Fighting in hockey is going to be banned. That's a fact you as a pro-fighting person might want to get used to, because that too is just the way it is. This is in a lot of ways like any other debate about progressivism: One side yells, "But this is the way it's always been," and the other screams, "That doesn't mean it should continue to be."
The problem with black-and-white debates such as these is that the people arguing for change tend to eventually win a lot of converts from the traditionalist side, but it never happens the opposite way. That much is true here as well, because in these days of jumping up and down on keyboards shouting at each other, a lot of people on Twitter and in the media have noted that in recent years they'd changed their tunes about the grand spectacle of hockey fighting. It's interesting, too, that there isn't always a specific turning point that made them say, "That's it for me!" but a growing number of people are against fighting in the sport nonetheless. These are fans, these are general managers, these are coaches.
A good jumping-off point would be asking yourself why fighting is important. People talk about the way such a ban will impact the game and it's tough to know if there's any real way to say definitively what would happen one way or the other.
Do fights calm overheating games down? Maybe they do. But they sure don't prevent injuries. The thing is, though, maybe nothing does.
Do they swing momentum in games? Again, it's anecdotal but there is certainly a long line of quotes from coaches and players alike who say that so-and-so fighting that other guy for such-and-such a reason really picked them up and helped them win. Somewhat subjective statistical evidence suggests this may be a thing they feel but which does not happen in actual practice; when teams lose or even just concede a goal after a guy on their team gets into a fight, no one blames the fight for that, but they do attribute their success to it if they win or score themselves.
But then again, if they feel it, who's to say it isn't there?
There's not even any real evidence to suggest that it "polices" the game, which is what you hear most often from the people who still think that fighting is and should be an integral part of the game. Until any of that kind of thing can be proven, the move toward a ban on fighting will resemble a small amount of snow being dropped at the top of a very steep hill: It's going to gain momentum quickly and eventually no one will be able to get out of the way.
So the question for the league will very quickly become not, "Should we do it?" but rather, "HOW should we do it?" The idea that guys who get into a fight should be given a game misconduct, which Steve Yzerman supports, seems a strange first step because all that does is encourage guys who are already not fighters to not fight. It has no impact on those who do it for their living.
For instance, in Wednesday's game between the Flyers and Leafs, Joffrey Lupul fought Brayden Schenn midway through the first period. That was also the night's only fight (though it was less than 24 hours removed from a game in which those same Leafs engaged in a whopping five fights with the Canadiens, including the already-infamous Parros/Orr incident).
Would those two have fought if they'd have been thrown out with some 50 minutes remaining in the hockey game? Of course not. They're useful. If it had been, say, Colton Orr and former Leaf Jay Rosehill instead, would their ejection have mattered in the proceedings? Considering they played a combined 12:53 in the game, almost certainly not. A game misconduct wouldn't deter their participating in a fight, in the same way that the presence of fighters on the bench doesn't deter "pests" from taking runs at top players, which is what sort of what sparked the Lupul/Schenn scrap.
The problem, too, is that the Players' Association has to sign off on any such rule changes, and that oft-cited poll which found that 98 percent of current NHLers want fighting to stay shows that any nixing of the ability of guys to cave each others' faces in while other adults are trying to play actual hockey isn't likely to happen any time soon.
Will it take a catastrophic event — like a player death, as Glenn Healy ghoulishly mused as Parros was being stretchered off the ice — to get it done? Only if the ban is going to happen any time soon. That'll lead to a swath of massive changes instituted overnight to protect players, yes, but more to protect the league from the fallout. Otherwise, it's only going to happen gradually.
Given the way in which fighting is being phased out of the game at the lower levels, with the NCAA outright banning it for a long time now and the OHL and WHL recently placing limits on how many scraps you can be involved in, fighting will be like not-wearing visors to these current kids: no longer "part of the game." Those restrictions, too, will probably only become heavier down the road.
So when guys who came up in a world without fighting in major junior make up a healthy portion of the league, it seems very likely that there will be enough support for a full-on ban to be instituted. Which is a long way of saying that the people and sentient clouds of Axe bodyspray decrying the liberal softie anti-fighting agenda at least have a lot of time to get ready for the participation-trophy crowd to ruin the game. Maybe use that time to start researching which UFC fighters you like. Or get your GED.
But by then, there might not be much of a need to even ban fighting, because so few guys will actually be able to specialize in it. Maybe they ply their trade in the ECHL or AHL for a few years. But they're not going to be asked to be the sluggers Orr has been since he started playing high-level hockey; his five points and 130 PIM in 61 games for Swift Current in his first year of major junior tells you everything you need to know about the role he's always had to play to stay in the sport.
It's a nature versus nurture thing: If kids aren't brought up in the game being asked to fight, they're not going to fight very much. That's just how it is. In the meantime, though, there's still going to be a lot of handwringing about how exactly such a formal ban might take place.
Again, game misconducts don't matter to the worst actors in this morality play. They might even be welcome because the average can go take a nice shower, maybe catch a quick nap after he's been ejected, instead of shining the bench with his ass as his teammates constantly ask him to scootch over when they come off the ice after actually playing hockey.
So the only way this works, really, is if you start instituting suspensions for fighting in addition to the game misconduct. Goons will eat the two-five-and-a-game penalties with a laugh, they won't be so eager when they have to start giving up part of their salaries every time they drop the gloves. One game at first, then two for a second offense, and so on. They'll learn very quickly what Their Role is, and so will their teams. They won't be in the league for long after that.
Again, the union won't sign off on that kind of thing, but only because they won't sign off on any ban right now. One has to wonder, though, if things would be different in the event of another John Scott/Phil Kessel incident were to occur. When even Don Cherry is calling a Good Canadian Boy like Scott a "coward" for fighting someone who wasn't also slotted into that designated (face-)hitter role, you get a pretty good idea of how that kind of nonsense is viewed by even fighting's biggest advocates. In the current climate, which has admittedly grown a little hysterical, one more occurrence like that could be enough to push the whole thing over the edge.
Which isn't to say that would be a bad thing. They really do need to get fighting out of the game. But it needs to be done practically, and comprehensively. Is the game ready for that right now? No, but the clock's ticking.
- Sports & Recreation