aggressive game to go along with their competent hockey talent.
The violent play is unlikely to go away as long as the teams that are playing this way now win moving forward. Let's be realistic, if it worked in the previous round there is no reason to stop.