Red Wings aren’t mad at Mantha for fighting, breaking hand

James O'Brien
NBC Sports

In the rare hockey fight featuring a player who normally uses their hands to score goals, there’s a tug-of-war. On one hand, you cringe at the risks of said hands being broken. On the other, you have to acknowledge the natural danger of the sport, not to mention the emotions that come from sticking up for your teammates.

Such thoughts come to mind when you consider Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha, who will miss four-to-six weeks after breaking his hand in a fight with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrik Nemeth.

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(You can watch that fight in the video above.)

Sure, there’s the inclination to wish that someone else might have taken care of that dirty work after Dylan Larkin absorbed a hard hit, but can you really blame Mantha? As MLive.com’s Ansar Khan reports, Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill certainly did not.

“There’s inherent risk in playing hockey, there’s inherent risk in getting into a fight,” Blashill said. “He was sticking up for Larkin, who got his head run against the boards. I know this, he’d do it again. And I’m good with him doing it again. We want to make sure we’re sticking up for each other. You’re not going anywhere at any time if you got a team that’s selfish and doesn’t care about each other.”

If you want to get into the weeds, you can quibble a bit with Blashill’s further points. He compared fighting to blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play. That might be pushing it just a touch, as those events are more attuned with the moment-to-moment functions of actually playing the sport, while sticking up for your teammate is often a combination of a sheer, guttural reaction and also “sending a message.” Theoretically, you don’t literally need to fight to thwart a scoring chance or advance the puck down the ice.

But, overall, it’s tough to get too mad at Mantha … although, seriously, the Red Wings might want to at least consider talking to him about taking that step.

After all, this isn’t actually his first injury stemming from a fight. As Khan recalls, Mantha’s 2016-17 season ended after he broke his finger in a March 2017 fight with Luke Witkowski:

As a large human (listed at 6-foot-5, 225 lbs.), one can understand why Mantha would be especially willing to drop the gloves. It might be tough to discourage him from doing so, although you could also conjure images of all the goals he missed out on in late 2016-17, and now these five-to-six weeks.

Of course, there’s a cynical reason for the Red Wings to shrug their shoulders now, while maybe convincing him to change course later: they might be that much more likely to lose games with Mantha on the shelf.

While this has been a hit-or-miss season for Mantha (nine goals, 14 points in 27 games), he’s one of Detroit’s most important forwards. Perhaps injuries like these will cajole the Red Wings into further embracing their at-times-reluctant rebuild, maybe by not re-signing Jimmy Howard and instead selling off aging players for future assets? At this point, any excuse helps.

Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Avalanche ended up being quite costly for the Red Wings, primarily when punches were thrown. Not only did they lose Mantha to this injury, but Tyler Bertuzzi was also suspended two games for this incident:

Fighting simply hasn’t been friendly to the Red Wings lately. In Mantha’s case, it at least felt like an unforced error, even though the results ended up being far more painful (literally and figuratively).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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