Mixed Martial Arts

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Welcome to my blog which deals with mixed martial arts betting and preview with a detailed analysis on the world of MMA. This blogs covers anything relating to the UFC, Strikeforce, Dreams or any other MMA organization.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

It Really is a Whole New NHL

You know how I know? Tie Domi is no longer looking to punch someone in the face – instead he’s making keen observations on the game of hockey. For a guy who, while playing, couldn’t scrape together a cognitive thought with two hands and a flashlight, his transformation to a broadcaster has to be seen as very improbable. Yet on his first night on the air, he wasn’t too frikin’ bad.

That transformation is also a perfect allegory to how the league has changed – hopefully for good.

Last season, the first with the new rule changes designed to speed up the game, there was an average of 0.38 fights a game. That was down almost half the number of fights from the previous season.

The rule changes worked. The game did become markedly faster, more exciting, and as a result, less pugilistic. There were fans who railed against the lack of knuckles being thrown because they insisted that fighting was the best part of the game.
Stupid fans in other words.

It was also clear that the majority of the fans weren’t that kind of stupid. Attendance was dropping. Everywhere but Canada, where hockey is more than the national sport, it’s a cultural identity, television ratings were abysmal. In no small part, it was due to the culture of fighting. For years, slow-footed tough-guys whose only job was to put on a nightly show for the crowd plagued the NHL.

It was always predictable. They would face off first in the press, exchanging not-so-witty repartee and then during the games at night, they would inevitably “get it on.” The league tolerated this gladiatorial behaviour because it helped mask the fact that the NHL had become a defense-first, boring, unimaginative soccer like exhibition. Night-in, night-out the NHL was defined by low scoring games, where the best, most creative players spent their nights bottled up against the boards by oversized defensemen.

All of that changed forever by one tragic incident in Vancouver in 2004. The Vancouver Canucks all-star Todd Bertuzzi blindsided Colorado Avalanche rookie Steve Moore with a punch from behind on March 8th of that year. Moore crumpled to the ice, and was hospitalized with three broken vertebrae in his neck, as well as a concussion.

The NHL suspended Bertuzzi indefinitely and did not reinstate him until August 8th, 2005 - exactly 17 months later. Steve Moore has yet to return to the NHL – and it’s doubtful he ever will.

Besides their personal stories, the result was a debate that raged across the hockey world about the role of rough justice in game. Bertuzzi was “paying back” Moore for some perceived injustice his team had suffered in a previous game. He was playing the role of enforcer, instead of leaving the on-ice justice to the officials. His actions brought into stark relief the problems with violence in the game.

The NHL decided things had to change for the league to survive. First they were going to free up their best players by calling the rules as they were first written, not what they evolved into. And second, they were going to return justice to the referees.

We saw the some of the results last season. This season we will most likely be seeing even more, if this is any indication:

The Toronto Maple Leafs bought out Tie Domi’s contract because, in today’s game, there is almost no need for an enforcer anymore. For decades, brawlers had been a staple on most teams. In last season’s new NHL however, where speed and playmaking proved essential, teams no longer could afford to have a spot on the bench taken up with a slow-footed fighter.
Even that 0.38 fight-pre-night mark is misleading. A high percentage of the fights last season were between these dinosaurs, who were desperately trying to prove that they had a purpose.
Yes, they still made the fans get out of their seats and cheer, but they had little impact on game results. They rarely contributed to deciding game outcomes because when push came to shove, players of that ilk could not punch what that could not catch.

Now most are out of the game altogether, or else, like in Domi’s case, up in the booth. Even he has embraced the new NHL – he spent time on his TV debut praising high-scoring finesse player Alexander Ovechkin, even recommending that he stay out of fights.

If fight-fanatic Don Cherry were dead, he would be spinning in his grave now.

And if he did hear Domi say that, it just might have killed him.