From Chapter 3 in The Code, here are the other reasons for dropping the gloves, as stated by Bernstein.
Bernstein uses the examples of Gretzky being protected by McSorley and Semenko, as well as Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne who were able to soar to new heights because of Stu Grimson. I’ve already addressed both these examples in my post Enforcers “Protect” Their Teammates. This is more myth and perception that is not supported by the facts. The only thing that the stars were protected from was having to drop the gloves unless they wanted to. In most cases the enforcer is sent over the boards to fight the other team’s enforcer, relieving top players on both teams from having to retaliate.
The biggest example of failed logic comes from linking Edmonton’s glory years to the importance of fighting, as stated in this quote:
Believe it or not, the league averaged twice as many fights during the late 1980s, Edmonton’s glory days, than it did during the early 70’s, the era of the Broad Street Bullies. For the Oilers, more fights meant more success on the ice.
Somehow Bernstein believes that because the entire league was bulking up on fighters, and because teams were dropping the gloves on a regular basis, this violence was one of the reasons for Edmonton’s success. Five minutes of research would have turned up the following stats:
· 1983-84, ranked 20th in fights
· 1984-85, ranked 18th in fights
· 1985-86, ranked 8th in fights
· 1986-87, ranked 19th in fights
What other professional sport would allow two players to interrupt play with an undisciplined act of violence, or sometimes whole teams in a bench-clearing brawl, just because they have some personal grudge? I have trouble believing that the NHL would use this argument in supporting their high tolerance of fighting in the game. It’s childish behaviour and wouldn’t be allowed on any school playground by officials in charge.
I think Bernstein is overstating his case here. Yes fighting and retaliation has been tolerated in the game for 100 years but he overlooks the fact that fighting as a tactic, and enforcers occupying a roster spot, are a more recent phenomenon. Prior to the mid-1970s fights were far more rare and players fought their own battles. One thing he nails is the concept of enforcers and retaliation is more soap opera than sport.
Too many people hold up “The Code” as some highly principled set of rules that elevates the game and the role of enforcers. A large group of pro-fighting supporters will argue that playing according to “The Code” makes the game safer and promotes respect. But reality doesn’t support their argument. Despite the ever enduring role of the enforcer we continue to see ugly incidents, cheap shots, dirty hits and increased violence when they drop the gloves. And a book made up primarily of first person quotes about how goons beat up on each other isn’t going to change that reality.