Here’s my defence of the Zack Kassian trade: if you were to put him in a box that transmogrifies him into the player he’ll be in seven years, Brandon Prust is probably the player the machine spits out. Yes, Kassian has a much higher ceiling, but I get the sense that, when he’s done squandering all that potential, he’ll probably settle into a Prustian mould. I have no real qualms with an impatient Jim Benning deciding he wants a responsible, 31-year-old version of Zack Kassian on his fourth line rather than the frustrating 24-year-old version.
But Benning didn’t decide that. It’s the result, sure, but the more I think about it, the more apparent it becomes that Benning wasn’t thinking about Kassian at all when he made the trade -- he was mostly thinking about Derek Dorsett.
Benning loves Dorsett. It’s why the Canucks fourth-liner is making over two-and-a-half million this season. And it’s why Brandon Prust is now here to back Dorsett up, when it comes time to do his all-important job of backing everyone else up. Dorsett was alone in his pugilism last year, fighting 17 times while the rest of the team dropped the gloves a combined total of just 15 times. The nonstop fighting was a large part of why his possession numbers cratered. Dorsett can actually play hockey, but it’s hard to do so -- to hold your stick, let alone use to it control pucks -- when your main job is punching helmets, and that tends to turn your hands into tomato paste.
Enter Brandon Prust, who will be asked to take on some of Dorsett’s opponents in his stead, allowing both to be more effective at the hockey part of hockey.
It makes sense, according to the logic of hockey. But good Lord, what stupid logic it is. I hate this crap. I hate it. I’m sick of garbage thinking like this. I’m sick of fighting, period. This is the single stupidest rationale for a trade I can think of, and I see it constantly: the need to get better at the useless minigame that is occasional bare-knuckle boxing matches.
There is no longer any valid defence for fighting in hockey. You can claim it protects guys. No, it doesn’t. It’s killing people and ruining lives. You can claim it builds momentum. Maybe. Probably not. Plus it kills people and ruins lives. You can claim, without fighting, guys will use their sticks as weapons. But fighting sure isn’t stopping that now. Also, it kills people and ruins lives.
Or you can claim -- and this is at the root of every defence of fighting -- that you just like it. Sure. I do too. I went to a cockfight once. It was really entertaining and fun, right up until the rooster fatally cut the other rooster with the tiny knife affixed to his ankle. Did I mention that fighting is killing people and ruining lives?
Read anything about the brain. Anything. You’ll learn how integral it is to every single process, to the enjoyment of life itself, and how fragile it is. It has the texture of a ripe avocado. The brain is scoopable, and all that protects this delicate, vital piece of you is a little bit of bone and flesh, which we seem to think will hold up just fine if punched again, and again, and again, and again. Sometimes, it doesn't. That's too often.
In the last decade, Derek Dorsett has fought 177 times, according to his fight card over at Hockey Fights. 177 times. That’s too many times. (Sure, he's wearing a helmet. Sometimes. I digress.) And rather than being horrified about what we’ve asked of him, what we’ve asked of hundreds of men over the years (in several cases now, fatally), his hockey team went out and got him a bash brother. It’s unconscionable. Honestly, it’s inhumane.
But nothing is done, because when it comes to fighting, the hockey community turns into the NRA, waving away death and despair because they’re a Rifle Association, not a humanity association. We argue that the only thing that can stop a bad team with an enforcer is a good team with an enforcer; or that this is the way it is because this is the way it’s been, which was once a popular argument for slavery; or that the death of an enforcer, his brains turned to mush because we think fighting is neat, is the wrong time to be talking about fighting in hockey; or that it’s a personal choice, and no one is to blame for a fighter’s addle brains but the fighter who traded his brains for a big payout in a Faustian bargain.
But that, too, is nonsense. Hockey’s enforcer track is built to entice. You can be a rich hockey player too! You don’t have to be good! You just have to be good at fighting! You can blame people for taking the deal, sure, but you also have to blame those who offered it, and those who looked the other way while they made it. As long as fighting in hockey is socially acceptable, the society that accepts it shoulders the responsibility for its ruined lives. You are culpable.
I’m sick of being culpable. Rick Rypien. Derek Boogaard. I contributed to their deaths by condoning their roles. A good friend had the pleasure of knowing Steve Montador. Now no one else will, because we think hockey needs a sideshow where the clock stops, the players stop, the game stops, all the equipment hits the ice, and something completely unrelated and unnecessary happens. When it doesn’t happen, no one misses it. But apparently the game needs it.
There are more deaths coming. I want no part in it. I’m done with fighting, and I’m done with pretending there’s some reason for it in this game. I’m done with listening to people making selfish arguments for its merit.
And, more selfishly, I’m tired of my team opening up its wallet and handing out fat paycheques to players who are better at punching heads than scoring goals.