Two stars dropped the mits to settle a disagreement Saturday night. One of them was one of the NHL’s highest paid players, Ilya Kovalchuk of The Devils. His dance partner was offensively gifted defenseman, Mike Green of the Washington Capitals. Kovalchuk is 6’2”, 235lbs; Green is 6’1”, 200lbs. The fight started with 4 minutes remaining in the game with the Caps leading 7-2. The players both removed their helmets before the fight. It is common courtesy to remove your helmet before a fight if you play the game with a visor. Plastic visors can break and gash you if they break in a fight. The fight was decent with neither player landing any major punches. The two skated around shadow boxing before grabbing onto each other and throwing a few wild swings and falling to the ice. The bout was voted a draw on www.hockeyfights.com.
Fighting is usually reserved for the lower-paid and less skilled players. From a team perspective, you don’t want your star goal scorers breaking their hands or nose while fighting. Fighting is in the NHL game in some respects to protect the star players from abuse. For example if your star player is being physically battered it is your right as a teammate to challenge the abuser to a fight. This way, star players have a built in protection policy.
Kovalchuk has fought 7 times in his career. Mike Green has only fought twice in his NHL career. Fighting is certainly a part of hockey, but it’s rare to see two stars get after it. In the 2003-04 Stanley Cup Finals, stars Vinny Lecavalier and Jarome Iginla got in a tussle. That was surprising but not totally unexpected. Those two players play a rugged style and get into the occasional scrap. Kovalchuk and Mike Green are not physical players which makes this fight a rarity. Kovalchuk came over to the Devils at the trade deadline last season. The team re-signed him to a much debated 15 year, $100M contract in the off-season.
I’m sure Kovalchuk’s teammates appreciate him sticking up for himself. His Devil teammates will be called upon to protect Kovalchuk as the season continues. It’s easier to put your own face on the line when you’ve seen the man himself willing to do the same. The fight earned him the respect of his teammates. I suspect that this is what Kovalchuk had in mind. I also suspect the star winger will keep his gloves on for the remainder of the season. Those hands may be worth $100M, but there no good if they’re broken.