Pugilists fighting to stick around

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

NHL tough guys could be fighting to keep their jobs this season.

While most hockey fans are thrilled with the impact the new rules have had on the way the game is played, pugilists are left scratching their heads wondering what it is going to take to drop the gloves.

League officials indicate fighting is down almost 50% -- compared to where it was at this point of the 2003-04 season -- and suddenly heavyweights are having a tough time finding opponents.

"There's no question fighting is down," said rugged Senators winger Chris Neil, recently. "I think the fans still love the fighting, but the game has changed. I don't think there's any question about it.

"I look at the stats and it's tough right now. The tough guys have to be able to play and contribute. I'm out there trying to do other things. I'll still take care of business if I see liberties being taken with our skill players, but I've got to contribute."

Don't think guys like Georges Laraque in Edmonton, Colorado's Brad May, Ottawa's Brian McGrattan and Neil didn't take notice when the New Jersey Devils decided they couldn't afford Krzysztof Oliwa.

A big issue for fighters has also been receiving an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of a game.

Not only does the player who starts the tussle get an extra two minutes in the box, he also lands a one-game suspension and these players can't afford it.

The hurry-up faceoff has also cut down on the number of scrums.

And one league official suggested the only way two tough guys can fight these days is to make sure they schedule them in the warmup.

"You have to do more than just fight in this league," said McGrattan. "That's why I'm trying to work hard every day in practice to improve my skills and my skating. You still have to protect your skill players, but just being able to fight isn't good enough."


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