First off, thanks to my bud Andrew over at the Thrashers message boards for this week's topic. I bribed him with a link to his site, so please check out Thrashers Talk if you get a chance. Yeah, I bribed someone. I'm from Illinois. This is how we roll, apparently - right, Blago?
Over the past season, there has been an ongoing debate over whether or not fighting is appropriate in hockey. Purists wonder why this is even an issue. People concerned about safety need to only point to Don Sanderson and his tragic death this past January in a fight-related accident. Some people assume fighting is barbaric and is antiquated - left over from a bygone era when goons patrolled the ice - that it's not part of the new image of the league. Others feel that it serves a purpose - it's an outlet, it's a problem solver, it's a game changer.Fight! Fight! Fight!
No, I didn't pick this topic because of the statistical data that show women are bigger fans of fighting in hockey than men. I just wanted to get that out there.
Anyway, fighting and rough play has been a part of hockey since the beginning. When you put grown (or half grown) men together on ice, with sticks, and tell them to go out and hit each other as part of the game, you can't tell me that the urge to pound the guy dust who just crosschecked your buddy isn't a strong one. We have all seen a game where a player tries to take advantage of another team's players, be it through their inexperience, their stature (how Marty St. Louis isn't dead is beyond me), or just flat-out meanness. We've all seen teams start fights to try to drive a point home about their superiority. It's also extremely thrilling to see those same guys get their asses kicked. It's a game changer. Look at "The Shush" from Max Talbot. Down 3-0 in game 6 to the Flyers, Daniel Carcillo decides to show how superior the Flyers are, in Philly. Talbot beats the hell out of him, and skating off the ice gives the Philly crowd what amounts to the finger. Pittsburgh promptly scores five goals, and knock the Flyers off at home. Yes, that was probably mostly karma. But you can't tell me that what Talbot did changed that whole game, and gave the Penguins purpose.
Also, if you want to know more about fighting in hockey, pick up a copy of The Code. It's not all about hurting people willy nilly. It's policing. If someone were to pop Bouchard one, who goes out? Boogaard. Simple as that - problem solved. Someone hurts your teammate, it's perfectly ok to go after him. Superstars after superstars, checkers after checkers. No one hits your star player, no one hits your young rookie kid.
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
There has always been concern about the repercussions of violence in hockey. Even as far back as Eddie Shore's career ending hit on Ace Bailey, there were concerns that it was getting out of hand. Of course, back then the two gentlemen shook hands and moved on, amazingly enough. Proponents of removing fighting from hockey would respond that at least Bailey was alive, because there are some people who aren't afterwards.
After the death of Sanderson last January, the league seriously considered removing fighting from hockey. It even reached the ranks of the NHLPA, who, in the interest of protecting the players, said that at the very least limits need to be placed. Canadians, often known as the bastion of hockey purists, called for a ban. The GMs at their meeting? No more fighting right off of a face off, which pretty much means no more "You wanna go?" "Sure" moments... moments that the players themselves set up in accordance with the fighting code. There is a serious concern of potential injury or death resulting from a player hitting his head on the ice. But apparently there is a disconnect between the GMs and players themselves as to what a solution will be. There is a lot of concern about people not getting real discipline for their actions, and based on Colin Campbell's inconsistency, it's obviously a real concern.