SUN Hockey Pool

The debate continues on fighting in the NHL

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:20 PM ET

MONTREAL -- The NHL has a fight on its hands: Those who want to keep fighting as part of the game and the faction that wants to see an outright ban.

A debate is raging on all-star weekend and across the hockey world about the need for fighting after 21-year-old senior league player Don Sanderson died following a bout earlier this month and in the wake of Philadelphia Phantoms forward Garrett Klotz suffering a seizure in a fight Friday.

Though many believe the NHL should just ban fisticuffs all together, the board of governors declared no decisions will be made until league VP Colin Campbell sits down with the 30 GM’s during meetings in March in Naples, Fla. to decide if there are measures that can be taken.

“What happens when you have a tragedy of this nature, and it was a tragedy, there tends to be this

over-reaction in the media,” said Toronto Maple Leafs president/GM Brian Burke. “Our job is to make this game is run properly and not to over-react. I intend to listen.

“Any discussion about the abolition or elimination of fighting will be a very brief discussion. I don’t think there’s any support for that whatsoever of a meaningful nature. The discussion of how players do that part of the job is important.”

But, the players don’t believe fighting can be taken out of the game. Yes, it has gone through stages where it has been non-existent, but lately it’s made a come back. Fighting appears to be up around the league and it’s no longer just the tough guys who are dropping the gloves.

“Fighting is part of our sport. It’s a unique part of our sport,” said Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “There has been tragic accidents in other areas of sport as well. We understand they’re going to do everything they can to make things safe.

“At the same time, we have to realize this is a physical sport and there’s going to be parts of the

game that they can’t control. I’m really not sure. It’s a tough subject. I don’t really think there

should be too much toned down in our sport right now. I really love our sport and I think the rules and the way that they’ve done things are great. Hopefully, we can keep growing it.”

The NHL’s competition committee, which includes player representatives, has discussed the possibility of a fighting ban. There’s a strong belief the first measure will be to make sure that players chin straps are tight and that makes it difficult for helmets to fall off.

“There’s a place in the game for fighting. It just has to be handled correctly,” said Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.

If that doesn’t work, then forcing players to keep their gloves on is being discussed. The instigator penalty has cut down on a lot of unnecessary fighting, but the players are concerned if it is banned completely, then the law of the jungle might exist on the ice.

A lot of people have made a lot of money off fighting over the years. Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Dave Brown, Marty McSorley, Donald Brashear, George Laraque and Gino Odjick are just a few of the names that come to mind when you think about pugilists.

“It’s part of the game and it’s always been part of the game,” said Anaheim winger Ryan Getzlaf. “I think it will continue to be part of the game. Whether they change little subtle things or not is their call. I fully agree with the fact that players need to police themselves.

“That’s what the fighting aspect does. There’s a lot of pretty good players that have made a living by fighting. When you take that opportunity away from those guys, that’s not good for the game.” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league will take a hard look.

“We will have a good, candid discussion. We’re not going to have any immediate or knee-jerk reactions,” said Bettman. “We’re going to have study things before we make changes and if we decide to make changes. “I don’t think there’s any appetite to abolish fighting and there’s a lots of reasons for that. I think we’re going to have to take a look at the ‘rules of engagement.’ How a fight gets initiated. What happens with chin straps and take downs. The two recent incidents involve players falling on the ice and hitting their heads hard.”


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