Hockey’s summer of tragedy turns debate towards whether to keep fighting in the game

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After this summer’s string of NHL tragedies surrounding the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak their common role as enforcers in the league is leading to another more contentious debate. With the talk of how fighters in the NHL live a tougher life than other players thanks to their role being one that demands them to play the game more with their fists than through more conventional skills, the debate over whether fighting belongs in the NHL has rightly or wrongly been sparked.

After all, we haven’t seen guys that play a more standard version of the game run into troubles with pain killers and/or depression leading to their demise. With that common quality among the three players that have died this summer, that’s enough evidence for some to start casting blame upon that part of the game for leading to their personal downfall.

The Globe & Mail’s Eric Duhatschek shared a bit from Boston Bruins executive Harry Sinden saying that if fighting were eliminated from the game, ultimately the game would improve greatly and points to the playoffs as the reason why.

Sinden pointed out that the best moments in hockey tend to be fight-free anyway.

“We don’t have it in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which are a fantastic series of games,” he said. “Do we need it to help the regular season survive, because they’re certainly not always a series of great games? I don’t know. But I’ve watched for a number of years where there hasn’t been any fighting to speak of in the Stanley Cup playoffs and I don’t think I’ve missed it.”

It’s a smart thing to say in the face of the debate that’s picked up of late and selling the high intensity action point of the NHL makes a lot of sense. The problem is not every regular season game is played like a playoff game. With 82 games in a season, it’s a marathon and not a sprint and different issues manifest themselves during a season. Beefs are had, vengeance is sought, and the gloves get dropped. As long as fighting is legal in the game, there’s going to be a need in some teams eyes to have an enforcer or two on the roster and on the ice.

While not all teams agree with that line of thought (Detroit and Tampa Bay most notably), enforcers are viewed as a necessary thing and some former fighters are speaking up on their behalf. Georges Laraque penned a piece for the Globe & Main saying that while he hated fighting, it’s a necessary evil in the NHL.

If you think that taking fighting out of hockey is the solution, you are wrong. Eliminating an aspect of the game to solve an issue is never the right way to accomplish things.

I would not want to be the person to make that rule because there will be 75 or more players out of a job because of it, and you would see some going into depression. There are also kids just like me who are playing junior hockey with the hope fighting stays in the game so they can have a job some day. This would create a bigger issue. For me, all those former tough guy who are retired and commentating on television and on radio about taking fighting out of hockey are making me sick. They were there at the right time and now that they’ve made their money, they’re going to spit on what put bread on their table? Well, that’s not going to happen with me.

Laraque isn’t the only one saying as much as former Canadiens brawler Chris Nilan has also said as much. Laraque says that having a committee of former fighters being available on stand-by for players having trouble with dealing with the perils of fighting (low salary, constant pain, fear of losing your job to another fighter) can turn to them for help in talking those issues out. It’s a great idea that helps split the difference between taking something out of the game that some view as necessary and others see as a needless side show that appeals to the lowest common denominator.

While we’ve seen other past fighters deal with issues in their career with substance problems (most notably former Red Wings and Blackhawks fighter Bob Probert) this new wave of tortured souls is especially hard to watch because no one really knows what it was that drove them to be self destructive. Fighting may lend itself to people with personalities that deviate from normal or it might be the thing that leads to players being forced to face up to issues later on in life. Fact is, we don’t know what the link is there (if any) but the one thing that can happen if fighting isn’t taken out of the game is that everyone involved can learn to better look out for each other off the ice.

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Monday, as the Chicago Blackhawks will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

As of last night, the Tampa Bay Lightning were no longer in first place in the NHL. That honor now belongs to the Vegas Golden Knights. But the Bolts can jump back into first place with a win over the ‘Hawks tonight.

Things have been tough for the Lightning lately. They’ve been without top defenseman Victor Hedman, they’ve lost three games in a row and this is the second game of an eight-game road trip (thankfully for Tampa, the trip will be broken up by next weekend’s All-Star break).

“We’re out of sync,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per The Tampa Times. “The guys didn’t forget how to play hockey in the last week and a half.

“We didn’t get where we are today by fluke, but we’ve got better in us, we know that.”

As if they didn’t have enough problems, they also found out that Ondrej Palat is going to miss an indefinite period of time because of a lower-body injury.

The Blackhawks have been going through a similar difficult stretch of late. They’ve been without starting netminder Corey Crawford and it doesn’t sound like he’ll be back anytime soon. Chicago has dropped each of their last two games against the Red Wings (4-0) and Islanders (7-3).

“Time’s ticking,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, per The Chicago Tribune. “We know that the urgency has to be there. … We can talk all we want, but it’s got to come down to us doing it in the game. I’m responsible in that too.”

