Tag: fighting debate

Gary Bettman

Bettman says debate over fighting is an ‘overblown issue’


NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants fans to know that fighting isn’t going away any time soon.

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review spoke with the commissioner at the NHL Stadium Series game in Chicago and asked for his take on fighting in the league. Bettman stood up for fighting saying it’s not a major part of the game.

“It’s an overblown issue because it’s a small part of the game, and to the extent there are concussions it’s a small part of that,” Bettman said. “Fighting is something we’ll continue to focus on, but there hasn’t been a consensus from the hockey people — on the side of management — or the players to make a change. I’ve been told if the NHLPA did a poll that 98 percent of the players would say don’t change the rule.”

Fans who don’t like fighting will obviously not be happy with this take from the commissioner, but this is essentially what he’s said all along about having fighting in the NHL.

Some believe fighting keeps the league from becoming more of a mainstream sport while others say it’s such an established part of the game it can’t be removed.

Discussions about changing the punishment for fighting were brought up by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, but those talks are new.  If change is going to come, it’ll take more people who think like Yzerman and hold positions of power to make it happen.

Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton fights for his right to fight in the NHL

Kyle Clifford, Shawn Thornton

After a summer filled with sadness linked to the deaths of NHL tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, the one thing that’s come out of that is the debate over whether or not fighting should stay part of the game in the NHL. While fighting didn’t kill those three players, their role as enforcers and intimidators in the league led them to careers filled with pain and injury.

The fighting debate is often linked to concussions, a debate big enough to fill an entire book on its own, and concussions are linked to depression (believed to have contributed to both Rypien and Belak’s deaths) it’s the perfect hot button issue the NHL would rather not have. While former fighters in the NHL like Georges Laraque and Jim Peplinski have spoken up and against fighting now that their careers are over, one current tough guy is standing up for what he’s doing.

Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton doesn’t much care for what people are saying about getting rid of fighting in the wake of what’s happened this summer and he tells CSNNewEngland.com’s Joe Haggerty that if they want to take up their argument about dumping fighting, they should come talk to him first.

“It kind of [expletive] pisses me off that people take this opportunity to try and exploit a certain part of the game,” said Thornton. “I think those are very, very sad instances, but I also think exploiting them for a part of the game isn’t the right way to go.”

“I think we should remember those people for the men that they were, and not what they did for a living,” said Thornton.

Thornton’s never been a guy to hold back on his thoughts and his feelings and the role of an enforcer in its roots is a noble one. The enforcer is the valiant knight of the team standing up for teammates and protecting the weaker players on the team. Ideally that’s what they’re supposed to do.

Thornton’s message about remembering the guys that have passed away for who they are is a stand-up move and typical of the role he plays on the Bruins. You’d have to assume that any of Boogaard, Rypien, or Belak wouldn’t just want to be remembered as being labeled a “goon” or “thug” for doing the job they were hired to do for their teams. There’s a reason why these guys are the most popular ones in the locker room and amongst the fan base as well.

For Thornton’s piece in this debate he’s justifying his existence in a very loud and meta kind of way. Standing up for fighting while also standing up for guys who have passed away and can’t speak for themselves makes you appreciate Thornton as a teammate. Whether you feel he’s right or not about doing part of his job with his fists is a matter of debate that surely won’t stop raging. One thing that’s for sure is that Thornton is awfully good at his job.

Add former Flames brawler Jim Peplinski to the anti-fighting camp

Jim Peplinski

In the wake of three deaths this summer to guys who were known more for throwing their fists than for scoring goals, the debate over whether or not the NHL should continue to allow fighting is heating up. From hearing Devils forward Cam Janssen talking about what he deals with in being a fighter to having the debate rage on with Georges Laraque saying that it’s a part of the game that can’t be eliminated job-wise it’s a topic wrought with angles.

One thing that is happening through all this, however, is hearing from players from hockey’s past who find that with the way things have changed in the NHL, they’re finding that their opinions are changed on how they used to make their living in hockey.

One such guy is former Calgary Flames tough guy Jim Peplinski. In Peplinski’s 11-year NHL career, he played in 711 games and racked up 1,467 penalty minutes including fights with some of the NHL’s most legendary fighters like Bob Probert, John Kordic, and Chris Nilan. Coincidentally, Probert and Kordic were two of the most troubled guys of their day as Kordic died in 1992 from heart failure due to drug abuse and Probert passed away last year from a heart attack after a career that involved many fights and drug problems of his own.

Peplinski tells Eric Duhatschek of The Globe & Mail that the way fighting is handled today makes it vastly more dangerous than it was in his day.

Peplinski, who said his distaste for fighting was a contributing factor in his decision to retire prematurely from the NHL, noted: “I never enjoyed fighting. My son always says, ‘Did you ever get mad?’ Just in the moment.

“I never held any intentional premeditation that there was going to be a fight. Sometimes, it happened. What I see today is different than that. I would prefer today, with the way the game has gone, to see fighting completely eliminated.

“I think most fights – 90 per cent – add nothing to the game and in fact, they take away from the beauty of the game. It’s in that category of mixed martial arts or WWE, and the players risk serious injury.”

The staged fight aspect of the NHL is one that drives a lot of fans and pundits crazy. After all, you can virtually predict when a fight will break out given who’s put out on the ice and often times these fights spring out of nowhere for no rhyme or reason aside from it involving two guys whose sole job is to throw punches and little else.

The injuries that can occur during a fight, either obvious or not, is what is at the heart of the matter in this debate. With concussions and their treatment being such a major point of concern, you have to wonder how long fighting will remain in the game before it’s outlawed in favor of player safety. After all, with the league going out of their way to take care of players who are victimized by head shots by suspending players responsible for that, two guys engaging in fisticuffs mutually comes off looking backwards and counterproductive to the cause.

If those who want to keep fighting in the game want to make a case for doing so, treating hockey fighters the way boxing and MMA commissions treat their fighters health-wise would be a good step. That means clearing players by a doctor after going through a fight and making sure they’re 100-percent healthy before even setting foot back on the ice. After all, bare-knuckle boxing hasn’t been around in the United States since 1889, but it’s part of the game in hockey. Think about that.

It’s not quite King Solomon’s compromise, but if everyone is going to have what they want, this would be a good way to approach things.