January 22, 2009
As a pro-hockey fighting guy, I enjoy having someone like Toronto Maple Leafs overlord Brian Burke offer substantial and authoritative arguments about why it belongs in the game. Which is what he did in today's Toronto Sun, jabbing with writer Steve Simmons about hockey scraps as the fighting debate continues to rage:
"If you did a best-on-best in the Olympics, a seven-game series between Canada and the U.S., you would have fighting," he said. "Don't kid yourself. The current format doesn't lend itself to fighting. The players aren't selected with that skill in mind. There are no rats in the tournament."
There are no rats -- the Steve Ott types and the Daniel Carcillo types -- because they aren't necessary to play at the highest level. They aren't considered for best-on-best tournaments, which begs the question: Why then are they considered for NHL teams?
"You can't have a contact sport with no out of bounds and with hitting, without having fighting," Burke said. "If we (remove fighting) we cannot create a safe workplace for our players. ... And if we can, no one will come out and watch ... The game right now is in terrific shape, maybe the greatest athletes we've ever had. I don't want to watch games without fighting."
See, what makes Burke a smooth operator in this debate is the way he frames the fighting issue with the classic, old-school "fighting is the mechanism that allows players to regulate the level of violence in the game" argument while almost sneaking in what I believe is at the core of the NHL's fighting dilemma: The effect a draconian crackdown or outright ban would have on its attendance, fan interest and market share.
That said ... Burke isn't exactly a model advocate. The guy won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks by assembling what other general managers depicted as a collection of thugs. And let's face it: Burke can declare outrage over "the growing rat factor in our league" in an interview; but what does that really mean when Ryan Hollweg is still wearing blue pajamas?
If Burke's serious about this, then practice what you preach: Let Hollweg slip away as an RFA this off-season, and upgrade from a rat to a pest (there is a difference). Otherwise, it's like Pigpen complaining that the rest of the Peanuts stink.