I want to be up-front here: I'm not condoning fighting whatsoever. The head injuries and long-term issues that a vast number of these warriors have suffered is something that I could never knowingly ask someone to endure. Losing immensely popular players like Bob Probert and Derek Boogaard have put the sport under the spotlight when it comes to sending a player over the boards for one barbaric reason, but they were popular because of what they did on the ice. No one messed with their teammates when they were in the lineup, and they made sure that any trouble being stirred up around the stars on their teams was snuffed out quickly.
So the question becomes what do teams do to reduce the tomfoolery that hampers their stars' performances?
The NHL is built on speed and skill now, and there's no questioning that some players have more speed and skill than others. The easiest way to slow down and disrupt these stars is to get them thinking less about the puck and more about the treatment they are receiving. Palmieri and Manning are effective players for their teams, but they aren't Carey Price or Connor McDavid. Therefore, teams use other tactics to get these two stars off their respective games.
If this were the 1970s and 1980s, you'd see names like Nilan, Risebrough, Bouchard come over the boards for Canadiens while the Oilers would send Semenko, McSorley, and McClelland out on the ice. These men were dangerous fighters, but their mere presence on the ice was enough for most hi-jinks to end. It's this presence that is missing on the ice in today's game where players who were up to no good knew that if they continued down that path, they'd be forced to answer the bell against one of these fearsome men.
That fear no longer exists in today's game. This has allowed players like Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri to crash the crease with no recourse for their actions. Players like Brandon Manning and Nazem Kadri can pester and chirp Connor McDavid all night long with no fear of consequences from those actions.
I completely understand that no team is interested in giving up a power-play in a league where one goal can be an insurmountable lead. However, with officials seemingly whistling less penalties and players always pushing the envelope, it seems that these types of actions may be more commonplace in the NHL today. And that's garbage. McDavid's take on what happened is proof of that.
"I thought it was one of the (most) classless things I've ever seen on the ice. He said some things. I guess we can put the whole if-he-did-it-on-purpose thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that. Shows what kind of guy he is the way he doesn't step up and fight some of our guys," McDavid told reporters in Philadelphia post-game.
It seems Price holds the same opinion as McDavid, although he went about solving his dilemma himself.
"It seems to be the nature of the league, to go hard to the net, run the goalie and score the goal," Price told reporters post-game in Montreal. "You have to stick up for yourself once in a while."
Should Carey Price really have to stick up for himself after we saw how quickly and how far the Canadiens fell once he was injured last season? If I'm Michel Therrien, I'm telling Andrew Shaw to make Palmieri's night very uncomfortable for the rest of the evening. I'm also instructing Brendan Gallagher to become a thorn in the side of Taylor Hall. There is no way I'm letting Palmieri or any of New Jersey's scoring threats off the hook after someone takes a run at the one player whose presence virtually makes Montreal unbeatable.
As for Edmonton, Todd McLellan should have had Zack Kassian riding the hip of Manning for the rest of the night. If Manning opened his mouth towards, Kassian's only instruction would be to shut it. McDavid shouldn't have to play mind games all night with a guy who seems to relish the fact that he was involved in the play where McDavid was injured last season, and one of the Oilers should have removed that distraction.
As a defenceman, I understand the importance of getting a star player off his game. I've chirped my way into the heads of a few players, and I can't deny that it feels good to reduce the impact of the other team's best player. However, I also know that I have paid for my chatter on a couple of occasions when a teammate of the star player I've been chirping has informed me that my night will get a little more difficult.
I don't blame Carey Price for pummeling Kyle Palmieri. I don't blame Connor McDavid for being upset with Brandon Manning. I do blame their teammates, their coaches, and their management for not employing someone who can right wrongs when things start going off the rails. Again, you don't need someone who will only drop the gloves. You just need someone who is willing to make life difficult for the players causing trouble or the other team's star.
In the end, speed and skill will always win games in the NHL, but if your most skilled and speediest players are worrying about things other than the puck, you're always fighting an uphill battle.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!