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.