It seems like after the game against the Anaheim Ducks, Ben Eager has been a lightening rod for Oilers fans and media alike. They are frustrated with his response to Francois Beauchemin after Beauchemin obliged Sam Gagner with a fight.
I am not disappointed with Eager at all for his response.
It is great that Gagner took on Beauchemin knowing it might get a little bumpy. We all admire the guts it takes to do that, most players never do. It shows he cares about his teammates and that he is trying to get a spark going for the club.
Enter Ben Eager…
Later in the game he asks Beauchemin to fight and I bet Beauchemin said "why should I? He came after me".
So what are Eager’s choices? Jump him and have Beauchemin turn away and just wait for the ref to jump in or do nothing? Neither one is a great choice but I have no problem with him doing nothing. Jumping Beauchemin only makes him look like a goon and probably not a punch would have been landed. In today’s NHL if a player doesn’t want to fight he says no.
Before the lockout I can’t remember another player telling me no or me turning down a fight. That was just the way it was. If the score got too one-sided or if a good player got roughed up all the guys who could fight made sure their jerseys were tied down before the next shift. There were many more fighters on each team and there was a gentlemen’s agreement between them.
I knew that I was expected to respond. If we got down too many goals, I would go looking for a way to change the game with a fight. The flip side of that equation is if we got up by a few, I had to give a player on the other team a chance to do the job that his coach expected him to preform. That was the agreement.
The smaller pool of fighters today makes it harder to respond to a big hit or to try to create a change in momentum. With the smaller pool why does it only have to be a player like Eager who responds, especially if he can’t find a willing partner? There are eighteen skaters on a team. Could a Josh Green challenge a Sheldon Brookbank? Petry vs Lydman? Belanger vs Blake? I am not picking on these 3 Oilers, they are simply used as examples.
These are all reasonable match-ups which would give a positive response to the Gagner fight. It would tell the Ducks that the Oilers are in this together. Players like Eager are more than willing to do the dirty work but more and more their hands will be tied by the rules and lack of willing dance partners.
It is going to fall on the guys who never usually get black eyes to put themselves into that fire and stand up for their team.