The alarming part for the Blackhawks, is that they’re falling out of the playoff picture in a hurry. They’re now five points out of the final Wild Card spot in the West and they’re nine points behind the St. Louis Blues for third spot in the Central Division.

The ‘Hawks will play their next two games at home before they play four straight games on the road in Detroit, Nashville, Vancouver and Calgary.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Karlsson on trade speculation; Do Blues need to make a move?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, check out the highlights from yesterday afternoon’s game between the Flyers and Capitals.

Erik Karlsson isn’t worried about a potential trade out of Ottawa. (Sportsnet)

• Paul Coffey has joined the Edmonton Oilers organization as a skills coach. (Edmonton Journal)

Aaron Dell looks like he’s ready to take on a bigger role with the San Jose Sharks. (Mercury News)

• Should the Blues make a trade to bolster their roster or should they just stick with what they have? (St. Louis Game Time)

• Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang still has a lot to prove if he wants to become a regular in the NHL. (Newsday)

• Jim Benning’s contract expires after this season. If the Canucks decide not to bring him back, there are a number of quality candidates that could step in. (Daily Hive)

• Chris Chelios discusses his favorite Olympic moments, NHLers not going to the Olympics and much more in this Q&A with The Detroit Free Press.

• Short stints in the minors have helped young goalies stay sharp for their NHL teams this season. (NHL.com)

• Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is still trying to move on from his team with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Chicago Tribune)

• The Rangers need Tony DeAngelo to develop into an impact player. (Blue Seat Blogs)

• South Koreans have no issue with North Korea being in the Olympics, but they aren’t thrilled about sharing a hockey team. (ABC News)

• John McCarthy isn’t a household name, but the minor-leaguer is going to be representing Team USA at the Winter Olympics. (Sporting News)

• Here’s a list of young players that could join the U.S. Women’s National Team in the near future. (The Ice Garden)

• Team Canada GM Sean Burke went to some strange places to find the right players for his squad. (Fan Rag Sports)

• Air Force had to postpone hockey games because of the government shutdown. (College Hockey News)

• College hockey players are now allowed to be represented by an agent, but there are some strict conditions. (USCHO.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Thornton moves up all-time scoring list; Kings snap six-game losing skid

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Players of the Night:

Brian Elliott looked solid in Philadelphia’s overtime win over the Capitals, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots. This was the first time in eight games that the Flyers netminder allowed fewer than three goals in a game, but he’s still been victorious in three of his last four outings.

• How about that goalie duel between Connor Hellebuyck and Anders Nilsson. The Jets won the game, but both goaltenders were fantastic during this all-Canadian matchup.

• Sticking with the goalie theme, Aaron Dell was fantastic between the pipes for in San Jose’s win against Anaheim. Even when starter Martin Jones comes back from a lower-body injury, Dell should continue to be a factor for the Sharks.

• Sharks forward Mikkel Boedker had a solid night at the office, as he racked up two goals and an assist against the Ducks. That’s impressive considering he only had 12 points on the season coming into tonight’s action.

• The Kings’ power play isn’t a player, but it came to play tonight against the Rangers. Los Angeles got three goals on the man-advantage from Jake Muzzin, Michael Amadio and Tanner Pearson. Those three power play markers helped them snap their six-game losing skid.

Highlights:

Poor Markus Granlund never saw Hellebuyck coming:

That’s a pretty sweet shot from Kevin Labanc:

Here are two pretty sweet backhand passes leading up to Pierre-Edouard Bellemare‘s goal:

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play from his favorite spot on the ice:

Non-called Penalty of the Night:

That’s a pretty dangerous hit by Dmitry Orlov on Claude Giroux. No boarding call?

Factoids:

That’s a lot of power play goals for Ovechkin:

Joe Thornton keeps movin’ on up:

The Rangers have received some balanced scoring this season:

The Golden Knights simply can’t be stopped. What a season they’re having:

Scores:

Flyers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

Golden Knights 5, Hurricanes 1

Jets 1, Canucks 0

Sharks 6, Ducks 2

Kings 4, Rangers 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight Video: Kempe comes to Lewis’ defense by dropping gloves with Smith

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It’s not every day that you see Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe drop the gloves, but he did so against the Rangers tonight.

Things got chippy at the end of the first period between the Rangers and Kings. As both teams were mixing it up, New York’s Brendan Smith shoved Trevor Lewis from behind. Kempe wasn’t impressed with Smith’s move, so he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Here’s Smith’s shove on Lewis:

And this is the fight between Smith and Kempe:

(h/t: hayyyshayyy on Twitter)

As you can tell from the above video, Smith is the more experienced fighter. Also, Kempe has great hair, but it’s clearly not practical when dropping the gloves.

Thanks to Smith, the Kings got a power play to start the second period. Defenseman Jake Muzzin cashed in on the man-advantage to cut Los Angeles’ deficit to 2-1.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.