When NHL stars fight, you can't have it both ways

On Nov. 27, Chris Stewart(notes) of the Colorado Avalanche fought Kyle Brodziak(notes) of the Minnesota Wild.

It was a 5-3 lead for the Avs in the second period, and the fight wasn't a necessity.

In hindsight, it's been deemed a regrettable decision for Stewart: He's out for a month to six weeks with a broken left hand suffered in this brawl, eliminating one of the Avs' top offensive options from its lineup for a considerable stretch.

Said Coach Joe Sacco of the fight and in the injury:

"It's unfortunate that it happened, but its part of the game and there's really not much else to say about it. ... It's a power-forward role that Chris plays."

Which is to say that Jarome Iginla(notes) fights and Milan Lucic(notes) fights and Cam Neely fought. It's part of the gig for an offensively talented power forward.

Terry Frei of the Denver Post gets that, and isn't saying that fighting doesn't have a place in the game. But in his Sunday column, Frei suggests that Stewart's fight was a mistake not only based on the aftermath but on principle: "It's unwise and even irresponsible to have your highly paid, top goal-scorer - whether a power forward and a talented fighter, or an undersized center - fighting."

To Terry Frei, we say: You can't have it both ways.

Frei, from the Denver Post:

Granted, you don't want Stewart, or any other productive power forward, playing as if "Peace Train" or "Kumbaya" is being piped into his helmet. But having your top goal-scorer get into a fight that is a response to yapping and not dirty stickwork or the equivalent, and involves squaring off and shadow dancing, is especially ridiculous. Maybe you don't tell him not to fight. But you tell him he better have a darned good reason, because otherwise, he's not standing up for teammates - he's potentially hurting the team because of that risk of injury.

The only reason this column has been written, or any protest of Stewart's decision to fight had been voiced, is because Stewart broke his hand and took a point-per-game player (1.09) out of the lineup. Had he thumped Brodziak, did his time in the box and started the next game, there's no passionate objection.

Which is to say the injury is the issue, and the injury was suffered in a fight. An unnecessary fight, sure; but a fight.

What Frei argues, primarily, is that if Stewart's going to fight it had better be for something other than superfluous reasons:

" ... in the wake of Stewart's ascent to star status would have been to emphasize that the Avalanche couldn't take the risk of having him act as the banner-carrier for team honor, and that there are others on the roster who can fill that role."

If the concern is injury, than it's a simple call: Either let a player like Stewart fight or staple the gloves to his wrists and bar him from dropping them. Because a "valorous" fight is going to look just as unnecessary in hindsight if he's on the shelf for six weeks.

Which is why any criticism of Stewart's fight is Monday Morning Quarterback nonsense. Let'em drop the gloves, no matter the situation. Injuries happen. Did Keith Tkachuk(notes) or Owen Nolan(notes) have to deal with this during their formative years?

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