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Opinion: Jason Spezza’s fight in Philly was the right thing to do

Jason Spezza might not ever do it again, but fighting in Philly was the right call.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Dallas Stars Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday marked that rare day in which the Dallas Stars found a way to win. It was almost as rare as the event that is said to have caused it: Jason Spezza’s first fight in over seven years.

On the telecast, Bob Sturm, Brent Severyn, Daryl Reaugh, and Craig Ludwig were like a judicial branch of robes and rulings, unanimous on the importance of Spezza’s yard sale with Manning. And so were the players.

“After he did that, the bench was electrified,” said Adam Cracknell.

When asked how much of a spark the Spezza fight provided the team, Lindy Ruff was as emphatic as he was elaborate. “Huge. When you’re dealing with adversity, like us, it’s out of character moments that spur the team on. Sometimes it’s one of your 3rd or 4th line guys getting goals. Maybe it’s one of your skill guys going out and scrapping. That was a big moment for our team. That made a statement, ‘I’m going to bring some desperation, you guys follow’.”

The event even inspired some remarkable Twitter toonage:

The fight itself was what you’d expect from a seven year fisticuff layoff from a player who isn’t known for fighting. There was some vague notion about where to direct the knuckles. But for the most part, the bout resembled two cousins figuring out how to properly reenact the Stone Cold Stunner on a wooden table in the backyard. Tie Domi vs. Bob Probert this wasn’t.

Over the years, as the hockey goon has written his goodbye letter, there has been no shortage of statistical takes on the impact of fighting. How would a coach even know which team stands to benefit more, Jonathan Willis points out. For at least the 2012-2013 season, there was certainly no “tangible evidence that winning fights affects the outcomes” wrote Xaiver Weisenreder, with a little help from special teams ace Arik Parnass. Though they did note a slight correlation in winning fights and scoring more goals that season. A more comprehensive study, which even weighed for teams more likely to fight, found the impact of fighting on winning to be statistically insignificant at best.

I don’t have a problem with any of this analysis. Analytics have been vital to my own work as a hockey writer. On the humanitarian front, I’ve been writing about concussions since 2011. Even my first article for DBD was a cautionary tale about head trauma and hockey’s playoff culture. Incoherent, and jumbled though it was.

However, I’m not making a broad based argument about fighting’s impact on winning. Rather, a granular argument about the positive psychology it provoked for a team that has needed it.

Ruff and the team were sincere about its value to them. If the players and coaches truly believe Spezza’s fight inspired them to play harder, and thus helped them win, then it sounds like Spezza made the right call. Workplace morale isn’t just some sports talk soundbite. Dallas needed a psychological nutrient on Saturday, and Spezza gave them one.

This doesn’t mean Spezza needs to take over the Doug Glatt role for Dallas. If Jason had been knocked out, this article would be drastically different. But Spezza wasn’t looking for a violent gesture of victory. He was looking to break the routine. Their metaphors for dominance through tape to tape passing hasn’t worked. Their metaphors for dominance with blistering slapshots hasn’t worked. Their metaphors for dominance using dangles and dekes to get through defenders hasn’t worked. For a moment, Spezza decided to ditch the metaphors. Dallas fans just need to hope those metaphors start working again so that the literal displays of struggle aren’t necessary.