By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The drum beat is getting louder for the NHL to put an end to fighting.
The argument has been made for decades and it’s finally starting to have some traction. There’s no good reason that the NHL should sanction the swinging of fists between opponents. While a good dust-up between the toughest athletes on the ice never fails to get the paying customers to rise out of their seats and scream with delight, it serves no positive purpose for the sport.
On opening night, heavyweights Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs and George Parros of the Montreal Canadiens engaged each other in a third-period fight. While no heavy blows were landed, Orr grabbed hold of Parros as he was losing his balance and he pulled the Montreal brawler down with him.
Parros’s face hit the ice face first and he was knocked unconscious by the blow. He was strapped to a gurney, wheeled off the ice and he spent the night in a Montreal hospital.
Parros suffered a concussion and was released from the hospital Wednesday, but the sight was a gruesome reminder that players can and do get hurt badly in NHL fights.
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman immediately called for the NHL to get rid of fighting. He was quickly joined by Ray Shero of the Penguins and Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Scotty Bowman, the Blackhawks’ senior advisor and perhaps the greatest coach the sport of hockey has ever known, said that if men like Yzerman, Shero and Rutherford were in agreement, the NHL should look into the prospect of banning fighting.
This is one of the most touchy subjects in the NHL, because those who want to ban fighting are often shouted down by old-schoolers who want to keep this manly behavior as part of the lifeblood of the sport. Bowman, however, is as old-school as you can get and Yzerman is a powerful figure because he was one of the game’s greatest players for the Detroit Red Wings and he’s one of the most important executives.
Not only does he run the show for the Lightning, he’s also the GM for the Canadian Olympic hockey team. Shero and Rutherford are both among the more respected leaders in the game as well.
That’s why there’s a chance to get rid of fighting and fix the game. The discussion is being raised by the league’s most influential figures and their voices will not be ignored.
Fighting is simply unnecessary. It does nothing for the sport other than create shock value. How can the powers that be sanction fighting as a way to decide disputes? No other part of society allows problems to be solved by two men swinging their fists at each other.
Do it anywhere else and the police will haul the combatants off to jail.
Don’t offer boxing or MMA since those are athletic contests designed to measure the skill of those athletes at fighting itself. Boxing matches don’t decide anything except who’s the better fighter. Fighting in hockey has nothing to do with an athlete’s skill at his sport. The hockey fighter is merely trying to assert his dominance or defend a teammate.
Here’s what the NHL should do: Ban fighting by tossing any player out of a game who engages an opponent in that game. The fighters can’t play in that game or the game that follows.
Engage in a second fight and you miss two additional games. A third fight and the penalty doubles to four games. Keep doubling the expulsion with each subsequent fight.
I am a longtime fan of the sport and I have followed the NHL regularly since 1967. I have screamed at the TV when I have seen two players engage and I have gotten out of my chair to encourage combatants in the past.
But it wasn’t right in 1975 and it’s not right now. It holds the sport back and it always will. It’s time to get rid of fighting once and for all.
Parros could have fractured every bone in his face or he could have broken his neck. In addition to the dangers, it’s simply a pointless activity. It doesn’t matter if it creates some momentary retribution for a real or imagined insult. It’s not the way adults settle their problems.
Fighting makes the NHL look like a circus sideshow.
It should no longer be tolerated.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.