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Can we get rid of fights after clean hits?

Players having to sit five minutes for a fight after a clean hit is getting old.

Montreal Canadiens v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

During Thursday night’s Montreal Canadiens game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Alexander Romanov threw one of the most beautiful body checks you’ll ever see in hockey. Sam Lafferty thought he had enough space to get past the young Russian on the outside, but Romanov pivoted and closed the distance in devastating fashion.

It was reminiscent of Larry Robinson, who was a master of giving attacking forwards a false sense of security before bringing his full weight upon them through a lowered shoulder. Mentioning any young player in the same breath as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game is ambitious praise, but take a look at this work of art.

It was textbook — Romanov pivots, takes a few steps, and drives with his shoulder, keeping his lead arm tucked to avoid any unnecessary head contact. These mechanics should be taught at every hockey school and camp. This is precisely everything that you should do when delivering a body check. There was no reason for anyone to be remotely upset about a hit this well done.

Of course, immediately after this masterpiece of a body check, he was unwillingly drawn into a fight with Ryan Carpenter, and had to spend the next five minutes in the box.

I’m actually somewhat of a proponent for fighting in hockey. I find it virtually impossible to expect men in a league as physical as the NHL to not engage in the occasional round of fisticuffs. What I find tiresome are situations like Romanov’s, where the player did nothing wrong, yet is drawn into a needless fight over it. One in which, it must be said, he was clearly uninterested to participate.

This is a problem that is likely remedied only by a fundamental change in the mentality of hockey players — that they must demand their pound of flesh for every hit against a teammate. That seems quite unlikely, but perhaps a consistent application of what was called on Thursday night could provide a push in that direction.

The officials made a great call on the play, opting to hand Carpenter the extra two for instigating, as well as a 10-minute misconduct. They need to make this call more consistently in the NHL, because it would force players to decide if jumping someone over every hit is in their best interest, or that of their team. If the pound of flesh costs 12 extra minutes to extract every time, you’ll at least pick your spots more selectively.

Even the biggest proponents of fighting know the risks that it carries, and the league would do well to limit unnecessary occurrences. Maybe you go nuclear, and eliminate the coincidental five-minute majors altogether when a clear instigator is present, leaving only 12 cold minutes for the aggressor. An idea that would require some fleshing out to work in practice, but the motive is to avoid having every player who lands a clean hit also have to receive blows to the head for it.

If forcing players to pick their spots more means less of players like Romanov having to answer punches for textbook hits, the league will be better off.