The Hotstove segment on HNIC was fairly shocking last night as Mike Milbury had jaws dropping on both the panel and across Canada. He did an almost complete turnaround on the issue of gratuitous violence in the league, even going so far as to say that it was time to consider whether the league should continue to allow fighting.
“The wussification of Mike Milbury,” said Pierre LeBrun, “Never thought I’d see the day.”
While it was the Gillies issue that seemed to touch off Milbury’s change of heart, I suspect that the real reason for turnaround was the news that Bob Probert was suffering from a degenerative brain disease – brought on by concussions – when he died. Milbury is asking precisely the right question in the wake of the disturbing news. Are we asking the players for too much, to take too many risks, for our entertainment?
He – correctly in my view – dismissed Ron Maclean’s effort to defend fighting as something more than mere entertainment. “The threat of a fight makes the game safer for Sidney Crosby.” I don’t think there is any evidence that this is true. The players who would be happy to take Crosby’s head off are deterred by a fight? In what league?
Furthermore, if Crosby’s safety is the issue, this is an idiotic way to assure it. The players can’t protect Crosby. All they can do is exact a measure of revenge when he is manhandled. The league has to protect Crosby and the other players. That’s why the game has officials and that’s why Colin Campbell has a job.
Its all very well to say that the players accept the risks, but we know they are doing it without good information. Nobody knows what the risks really are. We don’t know whether Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert were outliers or whether we will see more and more of this. Even if they do present unusual cases, we don’t know whether they will remain unusual given the game’s increased violence. What we do know is that a whole bunch of players and ex-players got a jolt from the Probert story. How many of us would trade places with Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya or Marc Savard today?
Is Mike Milbury’s change of attitude on this issue a harbinger of things to come? Have some of the GMs had a similar epiphany? Is it a trial balloon from the league?
We can only hope.