Let’s get this out of the way early: I don’t think that fighting is a necessary part of hockey.
This is especially true of what are basically staged fights between two five-minute a night enforcers, and to be fair, these types of fights are slowly being eliminated from the NHL as teams realize that they can use a roster spot more effectively by employing a hockey player as opposed to carrying a designated hitter.
But those aren’t the only fights that exist in hockey, there are "heat of the moment" fights as well, fights that arise from that actually occurred in the game. And while these fights are more connected to what's actually happening in the game, I don’t see any more value in them. Fights don’t affect the outcome of the game, and I don't believe that whatever minimal gain there is to be had from winning a fight that it's worth the risk of injury or death that comes with being in a fight.
Even though I don’t believe fighting to have any real value, I’m not going to advocate for an outright ban on it either. The reason for this is simple, the NHL provides an entertainment product (in theory the Oilers are supposed to be entertaining, actual results may vary) and, for some fans, fights provide a few minutes of entertainment. It's not my thing but I’m okay with that; hockey doesn’t just have to be things that I like. I don’t like overtime during the regular season either, I’d be fine with every game being 60 minutes long, but I’m not going to turn the game off because of it. The same goes for fighting, you like it and I take the opportunity to grab a drink. And then we both go back to watching hockey.
This brings me to the final minutes of last night’s game, and the fight between Darnell Nurse and Roman Polak, if you can call what that was a fight. Nurse jumped Polak at the Sharks blue line and proceeded to pummel the Sharks defender; Polak never even got his gloves off and was covered in blood by the time things were over. For his actions Nurse will have a hearing with the NHL tomorrow, and I would imagine will get a short suspension.
What initiated the fight was a play earlier in the third period where it looked like Polak was responsible for Matt Hendricks crashing hard into the end boards. Having watched the replay now I don’t believe that Polak did anything wrong, but there was no replay shown at the game so there is no way Nurse or anyone else playing the game knew that. What Nurse likely saw was a play where a teammate could have been injured and he stood up for that teammate. I’ve got no issue with that, good for him; it’s a way for him to demonstrate that he cares. It’s not the only way to show that, and probably not the best way either, but it gets the message across.
Let’s not get carried away with the value of that fight though. This is not something that is going to translate into wins down the road for the Oilers. Some will tell you that its plays like this that will make the Oilers tougher to play against. And that might sound good in theory but it’s just not the case. For that to be true you have to believe that a player is going to alter his style of play because he might have to fight Nurse or any other member of the Oilers. I don’t want to say that it’s impossible for that to be true, but I tend to think that if a player is legitimately scared of being jumped and taking a few punches, that that player was weeded out long before making it to the NHL.
So what Nurse did might well have been great in the moment, but in terms of long lasting impact, the value is basically zero. Sorry, fight fans.