Matt Rempe is fighting the entire NHL. Will this boost or hurt the league? | New York Rangers

NOTEarly in the third period on Saturday night in Toronto, it finally – and inevitably – happened. Ryan Reaves, the Leafs tough guy center ice clash with Matt Rempe, the imposing rookie of the New York Rangers. Rempe, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound center, has a goal and an assist in his first seven NHL games. He also received 37 penalty minutes, five more than he spent playing on the ice. He is what most people would call an “enforcer” – a role that in recent years has been more or less eliminated from the NHL. That’s not to say there aren’t still guys ready to drop the gloves or play a game that’s more physical than finesse — every team has at least one. But what Rempe does is different.

So far, Rempe has spent most of his time fighting. This type of thing hasn’t been seen in the NHL in years for several reasons. On the one hand, guys were dying. Off-ice deaths of law enforcement Derek Boogaard, Wade BelakAnd Rick Rypien within a few months of each other in 2011 were a catalyst for change. In the years since, the arguments against so-called “morons” have grown stronger. Many studies have, for example, linked fighting to CTE – even though NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman always disagreements the link. But there was another change in hockey around the same time: analytics. In recent years, every player and prospect has been subjected to intense data-driven analysis, and teams are continually seeking quantifiable metrics – alongside human scouting reports – to chart a path to victory. An executor does not fit easily into this new matrix. They rarely generate points and they generally don’t skate well or quickly enough, let alone create things like successful and consistent zone entries.

Then there is the cultural aspect. While the NHL and hockey in general have addressed the damage to police officers’ health, the public has also objected to fighting as a spectacle, particularly at the elite level. Investigations into the last decade to show that Canadian fans remain divided on the idea of ​​outright banning fighting in professional hockey, but that its relative barbarity has served to symbolize deeper attitudinal issues in the sport, including its well-deserved reputation for promoting a culture of silence in the face of things like sexual assault. Fighting has declined perhaps as much as 200% over the past 20 years, according to an estimation. This decline, which led to faster, more entertaining play – alongside wider action to make hockey more inclusive for marginalized groups – was seen as a positive change.

But fighting is a key part of hockey’s “code,” its unwritten rules of conduct and fair play that players subscribe to to govern themselves. On TNT Saturday evening, its NHL panel discussed Rempe hit earlier in the night against Ilya Lyubushkin, which sparked the fight with Reaves: “Some people might take that as an accusation, but from an old school mentality, I’m okay with that move , but I also agree that he had to answer the call from the tough guy on the other team,” said Paul Bissonnette, himself a former NHL player. “I would have liked to see a penalty, but it rang, and that’s why I’m fine.” Hockey, its analysts and its supporters have long straddled this boundary between the “code” and the codified – between the morality of hockey and that of everyone else, imposed from the outside. And they have shaped hockey a lot in recent times.

For now, this debate between the old way and the new way is led primarily by voices within hockey. But, like other major sports, the NHL is always susceptible to becoming a flashpoint in the larger culture wars. He came close last year during his All-Star break in Florida. An NHL post on LinkedIn inviting people to a career fair at its Pathway to Hockey Summit initially specified that attendees had to identify as a member of a marginalized group. Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, seized on the event, describing it as discrimination against white people. “We do not respect the woke notion that discrimination should be overlooked if it is applied in a politically popular way or against a politically unpopular demographic group,” DeSantis’ spokesperson said.

Matt Rempe’s dark eyes tell the story of his NHL career thus far. Photograph: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

The return of fighting this year in the form of Rempe has the potential to expose hockey’s internal existential debate over its long-standing harshness to this same feverish cadre. After Rempe’s first game – and his first fight – Sean Avery, former NHL pest and frequent fighter rented Rempe on his podcast, promoting his role. “So all you woke up assholes at home, you think it’s hard for you. This kid had to go to work on his first day on the job in the NHL, he had to fight another man in an…octagon gladiator,” Avery said. Right-wing site The Daily Caller picked up on the comments. “The softies in the world say that the beginner can’t do this every night, that fighting people every chance he gets is ‘unbearable,'” Robert McGreevy wrote, not sarcastically. “Can you assholes shut your traps?” »

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The old-school theory is that police officers make hockey safer. If the game gets too heated, a fight acts as a relief valve that settles scores according to code, and in a more orderly manner than the increasingly dirty moves or other in-game nonsense. Rempe’s fights (including the pace is indeed unsustainable) could put this theory to the ultimate test. They could, as Avery and others hope, spark a sharper and, let’s face it, more political debate about the state of hockey. In other words, they could worsen an already tense atmosphere. Or, Rempe’s struggles could offer a cathartic release, one that spares the NHL from becoming the center of a broader, heavier debate. They could be the proof everyone needs that, despite all the changes, hockey isn’t as sweet as it’s made out to be.

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