Toronto Maple Leafs: No Character or Leadership In Simmonds Fight

Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Wayne Simmonds, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a great team with, hopefully, a great future, but what happened Thursday when they played the Vancouver Canucks was shameful.

On April 18th the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Canucks and Alex Edler stuck his knee out and injured Zach Hyman, who hasn’t played since.

This was an unfortunate accident, as I’d be willing to be almost every knee on knee hit is, but hockey is an emotional game, so if the Leafs wanted to fight Edler at the time, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.   No one did, however, and since Edler was ejected from the game (and subsequently suspended) there was no fight.

Flash forward two weeks, and the Leafs toughest player (arguably the NHL’s toughest player), Wayne Simmonds, felt obligated to teach Edler a lesson.  Unfortunately, this was just yet another sad example of a game that venerates “leadership” and “character” while not knowing what those things even are.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Toughness

It was embarrassing to see Simmonds fight Edler. Both players have played in and around 1000 NHL games, and one of them has over 60 fights while the other is a player with zero fights under his belt.

Edler was suspended for his actions, and punishment has been served. The Leafs are 28 points ahead in the standings, and it’s been two weeks. There is nothing to be gained from Simmonds beating up Edler, but the culture of hockey demands that the Leafs have to show the Canucks that they won’t be pushed around, even though the idea that you might think twice about sticking your knee out (which is clearly just a physical reaction and not something anyone is doing on purpose) to avoid getting in a fight two weeks later is an idea so preposterous it’s honestly hard to picture an actual person really thinking it.

Wayne Simmonds is a formerly great player who is currently playing at the bottom of the Leafs lineup. He brings a lot to the team anyways, and one of those things is supposed to be leadership.

But if he is expected to fight a skilled player out of some kind of silly obligation, he should demonstrate this leadership by saying he won’t do it.  Still, I don’t want to be too hard on Simmonds because it is within the realm of reason that he thinks his spot in the playoff lineup may depend on it, which if that is the case, goes to show how much a of a cultural problem this is when a guy who literally won a leadership award won’t even question it because it’s so ingrained.

Given what we know about concussions, it’s atrocious that there is even fighting in the game anymore. It’s disgusting and there’s no justification for it.  If it happens in the moment though, you can at least understand it.

What I can’t understand, is how something as silly as having your toughest guy beat up a non-fighter two weeks after the fact for something that was a) probably an accident and b) already punished through official channels is so engrained in the culture that it’s almost off-limits to talk about it.  This kind of thing makes some sense in fourth grade.  For adults who are millionaires it almost defies explanation.  Don’t believe me, try explaining the culture of the NHL to someone who already thinks sports are stupid.

The culture that demands that this happens is dying, and let’s be thankful for that.  But it’s still here and you can just check the comments on any anti-fighting article or tweet for proof of that.  Anytime anyone tries to talk about how there shouldn’t be fighting in hockey, you see lots of “you don’t understand the games” and several questions about the author’s masculinity that seem beamed straight from the 1950s, which always ironically serve to strengthen the the point being made, but are nevertheless an indication of how far the NHL needs to go.

The NHL (and game of hockey) is constantly going on about leadership and character.  Well, both of those things require you re-assess your deeply held beliefs from time to time. Hockey can be a game of beauty, and the violence is no doubt a part of that, but the tough guy routine is no better in the NHL than it is with sad adults who still wish they were in highschool.

There is no place for an outdated, pathetic, sad “bro code;” there is no place for pre-meditated fighting, revenge or having trained fighters fight untrained skilled players.  The NHL needs to be better because these things are damaging to the fabric of the game in all sorts of ways (mental health, physical health, leadership, influence on children, etc.) that are not often brought to the forefront of the discourse surrounding the sport.

Next. 5 Trades That Impact the Leafs Stanley Cup Chances. dark

What happened Thursday night wasn’t the Toronto Maple Leafs showing other teams they won’t be pushed around.  Instead it was the NHL demonstrating that they’ve got a long way to go before they live up to their lip service about character and leadership.