Erik Johnson – Jordin Tootoo Fight Needs Evaluating by NHL


Colorado Avalanche premier defenseman Erik Johnson fought New Jersey Devils tough guy Jordin Tootoo in last night’s game. The NHL Department of Player Safety needs to look at Tootoo’s actions.

I believe fighting has its place in hockey. The players want to do it. The coaches want to see it. The fans enjoy it.

More than that, players have often said, as Harley Haggarty did in the Players Tribune, that there’s a purpose behind fighting. Players don’t hate each other. The ones who fight do it because that’s part of their job. Fights are meant to set a tone, get your team riled up or to warn opponents against taking runs at your skill players.

That’s New Jersey Devils right wing Jordin Tootoo’s role in the NHL. He doesn’t have the skating skill or the puck handling to contribute much offensively. He’s known primarily for delivering huge hits — and for fighting.

Let’s look at the fight in question:

Erik Johnson actually holds his own in the beginning. He drops a couple hard hits right on Tootoo. However, he starts to lose his footing and go down. That’s when the fight gets ugly — as they’re bound to when you’ve got goons like Tootoo involved.

Watch the 0:22 mark above. Jordin Tootoo purposely rips Johnson’s helmet off so he can pound Erik’s head directly. He then proceeds to deliver several blows to Johnson’s unprotected head.

That’s very dangerous. That’s very, very dangerous. NHL fights are supposed to stop as soon as a player’s helmet comes off to protect their heads. The officials aren’t quite quick enough, and Tootoo is able to bludgeon the side of Erik Johnson’s head several times before they intervene.

These are the types of moves that cause concussions. In general the majority of hockey concussions don’t come from fighting, but these are the types of plays that are the exception.

Indeed, after the fight Erik Johnson goes to the locker room. I don’t know if the team doctor ran the concussion protocol on him or not, but Johnson did return to the ice to continue playing.

However, I can’t help but be worried. Erik Johnson had a concussion earlier in his career thanks to an elbow from Arizona Coyotes skater Martin Hanzal. I don’t know if he had any concussions even earlier on. I certainly don’t know if he’s had any of those small concussion that add up and eventually lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. (Thanks to Kevin Marland’s excellent post, I know all about the dangers of those “little to medium concussions.”)

What I really don’t understand is why the Avalanche’s top defenseman, Erik Johnson, was fighting at all. That’s absolutely not his role on the team. He’s a powerful skater, one of the fastest on the team, with sharp puck handling and slick defensive skills. He has a lot to contribute to his team well beyond physicality.

What’s especially baffling about Johnson’s decision to fight known enforcer Jordin Tootoo is that the Colorado Avalanche’s own version of the player (though with some better skills), Cody McLeod, was on the ice at the time.

Now, at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Erik Johnson is significantly larger than the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Tootoo. However, that doesn’t matter — Tootoo is a seasoned fighter with 89 NHL fights to his name and an additional 25 in the AHL. The man knows how to throw punches.

Johnson, on the other hand, is a player with just nine NHL fights to his name, and, well, none of them were exactly knockout successes for him. A lot of reasons for that — not least of which is that he’s a skill player — but Johnson is left-handed and typically forced to fight right-handed.

Next: Avs Facing Concussions in Modern Hockey

All that’s neither here nor there. The NHL has made it a priority to cut down on concussions in hockey. The league has made the Department of Player Safety its watchdog on this issue. Having one player rip off his opponents’ helmet to facilitate hitting the head directly is a move that the DoPS needs to evaluate. You can’t say you’re in the business of minimizing concussions and then allow a blatant assault on a man’s head go unpunished.

Because there’s a line where fighting becomes assault, and Jordin Tootoo crossed it. Fighting may have its place in hockey, but pummeling a defenseless opponent does not.