I have long held that David Koci should not be an NHL player, in that he literally serves no purpose outside of fighting. The fighting itself provides minimal, if any, gains for his teams. I also made a point to call out the fact that Trevor Gillies (you know, this Trevor Gillies, getting ready for the season) seemed to accomplish an even more impossible feat, by playing worse than Koci. The long and the short of it is that I've no respect for teams that employ players that literally should not be pulling on an NHL jersey. Enter the Winnipeg Jets.
Granted, it's only a tryout* - this is what I told myself after I woke up with the night sweats, envisioning Koci loafing around the ice and laying lumber to people, taunting them into an opportunity to punch his head. Players like him are everything to the debate about fighting in the NHL. Would I rather he occupy a spot on the NHL roster, or Tim Stapleton? I would pick Stapleton in a heartbeat, a guy who has traveled the world and spent many a time on AHL teams because his place in the lineup was occupied by a Colton Orr, or an Eric Boulton.
*Incidentally, what exactly would they be looking for in this "tryout?" Let's see, can he stand on skates? Check. Does he have hands? Check.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Koci, Gillies, Orr, or Boulton as people - as I stated explicitly in the Gillies article and I'll state here again: I place blame directly on the teams that employ them. They make this path a viable one for a shot at the NHL. They are the ones who expect Koci, and Gillies, and Orr, and Boulton to go out and risk their health and well-being as well as those of their opponents. It's a price for admission, a perversion of the dream these guys no doubt had when they were kids. Would you pay that price, to risk the punches, the pain, the uncertainty, to play in the greatest hockey league on earth? Somebody will, and somebody always will if there is a team on the other end willing to pay them the money to do it. And somebody else will hire likewise, to "protect" their players from that player, regardless whether such a notion of protection appears to be dubious at best. And so on.
A boy who fantasized about scoring the big goals in the biggest games becomes the man who plays three minutes a game, 50 games of 82, and eats knuckles in garbage time. He spends most of his vibrant years tearing his body to pieces, and each time it gets harder and harder to put himself back together. Around him, beyond him, the game is played - somehow, he's managed to be in and on the outside looking in. Is this really what hockey was supposed to be all about? Where does he go from here?
Another boy, equally the dreamer, becomes the man who pushed against everything, the odds, his size, his environment, the naysayers, and reached the pinnacle of his game. He knows he's good enough to make manifest all those childhood aspirations. But he won't fight. He spends most of his vibrant years in a suitcase, on a bus, always one stop away from where he wants to be. Is this really what hockey was supposed to be all about? Where does he go from here?
They're often not chasing this dream alone, either. Their family moves with them, worries about them when they're hurt, when they fight, when they're playing. Their kids idolize their fathers because of the magnitude of their accomplishment, or the way said accomplishment makes them feel - incidentally, it's the same thing that brought these men to sacrifice so much in the first place. But maybe they wonder, as Stan Mikita's daughter did, why their father spent so little time playing the game, or why they have to move so often when their dad is one of the best players on the ice. And maybe later that night, when everybody else is asleep and the ice bags have melted, Dad drearily wonders the same thing.
This post isn't meant to be about the deaths (may they rest in peace) but a creaky old idea that could've been called out five months ago, last year, or five years before that, and I'm calling it out because of the obvious intent to bring Koci into the fold to fill this "role" tragically vacated by Rick Rypien. It's been perpetuated by teams on some whisper of tradition, profitable enterprise, or quixotic "code" - sustained with little regard for the people caught in the meat grinder of all this high-mindedness...
...held aloft by some bogus idea that somebody has to fight...
Don't be that team, Jets.