By Hafiz Karim – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student
Fighting in hockey: it has always been a contentious issue, but will it be taken out of the National Hockey League in the near future?
Rule 46 of the Official NHL Rulebook governs fighting in the NHL.It sets out the criteria for what constitutes a fight, what the rules of a fight are, fines as well as everything else related to an NHL fight.Fighting has always been a part of the game and many are emphatic that fighting needs to remain in the game or the sport of hockey will not be the same.Most teams in the NHL have at least one player who acts as the designated tough guy or goon, and if fighting were no longer in the game, most of them would be out of a job.It is understandable that this group of players does not want fighting to be taken out of the game.Perhaps surprisingly, it is not only this small group of players who want fighting to remain in the game.In a recent article, Kevin Bieksa of the Vancouver Canucks stated that “we’ll play with a tennis ball before we take fighting out” when asked about whether fighting should be removed from the NHL.Players around the league echoed Bieksa’s comment.
For the most part, fans of the game of hockey love the fights that often occur.This is evidenced in the fact that the crowd at any arena in the NHL erupts and goes wild whenever there is a fight.Based on the reactions of the spectators, it seems that most of them get more excited about a fight than a goal. This tells you a lot about how fans of the game view fighting in the NHL.
Another popular view of why many players and fans believe that fighting should remain in the game is expressed by Vancouver Canucks’ enforcer Tom Sestito.Sestito states, “if you don’t have fighting in the game, there are going to be a lot of dirty hits.”He is referencing the idea of accountability on the ice and he believes that fighting holds players accountable.The idea is that without the threat of being challenged to a fight, there is no accountability and that injuries will actually increase because there will be more dirty hits.
Between player and fan support of fighting in the NHL, it seemed like it was going to stay.However, due to an event earlier this month, the debate of whether to remove fighting or not reopened.On the night of October 1st, in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, Colton Orr and George Parros, the respective enforcers for their teams squared off.The two started throwing punches, which led to Orr losing his balance and falling down.Orr still had a hold of Parros’ jersey as he fell and as Parros threw a punch, he too lost balance and fell face first into the ice.Parros was knocked unconscious, suffered a concussion and had to be taken off the ice in a stretcher.
This event caused four NHL general managers to come out and speak publicly against fighting in the NHL.Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, Carolina’s Jim Rutherford, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero and St. Louis’ Doug Armstrong all publicly said it was time that the league took a tougher stance on fighting. This was significant because in the past the argument was that it was only the media who spoke out against fighting but the “real” hockey people recognized the value of fighting.That argument was laid to rest with the statements made by these general managers.Rutherford was very blunt and stated, “we’ve got to get rid of fighting.It has to go.” Yzerman made a strong argument by pointing out the efforts the league goes through to reduce head injuries by penalizing and suspending players for making contact with the head but they still allow fighting.He goes on to say that “we’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be.Either anything goes, and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”
Will the NHL re-examine their policy on fighting in the league after the Parros injury and the public statements made by four of their general managers or will they continue to allow fighting in the league?Only time will tell.