Does Fighting Have a Place in Hockey?

The question is floating around a lot as of late: does fighting have a place in the new NHL?

Recently, there have been several incidents on the ice that have drawn the attention of many NHL naysayers. These incidents, including Chris Simon’s stick swinging and Jordin Tootoo’s sucker punch, were not fights, it should be noted. They do, however, draw the ire of many of those that often see hockey as a violent sport.

Colin Campbell, the NHL’s disciplinarian, believes that it is time to re-examine the fighting debate and give a few options a look for seasons in the future. Campbell was responding to Wednesday night’s incident with Todd Fedoruk, the Philly enforcer who was knocked out in a fight by Colton Orr of the Rangers.

But is the game really more violent than it has been in the past?

”I played when bench-emptying brawls were accepted and all too often a common occurrence,” said Campbell. ”I played in the old World Hockey Association one year where it was really dangerous because you didn’t have the same number of players in your lineup some nights, and it became scary when you had a brawl and you had 2-on-1s. Just talking about it now, you can’t imagine that would have ever happened but it did happen.”

It is clear that hockey today has certainly cleaned up its act, but many believe there is still too much violence in the game for it to have more mainstream American acceptance. The ultimate irony in that argument remains that America is one of the most violent nations in the world, but political statements aside, the NHL is running into trouble trying to sell its game south of the border.

Campbell argues that today’s NHL players are a lot tougher and stronger than those in the game before, so a punch packs more of a wallop. He thinks that the NHL needs to take a closer look at the fighting aspect of the game and look at some new measures to make the game safer for all players.

Purists would argue that fighters fight other fighters, so with all enforcers being bigger and stronger, the elements of the change in player size doesn’t have an effect on anyone but other fighters. NHL purists also argue that fighting is a part of the game and that it actually polices incidents like the Simon stick swinging, making players like Simon “pay for” their actions. Without fighting, those incidents may increase because the players would not police themselves.

Jeremy Roenick, the outspoken Coyotes center, is squarely on the side of keeping fighting in the game.

”I worry about what would happen if there wasn’t a way to let out the frustration with a fight,” said Roenick. ”Because let’s face it, there is absolutely no respect in the game any more, with the way guys are taking runs at people and with the cheap shots and the late hits. Guys are getting hurt. If you take fighting out all of a sudden these guys are going to take even more liberties because they don’t have to be accountable for themselves. I think somebody is going to get hurt more from a vicious hit from a guy not being worried that he has to drop his gloves and get his ass kicked.”

The reality in the league is that the suspensions are down and continue to drop, without any change to the fighting rules. There were 31 suspensions in the 2003-2004 NHL season, 21 last season and a mere nine suspensions in the current NHL season. Despite the bad press generated from the incidents, the NHL is actually experiencing less of them than the last few years.

The bottom line is that the violence in the NHL is down significantly from levels it was at in the past. Fighting is not particularly “the norm” in the league as it once was, but Campell believes the fighting that still is in the game may need to involve higher penalties, like match penalties for single fights.

Time will tell what new regulations, if any, Colin Campbell will look at for fight in the new NHL. At the moment, the issue is getting a lot of attention from both sides of the argument.

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