SUN Hockey Pool

Enough piling on!

Maple Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie throws his weight around versus Panthers forward Ryan Carter...

Maple Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie throws his weight around versus Panthers forward Ryan Carter last season. (Reuters)

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:34 AM ET

TORONTO - In the matter of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, the rush to judgment continues and the exploitation continues.

We’re still being bombarded with the suggestion that there is a definitive link between what these young men did for a living and their premature deaths.

Nobody has proven that connection, yet the argument is constantly being advanced on the air and in print — that there is a link, and therefore fighting in NHL hockey should be banned.

If you’re against fighting in NHL hockey, fine, only stop exploiting the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien and Belak to further that agenda.

NHL enforcers aren’t an island unto themselves. Former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Flanagan committed suicide this summer and he wasn’t an NHL enforcer. Nor were Erica Blasberg, Solen Coulot or Jeret Peterson, all professional athletes who committed suicide in recent months.

If there’s a hue and cry to be made, perhaps it should be for a study into depression and pro sport. It’s time to stop pretending that depression is somehow unique to NHL tough guys.

“It f---ing pisses me off that people take this opportunity to try to exploit a certain part of the game,” Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton told reporters this week, when asked for his opinion on the topic. “Those are very sad instances and I don’t think exploiting a part of the game is the right way to go. I think we should remember the people as the men they were and not what they did for a living.”

Amen to that.

I think part of it is, people want easy answers, and it’s easy to conclude that the deaths of the three deceased warriors were linked to the fact that they were NHL enforcers. But that doesn’t make it right.

It’s your prerogative if you don’t like fighting. But stop cramming down our throats the idea that most NHL fans don’t want fighting, and most NHL players don’t want fighting.

Listen to players

Time and again NHL players, even non-fighters, have resisted the idea of an all-out ban on fighting.

My colleague Steve Simmons suggested that NHL players should be polled, via a secret ballot, as to their thoughts on fighting. I think that’s a good idea. I also think the result would be the status quo, that they wouldn’t want fighting eliminated from the game. And neither would most fans. The vast majority of fans at NHL games love it when there’s a fight. Their enthusiasm is real.

Many who want fighting eliminated from the game argue that their goal is to cut down on serious injuries. That’s fine. But if that’s your priority, you’ve got to get past fighting.

You’ve got to look at the size and speed of the players in relation to the size of the ice they play on.

You’ve got to look at the equipment, which is like medieval body armour.

And you have to look at hitting.

Belak claimed that he never suffered a concussion in a fight. But like most NHLers, he did suffer injuries as a result of hits. There are probably more NHL players who suffered career ending concussions as a result of open ice hits than because of fights.

The risks are there. The players understand the risks.

I will never buy into the argument that eliminating fighting from NHL hockey will make the game safer or better.

If players can’t fight — if the NHL somehow finds a way to stop players from dropping the gloves on the ice — players will figure out other ways to enforce pay-back, and to protect their more skilled teammates.

When junior hockey mandated cages for all players, high sticking went through the roof. Is that what we want in the NHL?

Do we want kicking or kneeing, or stuff like that?

Fighting as been a part of NHL hockey as long as there’s been NHL hockey. And fans like it.


Videos

Photos