OHL’s Latest Crackdown on Fighting ‘Completely Dumb,’ Says Flyers’ Simmonds
TORONTO — Ah, fighting in hockey: The decades-long debate that delivers a right hook to the noggin seemingly every few months. Even in the summer.
It was the Ontario Hockey League that revved up the conversation this time around, last week announcing an anti-fighting rule implemented for the 2012-13 season would be revamped in an effort to further diminish the use of fisticuffs in arguably the sport’s top developmental league.
Since fall 2012, OHL players accumulating more than 10 fighting majors in a season have been assessed an automatic two-game suspension. Moving forward, the same punishment will be issued but with discipline being served seven fights earlier, starting at a player’s fourth fighting major (excluding instances in which they are the victim of instigation, of course).
Veteran NHLer and OHL alumnus Wayne Simmonds, who last year fought five times in 81 regular-season games for the Philadelphia Flyers, believes lowering the threshold is a foolish move.
“I think that’s stupid. Oh, completely dumb,” Simmonds told Postmedia on Tuesday following an on-ice session during Day 2 of the BioSteel Camp at St. Michael’s College School Arena.
Fighting “polices the game,” keeps players honest, Simmonds added: “I know they’re trying to take staged fighting out of hockey. But, at the same time, you can’t take that (option) away from them.”
Cracking down in increments sends a mixed message, the 27-year-old power forward argues. Why not totally commit to the cause and attach an automatic game misconduct to every fighting major?
“I don’t get it. It doesn’t make any sense,” the 6-foot-2, 183-pounder said. “I understand what they’re trying to do, with the concussions and everything that has come out over the last few years … but for me, from fighting in the NHL, I’ve gotten hurt way more from someone giving me a dirty elbow or just not having my head up.”
Notorious fourth-line NHLer Paul Bissonnette spent five seasons in the OHL in the early 2000s. He partly agreed with Simmonds’ take, saying the three-fight threshold “seems maybe a little bit low.”
However, critics can’t deny the initial rule’s influence. The numbers are striking.
According to HockeyFights.com, 632 fighting majors were recorded over the course of the OHL’s 2015-16 regular season. That’s an average of 31.6 per club in the 20-team loop.
In 2011-12, just four seasons earlier, there were 1,249 fighting majors — nearly double.
Then again, the NHL has watched its fighting majors drop, too, from 1,089 per season to 686 (a 37% reduction) over that same time frame. It has been an organic transition of sorts.
Washington Capitals crash-and-banger Tom Wilson, a player cut from the same cloth as Simmonds and another OHL alumnus, is unconvinced NHL-level fighting will die off anytime soon.
“It’s a sensitive subject right now. Everyone wants to kind of find the fine line of where you need to be with that (topic),” Wilson said, no doubt alluding to both the OHL’s crackdown and the concussion lawsuit against the NHL, which was filed by ex-players.
“I think the game needs to be able to police itself. It has to be able to. Anyone that says that that’s not true, I don’t think really gets the game, because anyone that feels that they can go out and play a (physical) game and not have to do anything to stand up for themselves after a cheap shot, the game would just get out of hand.”
Added Bissonnette, who has 68 NHL fights on his resume: “Tell me people don’t get frustrated watching other sports, when guys are constantly yapping at each other and they don’t really have to back it up.”
COUTURE GETS LATE CALL
Off-season surgery on his core has forced Jamie Benn to finally admit defeat. The Dallas Stars superstar winger will miss next month’s World Cup of Hockey.
On Tuesday, Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong named Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks as Benn’s replacement up front.
“We are excited to add Logan to Team Canada,” Armstrong said. “He has developed into a top player in the NHL and his versatility will benefit our group of forwards. In making this decision the management group consulted with our coaching staff and determined that Logan was the best fit to help fill the role that Jamie was projected to play on Team Canada.”
Eight teams will battle it out for World Cup supremacy from Sept. 17 through Oct. 1. Training camps in Montreal and Quebec City commence after Labour Day Weekend.
OFF THE GLASS AND OUT
Bissonnette recently attended a skills camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. No. 1 pick Auston Matthews, a Scottsdale native, was also on hand and the 18-year-old phenom left an impression on the 31-year-old AHLer. “He’s pretty big. I didn’t realize how tall he was,” Bissonnette said. “He seemed very coordinated. You can just tell when someone is confident in their abilities.” … How has Wilson, not even 23 but already a veteran of 231 NHL games, stayed off the healthy-scratch list? “I had advice given to me, when I was in my 19-year-old year: You have to be remembered every night,” he said. “You can’t be invisible, so do something every night to get noticed.” If you’ve ever caught Wilson in action, there’s no doubt he took that advice to heart … Regular BioSteel Camp workouts continue Wednesday. The sports drink producer’s annual pre-NHL training camp camp wraps up Thursday with a round-robin tournament played for the “coveted” BioSteel Cup.