The annual argument is back – should the NHL ban fighting? – and this time the pacifists have heavyweights throwing punches. Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman have come out in favor of getting rid of fisticuffs, leading many to believe real change might be coming.
Those people don’t hang out in the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room.
“It’s been a part of hockey for a long time, and I think it’s going to be a part of hockey,” coach Ron Rolston said Friday.
Serious injuries to the Sabres’ Corey Tropp (broken jaw) and Montreal’s George Parros (concussion) have revived the fighting debate. Cringe-inducing video of Parros crashing forehead first to the ice and getting knocked out Tuesday caused the latest outcry.
“I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting,” Yzerman, Tampa Bay’s general manager, told TSN.ca. “We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.
“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.”
Bowman tweeted his support of Yzerman, Carolina’s Jim Rutherford and Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero, other GMs who said fighting should be abolished.
“It’s funny when people say that because then you look at their teams and they have fighters on their team,” Sabres enforcer John Scott said in First Niagara Center. “I don’t think when Stevie was playing he was saying that because he had guys protecting him. It’s the same game, and I just don’t know if they’ve forgot how it was or what’s going on, but it’s kind of annoying.
“They’ve been in hockey their whole life, and now they’re trying to take my job away and other guys’ jobs away just because they don’t like it now. But when they played, it was perfectly fine. It’s a little annoying.”
Scott, who’d had 34 bouts in the NHL entering Friday’s 1-0 loss to Ottawa, is actually an unlikely ally to those who want to abolish fights in one case. Scott says no to certain fights every game. He thinks they’re stupid, and he’d be fine if they were outlawed.
Staged fights, that is.
“The staged fighting, the fights that don’t really mean anything, I can do without those,” Scott said. “I know I’ve been in a few of those in my career, but there’s a time and place for every fight. Sometimes they don’t really matter. I can see where the league is coming from and the fans are coming from.”
As for battles that take place in the heat of the moment, Scott says those are ingrained in the sport and belong. He’s got company.
“It’s one of those things that in hockey I believe we do need it,” said Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber, who’s had 13 NHL fights. “I believe it’s one of those things that can change momentum. It’s the last thing that we can control in the aspect of policing ourselves.
“Every year it’s something. They’re trying to change our game. We have a pretty great game, and I think it should be left alone. A lot of the things are trying to make it safer for us, but they end up not working out the way they planned. I feel you take fighting out of the game, we’ve lost all opportunity to police ourselves and control the atmosphere on the ice. It’s going to lead to more altercations, more scrums, more big open-ice hits, then that’s going to put a lot more pressure on the NHL for suspensions.”
Sabres right wing Brian Flynn has only been in one fight – he was bloodied during preseason after Scott and Toronto’s Phil Kessel began punching and swinging sticks – but he agrees fisticuffs belong in the game.
“I think it does,” Flynn said. “I’m not a guy that fights, but I still think it does. You have guys like John who stick up for your teammates when they have bigger, stronger guys who are taking advantage of your smaller, skill guys. You need guys like John or Webby, who will step in there and stick up for you.”
Besides, Flynn said, even penalizing fights with game misconducts wouldn’t eliminate them.
“I’m sure guys would still do it,” Flynn said. “I guess they’d get a suspension for it or refs would step in right away, but there’s no way guys wouldn’t step in for each other for a bad hit or something like that.”