Fighting is a Fact of Life in NHL

The general managers meetings in Naples attempted to address the increasingly pressing issue

There was likely a lot of yelling going on around Naples, Fla., last week, the site of the NHL’s general managers meetings. Most of it was likely centered directly on the issue of fighting within the game, and, likely, none of it came from anyone within the game itself.
The great fervor surrounding the most controversial aspect of the game came from two sources; first, the death of Don Sanderson, a 22 year-old playing in an Ontario league, who slipped into a coma after his head hit the ice during a fight.
The second is the increase of fighting this season; 2008-2009, as it stands, has already seen almost 100 more fighting majors than the entire 2005-2006 season.
But the great controversy doesn’t seem to be about fighting itself. Rather, it seems to be a curious mix of confused writers and smiling members of the NHL brass who need something, anything, to assuage the concerns of paying customers.
This isn’t to say that player-safety isn’t a worthwhile issue. Anytime the game suffers a legitimate tragedy, as it did with the death of Sanderson, some reflection is certainly called for.
Hopefully, this reflection won’t yield the removal of fighting altogether.
It is a part of the game, and aside from being ugly at times, it is exciting and it is necessary; just as necessary as the bean ball and the hard foul. The seventies, eighties and early-nineties was better basketball than any poor soul born after 1990 will ever see -- and all because David Stern (and those of his ilk) took the heart of the game with them when they began “cleaning up” in the late-90s. Oh, how I miss you, Bill Laimbeer.
Just as is the case with hockey fighting, the hard-nosed play of the NBA’s yesteryear protected the players within the game as much as it protected the game itself. Now, Tim Duncan throws his arms up, incredulous, if he is so much as sneezed on--This can’t be good for business.
While the grinning brass fights to balance on the fence between the purity of the game and a family-friendly product, those within the game are clear.
In a recent article on the Stars’ Web site, Dave Tippet and several of his players threw in their two cents; while player-safety was a constant undertone, their stance on fighting was, well, about what you’d expect.
Stars’ center Brian Sutherby said, “I think there were some interesting things that have been said, but I think most players and most people that are in the game feel that it’s a part of the game and it needs to stay in the game.”
Well said.
Taking fighting out of hockey would damage the game beyond repair. And that’s not a statement on the NHL’s audience; the overwhelming majority of hockey fans don’t watch for fights. But, more than anyone else, they understand the daunting importance of this aspect of the game.
So Gary Bettman, protect the players as much as possible; this is good for hockey. But without fighting, I’m afraid, there is no hockey.

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