“My view on fighting hasn’t changed,” the NHL commissioner said Monday. “We’ve never taken active steps or considered eliminating fighting from the game. “I’ve always taken the view that it’s a part of the game and it rises and lowers based on what the game dictates.”
While Bettman seemed OK with the game’s current stand on fighting, he is concerned about the larger safety issues that may be involved.
“The discussion that we’ve been having is about player safety and injuries,” said Bettman. “We’ve had a number of injuries resulting from fighting recently.
“The question is whether or not that’s an aberration or whether or not it’s something we need to be concerned about.”
He’s not convinced anything needs to change.
“I think it’s premature for anybody to reach any conclusions,” Bettman said. “I think the first (thing) is for us to decide whether or not it’s an issue, whether or not there needs to be an adjustment. Because there may not be.
“I think people are running off a little too fast on this topic. I know it’s an emotional one for a lot of people and it gets a lot of attention, but to have a discussion about whether or not this is an issue is a long way from saying, ‘Here are the 10 things we need to do.”‘
The recent touchpoint for debate started with Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Todd Fedoruk being taken off the ice on a stretcher last Wednesday after a fight with Colton Orr of the New York Rangers.
The following day league disciplinarian Colin Campbell told The Canadian Press that it was time to look at fighting in the game.
“I think it’s time to ask the question,” said Campbell.
That simple comment immediately sent shockwaves through the hockey world, with players, coaches and general managers weighing in on the issue.
Bettman offered his opinion Monday at CBC headquarters after announcing a six-year contract extension on the league’s broadcast deal with the network.
He expressed concern over the increasing size of players, citing the example of players who have led the league in fighting majors.
Garry Howatt held that distinction 30 years ago and was five-foot-nine, 175 pounds. Twenty years ago, it was Chris Nilan of the Montreal Canadiens, who was six foot and weighed about 200 pounds.
Ottawa Senators tough guy Brian McGrattan had the most majors last season. He’s six-foot-five, 250 pounds.
“Players have gotten bigger,” said Bettman. “As a result, we at least have to take a look to see what is the consequence of that on player safety.”
Suggestions about ways to increase safety have been wide ranging. While some have called for fighting to be eliminated completely, Fedoruk said he’d like to see tough guys wear protective gloves like mixed martial arts fighters.
Don Cherry, the host of Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada, doesn’t believe fighting will ever be banned.
“Gary Bettman and I are great friends,” he said. “And we both know that fighting has always been part of the game.”
Bettman thinks all relevant parties should be included in the discussion of whether fighting seriously jeopardizes the health of players.
“The PA (players’ association) obviously is going to have to be involved,” he said. “This is something that’s going to have to be discussed with the managers, with the competition committee . . . and ultimately the board of governors.”
The popularity of fighting is not something that influences Bettman’s opinion on its place in the sport.
In fact, the commissioner doesn’t think fighting has helped sell the game in non-traditional U.S. hockey markets.
“I’ve never looked at it that way,” said Bettman. “I think fighting has always reached whatever level is appropriate in the game and has been a part of the game. And I don’t have a problem with that.”
The only thing he’s concerned about is the players who make the game what it is.
If fighting is a threat to their safety, that’s the only reason he wants to talk about it.
“Nobody wants to see our players injured on a regular basis,” said Bettman. “That’s the concern.”