With yesterday’s CJHL decision to automatically kick players out of the game after engaging in a fight; the question of whether fighting should be banned or if similar rules should be initiated at the NHL level has come up again.
Let me be upfront about my view on fighting in the NHL. Like most fans I enjoy a good fight in a game. I certainly do not turn my head with disdain. That being said, if fighting were banned tomorrow, I would still watch the game. Fighting is not the reason I watch hockey. And while I enjoy a good tilt, I also am aware of the recent advances in concussion research. I understand that head injuries can have long-term, debilitating effects on people with reoccurring concussions. So yes, I understand the concern of the many who would like fighting banned from the NHL.
What draws my ire, though, is when I read from many in the media that the NHL is not concerned about player’s safety, because if they were they would just ban fighting.
Since when did the NHL have the power to change rules without the NHLPA’s consent? During the pre-season the NHL tested hybrid icing, which they had already approved, but it could not become an official rule until the NHLPA approved it by vote before the season started. So banning fighting would require the player’s approval.
Darren Dreger of TSN advised by twitter that 98% of the players think that fighting should be part of the NHL. The caveat was that this poll was completed before the George Parros fall. After that incident involving Parros falling during a fight and suffering an injury, a number of media members polled a significant amount of players in the dressing room. The overwhelming majority of those polled supported keeping fighting in the NHL. In fact those reporters mentioned it was difficult to find a player that thought fighting should be banned.
The players feel that without fighting that the game would be out of control – the sticks would come up, players would take liberties without any fear of retribution. They believe fighting is part of the game.
I am not sure if they are correct or not, but it doesn’t matter what I think. The players paid to take that risk believe it is true and that is all that matters.
Until that view changes, until the players feel that fighting can be removed from the game without the game becoming more dangerous, then this conversation will continue to go in circles. Fighting will remain part of the game until the players are convinced that it is not an integral part of it. That seems unlikely to happen any time soon.