Mike Milbury acting as an advocate for the abolishment of fighting in the NHL might sound as likely as Tommy Lasorda coming out against cursing.
The ultra-aggressive Boston Bruins defenseman once known as “Mad Mike” had more than 1,500-penalty minutes in a 12-year playing career that ended in the late ‘80s. That stat was padded by participating in more than 70 on-ice brawls – not counting the most famous time when he went into stands to smack a defiant fan with a shoe.
But here’s the new punchline: The 62-year-old NBC Sports Network NHL analyst may be just the right voice at the right time in the sports’ evolution to start a dialogue of change.
It came on opening night of the NHL season, just before the Kings were to take on San Jose on Wednesday. On the “NHL Live” set, Milbury was asked if it was a telling sign that the rosters of teams these days that are consistently winning — like the Kings – are filled less and less with so-called enforcers.
“It’s telling me that it’s time to get rid of fighting,” Milbury said. “It’s telling me that it’s over. As much as I liked to get into a scrap in my day, too many issues here now involving concussions … let’s grow up and get rid of it.”
More stories are coming out about former NHL players having the same kind of post-concussions syndrome issues that medical professionals see with NFL retirees. A new book out this week by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times writer John Branch called “Boy Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard,” sheds more light on how the mental state of the former New York Rangers star deteriorated by head trauma, leading to his tragic death at age 28 in 2011.
If Milbury, also a former NHL head coach and general manager, feels strong enough to change his attitude about altercations, maybe it’s worth challenging him more to elaborate on it:
Q: What prompted you to use your TV position to take a stand on anti-fighting in the NHL at this point, even as there have been writers and others in the league perhaps saying this for some time now?
A: It’s been evolving. From time to time, I’ve had the conversation with my old boss (Hockey Hall of Famer and Boston Bruins president and GM) Harry Sinden, and I think we both have agreed that it’s not a necessary part of the game.
You hear a lot of comments about how fighting is a way of policing the game – which I’ve described in the past as logical hogwash. I think maybe many do enjoy the spontaneity of a fight as a way of getting immediate justice. But slowly and surely, it’s been eliminated as a tactic
Back when the big, bad Flyers won (the Broad Street Bullies of the early 1970s), intimidating teams physically with their fighting, the league took steps appropriately to curb that. And since that time it’s been slowly diminishing. The recent difficulty of the enforcer to find work in the league has emphasized that.
In my era, we signed up for broken bones, bad knees and lacerations of any type. I don’t think any of us were really signing up to be mentally incapacitated in some form or another for the rest of our lives. Maybe you heard about that in boxing, but not in hockey. The overwhelming scare about concussions in our sport, and in sports in general, makes it a logical conclusion that if the behavior can be modified to protect against concussions, then we should absolutely find a way. The league has done that with cracking down on hits from behind, head shots, and a players safety committee that reviews this all the time. They’re doing the best they can to eliminate it. But they have only been nibbling at the fighting issue.
Q: And you can speak first-hand about how fighting can affect one’s health after the game?