SUN Hockey Pool

Fighting on the agenda

Alex Ovechkin celebrates after scoring in the breakaway event during the skills contest last night...

Alex Ovechkin celebrates after scoring in the breakaway event during the skills contest last night in Montreal. Ovechkin won for the second year in a row after donning sunglasses and a hat with a Canadian flag attached to it for his final attempt. (Andre Forget, Sun Media)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET

MONTREAL -- The NHL has a fight on its hands: Those who want to keep fighting in the game vs. those who want an outright ban.

The debate is raging on all-star weekend and across the hockey world 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 an AHL fight Friday.

Though many believe the NHL should just ban fisticuffs altogether, the board of governors declared no decisions will be made until league VP Colin Campbell sits down with the 30 GMs during meetings in March in Naples, Fla.

"What happens when you have a tragedy of this nature, and it was a tragedy, there tends to be this overreaction in the media," said Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. "Our job is to make this game run properly and not to overreact. 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 ... (However) the discussion of how players do that part of the job is important."

The players don't believe fighting can be taken out of the game. Fighting appears to be on the rise around the NHL, and it's no longer just tough guys who drop the gloves.

"Fighting is part of our sport. It's a unique part of our sport," said 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 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 a fighting ban. There's a strong belief the first measure will be to make sure that players' chin straps are tight, making it difficult for helmets to fall off.

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

If the straps idea doesn't work, the committe could discuss forcing players to keep their gloves on during fights.

The instigator penalty has cut down on unnecessary fighting. But players fear an outright ban could lead to the law of the jungle on the ice.

"(Fighting's) part of the game and it's always been part of the game," said Ducks 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."

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. "I don't think there's any appetite to abolish fighting and there's a lot 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 takedowns. The two recent incidents involve players falling on the ice and hitting their heads hard."


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