Evolution and Other Matters
A Maple Leaf tradition is just about dead.
Notice I didn't say a proud tradition. Just a tradition.
For more than three decades, a big part of the Leaf story has been the club's attraction to the high profile enforcer/goon. From Kurt Walker to Tiger Williams to John Kordic to Ken Baumgartner to Tie Domi, with the odd Paul Higgins tossed in now and then, the Leafs have loved to have their scrappers.
This season, for the first time in a very, very long time, the Leafs under head coach Paul Maurice have decided to go without a designated fighter. Some might suggest Wade Belak is that player, but he's not and isn't going to be.
The result of this lineup decision is logical. In nine games this season going into Tuesday night's contest with Ottawa, the Leafs have been involved in one fight.
One fight in nine games. Somewhere, John Brophy is weeping.
One fight in nine games. That's even way below the league average of one fight every three or four games.
Does this mean the Leafs are getting pushed around? Don't think so. Fact is, they've been more competitive so far than many would have thought.
Strange, because those who ardently believe in the value of an enforcer would tell you such players are vital to the success of any team because they protect the team's skilled players (keep the sticks down, the saying goes) and allow them to go about their business without being unduly harassed.
Well, Kyle Wellwood doesn't appear to be fighting for his life out there. Same goes for Mats Sundin and Matt Stajan and Tomas Kaberle.
You could argue whether this is a direction chosen by the Leafs or the league. Last season, the club had 29 fights, just slightly more than the 26 in which Domi was involved by himself in the 1997-98 season.
According to hockeyfights.com, which tracks such things, three NHL clubs - Atlanta, the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals - have yet to have one of their players in involved in a fight this season.
Five teams other than the Leafs have had one fight. This is sobering stuff for those who make money off hockey fight videos. More to the point, it's clear the battle over the future of fighting in hockey is over and the pro-fighting lobby is just going to have to accept it eventually. It's not even a worthwhile debate any more, sort of like the removal of the red line or the shootout.
(Note to blog readers: Before the quick-witted send their usual emails, I know, I know, I should really go cover figure skating or ballet and must own my own copy of Brokeback Mountain. Try to come up with something a little more interesting this time around).
Just as you were about to say Monday Night Football was back on the map it had to go and do this.
MNF invited the NFL's all-time rusher, Emmitt Smith, to be on the program this week during the Cowboys-Giants game then proceeded to ask him multiple questions about his involvment in ABC's Dancing with Stars program.
More questions than they asked him about football.
ABC and ESPN, which now broadcasts MNF, are,of course, corporate brethren. It was obvious and sickening cross-promotion. The saddest part was that the man in the booth who seemed most enthusiastic on the dancing with Emmitt issue was Tony Kornheiser, who also purports to be a journalist with the Washington Post.
Where will Ken Hitchcock land?
He's one of the NHL's best, so he'll be working again, sooner as opposed to later.
Columbus is off to a weak start and Hitchcock would be a fit for Gerard Gallant if he can't get that team turned around.
What about awful Phoenix? Yes, Wayne Gretzky is in the first year of a new five-year deal, but it's not hard to envision a shakeup in which No. 99 moves upstairs if the Desert Dogs continue to plummet. As a part-owner, he can't be fired, really, but he could in theory step aside.
If that were to happen, Gretzky could choose between Hitchcock and Pat Quinn, the two men he chose to run Team Canada in the 2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup.