On My Soapbox: Post-Hit Fights

Here’s the deal.  It’s not like I think that Steve Ott is a horrible human being… 

Well, okay.  Let me rephrase that.  While I may think that he’s a horrible human being, I’m sure that he’s actually a really nice guy. 

Wait, let me rephrase that again.  I’m not sure, but he probably is actually a really nice guy—just a nice guy who enjoys annoying the hell out of anyone and everyone on the ice. 

But I’m going to be flat out honest here.  What he did not once, but twice last night might not have been wrong, but it was certainly was dishonorable, as Puck Daddy made mention of

Here’s the deal.  I am a Wild fan.  I make no bones about it.  While I try my hardest to remain objective, there are many times that I view plays during Wild games through Iron Range Red tinted lenses. 

But what Steve Ott did last night is a growing epidemic in the NHL in general, as Bob McKenzie pointed out at TSN.ca. 

I’m all for fighting in the game, and I’m all for spontaneous fighting at that.  But there’s one thing that gets me on both of the fights that Ott started. 

Each one followed a 100% good, clean check by Cal Clutterbuck. 

Why, pray tell, should Clutterbuck be expected to defend himself against someone other than the man that he just embarrassed by knocking his brain about ten rows up into the seats?

A couple seasons ago, Wild defenseman Brent Burns jumped in on something that was much similar to this when he set up forward Stephane Veilleux to get Phaneufed, so to speak. 

My response then was the same as it is now.  Why in the world should the hitter have to defend themselves against anyone but the recipient of the hit for a good, clean hit? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love seeing players skate with such raw emotion.  But this is now bordering on ridiculous. 

In his post-game comments, Ott brought up the 60’s and 70’s bench clearing brawls saying that a hit like that on a star player simply can’t go without a response. 

Yeah.  He may be right, and you at least have to respect his sentiment.  But at what point did we start saying that this response has to be in the way of a fight?  Or even that the star players can’t respond, themselves?

McKenzie brings up a great list of what he believes would constitute as “appropriate responses” in his column, and I happen to agree 200% with him: 

I suppose I’m old fashioned but for me the appropriate response to the Stuart hit would have come from a menu that includes the following: a) Kopitar gets up and exacts revenge by scoring a goal against Boston; b) If Kopitar was really incensed by the hit, he drops the gloves himself with Stuart (don’t laugh, the point is the game had more honor when players fought their own battles); c) the Kings take Stuart’s number and the first time he’s in a position to get hit, he gets creamed; d) the Kings begin laying more hits and physical abuse on Boston’s best offensive players Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron, and believe me Wayne Simmonds would be excellent at this; e) all of the above. 

Why does the response have to involve a player now having to drop his gloves with someone nowhere near the play, just because he cleaned the clock of a star player?  My guess, in both situations, is that the star player got to his feet thinking to himself: “Damn, I should have kept my head up.” 

But, if he were really upset over it, he should fight his own battles like McKenzie suggested.  To Ott’s comment, I’m certain that’s what would have happened in the 60’s and 70’s. 

What’s more, the NHL instituted the “instigator” penalty to prevent just this.  As Mike Russo mentioned in his postgame blog, the instigator rule at hand (and, make no mistake, Ott was the instigator in both fights), would punish Ott with a 2-5-and-10 laundry list of penalty minutes for his role in starting the fight. 

As Russo said: 

Tonight, for some reason Ott didn’t get an instigator (2-5-and-10) for going after Clutterbuck after he lay a clean check on Brad Richards. I don’t know why. The league has publicly said that if you start a fight after a clean hit,. it should be a 2, 5 and 10. The refs tonight gave him 2 for roughing. 

I’m sure I’m not alone in this sentiment, but I don’t want to get rid of hitting in the NHL—especially not the open ice kind, nor do I want to get rid of fighting.  Both aspects of the game are absolutely electric and can energize a crowd and a team and both aspects are as much of a part as the game’s fabric as scoring goals or making saves. 

But, for the life of me, I just can’t understand why a player would have to defend himself for a clean hit—especially when he’s not defending himself against the player that he hit, and I can’t, for the life of me, understand why the NHL would institute such a rule as the instigator penalty if they refuse to enforce it to the letter of the law.


9 Responses to “On My Soapbox: Post-Hit Fights”
  1. Ryan says:

    The following comment is coming from a Colorado Avalanche fan, who hates the Stars and Wild, Ott and Clutterbuck evenly.

    The problem with Cal Clutterbuck is that he hits for the sake of hitting. Not always, but sometimes. And when he does hit, it doesn’t matter to him who’s in his crosshairs, he’s going to try to obliterate the guy. I suppose that’s all well and good if he’s willing to accept the fact that other teams will take exception to that, especially when he takes a run at one of their star players. But Clutterbuck wears a visor and avoids fights, usually hiding behind Boogaard. So often times he gets away with hits, clean or otherwise, without being held responsible. That’s only going to piss teams off, and then when the Boogy man takes a night off, it will make Clutterbuck a target for any teams who feel he escaped justice in the past. That’s exactly what happened last night against the Stars.

    Let me be clear: Ott definitely should have got the instigator on that 2nd fight. No question about it, you’re right that it fits in the letter of the law. The reason he didn’t was two-fold. Firstly, like it or not, Clutterbuck has a reputation as a careless hitter. Not dirty, but careless…perhaps even reckless. Secondly, the league protects star players. So when Ott gave Clutterbuck what was coming to him for running Richards, it’s no surprise that the refs looked the other way. Is it right? Not according to the rules. But I trust the refs to know the attitude of the game and assess penalties accordingly more than I trust a fan of either team involved in the game.

    Just look at the situation from the other way. What if Ott had just flattened Koivu? Even if it’s a clean hit, you can’t allow guys to take liberties with your key players, so you have to respond. You don’t want Richards fighting Clutterbuck because then you’re trading a star player for a 2nd/3rd liner for 5 minutes, which is stupid. Ott did exactly what any semi-enforcer would do in that situation. That doesn’t make Ott any less guilty, but hopefully it explains why poor Clutterbuck got beat up. Perhaps if Clutterbuck either fought his own battles more often (without a visor) or just had more respect for fellow players, there wouldn’t be such a league-wide aggression towards him after every hit.

  2. bcbenzel says:

    Ryan. First of all, thanks for the read and the comment! Like I said, I try to be as objective as possible and love to hear all views and sides.

    Regarding the hit, I would argue that this is nothing more than Clutterbuck finishing his check. You get the same from any number of other players in the NHL, none of which are labelled as reckless or careless. All Cal does is finish checks. Does he go for the big hit a little too often? Absolutely, and I can’t stand it because it will oftentimes pull him out of position. But I don’t think that he should be expected to have to defend himself for finishing his checks, star player or not.

    If you looked at Richards after the play, did he honestly look like he took exception to the hit? He looked like he realized that he got caught with his head down. If the team itself wants to protect its players, take down Clutter’s number and wait until he puts himself in a position to be lined up and have the same done to him. If the player that got hit doesn’t like it? Stand up for yourself for crying out loud. Or even start playing more physical with Minnesota’s big players. I don’t like this, regardless of who is on the receiving end of the hit.

    The problem that I have with this is that the NHL expressly said that they would be giving 2-5-and-10 to any player that instigated a fight off of a clean hit, which is exactly what Ott did. If Koivu got knocked ass over teakettle by Ott and it was a clean hit, why does there need to be any sort of retribution? Hitting’s part of the game. As McKenzie said, all this is doing is making players think twice about laying a clean, hard hit on someone.

  3. Stacey Ross says:

    I’m a Stars fan and I would have been fine with Ott getting an instigator penalty after he took on Clutterbuck after the Richards hit. And you know what? Even if he had known he would get the extra ten, he would have done it. And he *should* have. Brad Richards is arguably the only reason the Stars have even a remote chance at the playoffs this season.

    So as long as we’re not judging Ott negatively for what he did, I suppose I agree: Ott should have gotten the instigator. It would appear to be the very definition of instigation.

    As for players “standing up for themselves,” I think it’s an unrealistic and silly sentiment. Star players have rarely stood up for themselves since Gretzky/McSorely. On those rare occasions you get a star player like Iginla who will happily take care of the fight himself, well then more power to them. But let’s not act like there’s no precedent for teammates fighting in place of the guy they desperately want *not* to break his hands on someone’s helmet.

  4. Kevin says:

    Ryan is 100% correct. Clutterbuck is a role player, and the NHL needs to protect its star players. Its the code of hockey and always has been. It would be one thing if Clutterbuck simply finished his check while coasting, but he continues to take strides as he comes in and he often comes in high – this is called “running” a plyer. By going for the big hits he demonstrates his disregard for their health, and that has to be addressed. Anyone who has ever played a significant level of hockey (obvious reference to Bob M.) knows better.

  5. Paul Vanak says:

    Hey bcbenzel, maybe you should get some glasses. The hit by Clutterbuck on Richrads was not a 100% clean hit. Clutterbuck made a run at Richards who didn’t even have the puck. Another Wild player had just lightly checked Richards then Clutterbuck ran right at him. I was there at the game and saw it live in person. Maybe on TV you didn’t see how many extra steps Clutterbuck took but it was really close to charging. The refs that night were pathetic and calls for and against both teams were bad.
    Richards took a step toward Clutterbuck but saw Ott coming so he just stood there. It wasn’t a good, clean hit. It may not have been a dirty hit with any intent to injure but it was a cheap hit. So Ott did the right thing and beat his butt for the 2nd time that game.

  6. bcbenzel says:

    Stacey: While I appreciate the sentiment of players standing up for their star players, it has turned into an absolute joke. To me, the idea that a player can’t play any sort of physical game with the opposing team’s stars without the fear of getting into an undeserved fight is absolutely ridiculous. I will be the first to admit that Clutterbuck runs around and hits — it’s his job, it’s what he’s expected to do. As Richards is expected to score points for his team, Clutterbuck is expected to play physical and knock players off his game.

    But, essentially, what this is going to turn into is that it’s okay to hit anyone on the ice, except for the really, really good players. Don’t touch them, because they’re special. To me, that sentiment is absolute crap no matter what team.

    I don’t think that it should be an absolute mandate that the stars fight for themselves — I understand why they wouldn’t want to. But there are other ways to enforce this as opposed to fighting a guy for a clean hit.

    Kevin: Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a diatribe against Ott. I may not like the guy, but I understand why he did what he did. To me, though, this hit was nothing that the majority of players in the NHL don’t do on a regular basis. The way that refs are enforcing the charging penalty these days, it was a legal hit and a clean one. I understand protecting your star players, but the idea that you have to fight just because you lay a hit (running a player or not) just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Paul: I’ve watched the hit over and over again, and I stand by my assertion that it was a clean hit. 1) Clutterbuck didn’t do anything that was out of the ordinary or that any other player finishing their check (Steve Ott included) doesn’t do and 2) Richards has JUST gotten rid of the puck and, when he had, Clutterbuck was already heading towards him for the check. I won’t deny that there are times that Clutterbuck toes the line between legal and illegal hits…But this simply wasn’t one of them. It was a clean, open ice check.

  7. Joel says:

    Admitted Stars fan here so you might read this with a grain of salt but…

    The first fight: I really thought this carried over from the last time these teams played. Ott was wanting to fight Clutterbuck in that game but Clutterbuck said no. The two ran each other a few times in the game and I really thought it was going to carry over to this game.

    The second fight: Clutterbuck’s hit was clean but it was also unnecessary and Richards was in a vulnerable position. That’s why Ott fought him. If Richards was not in a vulnerable position and had the smackdown laid on him I think Ott skates off (I’ve seen him play probably 95% of Ott’s NHL games). I’m in agreeance that fights after clean hits can be annoying but I also think you can hit to hurt without being illegal. Ott felt Clutterbuck was hitting to hurt and to exception to it.

    Ott might annoy you but he fires up his team and his hometown crowd. He also spends alot of time doing charity work in Dallas and would absolutely do anything to win (not that you doubt that!). You’d love him if he was on your team- trust me.

  8. bcbenzel says:

    Joel — For an admitted Stars fan, I think this might have been the most objective view of this, mine included. I can see your point about Ott feeling that Clutter was hitting to hurt. I still don’t like the idea of the fight immediately afterwards, since there was no injury, but I can understand why Ott did it.

    As for Ott…You’re damn right he annoys me, but I imagine that I would love him on the Wild, just as I’m sure fans of the other 29 teams in the NHL would love Clutterbuck if he were on their team.

  9. Joel says:

    Your exactly right about that. I would love it if we had 3 Clutterbucks on one line!

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