“The notion that because one player got knocked cold in a fight, that’s going to touch off a debate about eliminating fighting, to me is silly,” said the Anaheim Ducks GM. The sight of Todd Fedoruk being stretched off the ice after a fight got the NHL’s disciplinarian thinking, however.
Colin Campbell, director of hockey operations, told The Canadian Press on Thursday it’s time to “ask the question” about fighting.
His comment – and the ugly image of Fedoruk crumpling to the ice – has caused opinions to fly faster than an elite enforcer’s fists.
“I agree with Collie,” said veteran New York Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan. “I don’t think it’s anything that requires a hurried decision, but there’s nothing wrong with looking at it.”
Shanahan, with 1,288 career penalty minutes under his belt, is no stranger to dropping the gloves. But like Campbell, he wonders how dangerous the role of enforcer is getting.
“It’s the toughest job in hockey and I’ve got so much respect for guys that do that for a living,” Shanahan said. “But I’m also getting worried for them. Because it’s not like it used to be, where there is a winner and a loser.
“More often than not there’s a winner and then there’s a guy who’s been beaten up badly, or hurt. I hate to see that. I hated to see Fedoruk the other day.”
Fedoruk, by the way, wants everyone to know he’s just fine after being KO’d by Rangers tough guy Colton Orr on Wednesday night. And he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
“The stretcher and all that was probably blown out of proportion, they were just taking precautions,” Fedoruk told CP in an interview Friday. “Obviously I was knocked out, but the day after I was fine. I’ve got minor concussion symptoms, the biggest injury I got was my knee, which I sprained going down.”
So hospital stay behind him, where does Fedoruk stand on fighting?
“Taking fighting out of the game is definitely not a solution,” said Fedoruk. “You just can’t do it. It’s ingrained in the roots of hockey.”
Campbell’s concern, one shared by many in and around the game reached Friday, is that NHL tough guys are getting so big and strong that they’re damaging each other more than ever before.
The underlying fear is that someone may die one day in a hockey fight.
“I think it’s possible,” acknowledged Fedoruk, who had facial bones smashed in by Derek Boogaard earlier in the season. “You know I think it’s something where guys now are 260, 270 pounds, and they’re hitting bone on bone. It’s getting worse and worse. I don’t know if the initial hit is going to kill somebody, but maybe falling to the ice and smacking his head off the ice could do it. I think it’s something that you have to take into account now, just because of the size of the guys.
“But with that coming into play, it still comes down to whose choice is it to fight. It’s our choice. If that happens to somebody, they consented to fighting, they chose that role.”
GM Jim Rutherford of the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes is of two minds on the issue, but leans more towards players protecting their teammates.
“Yes, something bad may happen,” he said. “But something bad may happen if you can’t fight in the game and guys decide they’re going to retaliate with their sticks, and spear guys. Our game is so fast and so intense and so emotional, that one way or another there’s going to be incidents. Now is it going to be with your fists, is it going to be running guys from behind?
“If the players know that there’s no fighting and there’s no retaliation, you can be pretty sure that guys will start running guys from behind along the boards now.”
Rutherford fears the game without fighting might be more dangerous.
“Sure you wouldn’t want to see somebody die under any circumstances. You don’t want to see a guy get one-punched and die. But we’re the only sport that has a weapon in their hands,” he said. “I think what will happen if you take fighting out of the game, where the players can’t protect each other, you are going to start to see more of those (stick) incidents. That’s the scary part.”
Fellow veteran GM John Muckler of the Ottawa Senators welcomes the debate but doubts taking out fighting is the answer.
“If there is going to be a debate, I’d certainly like to be part of it, and listen to the pros and cons of it – which there would be many of,” said Muckler. “I don’t think it’s an easy thing to decide, one way or the other. I know it plays a certain part in the game, certain people and fans love it. I know hockey people think it plays in our game, too.”
Burke, whose Ducks lead the NHL with 65 fighting majors this season, said there should be no debate.
“Fighting has been systematically reduced in the NHL,” said Burke, who had Fedoruk in Anaheim and phone him this week to make sure he was OK. “You are more likely now to not see a fight than you are to see one, through instigator penalties, suspensions and fines for fights in the last three minutes of a game. It’s been reduced to, in my mind, its proper place. It’s no longer utilized as a tactic.
“But the notion that we ever get rid of the players’ ability to regulate what happens, is silly to me.”
There’s no fighting in European hockey or in U.S. college hockey.
“I’m not interested in that,” said Burke. “I don’t think the players can regulate the amount of contact that occurs on the rink and against whom, like they do in our league. I don’t want to expand the role of fighting, I don’t want to glorify it, I want the players to be able to do their jobs.”
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said Friday it’s long overdue for the NHL to address fighting.
“Both me personally and the IIHF has never believed that fighting is or should be part of the game,” he said. “The best proof is that neither in the Olympics, nor in the world championships or in the World Cup of Hockey there are ever any fights and no teams would imagine to carry a designated goon on a team filled with talented players. Hardly ever are there any fights in Stanley Cup games because the stars take over when the games really matter.
“Pre-arranged fights between two goons are, according to me, revolting.”
Fasel asks whether any hockey fan has ever complained about not seeing a fight after a great Olympic game.
“If there are fans who enjoy fighting they should turn to other sports,” said Fasel. “Our game should never cater to fans who go to games to see fighting. In an era where hockey has lowered its tolerance on restraining fouls to in order to create a better environment for the stars, we simply cannot tolerate Neanderthal behaviour.”
But Buffalo Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters says the NHL needs its enforcers.
“The game is a great game the way it is,” said Peters. “The guys that are willing to do that, the guys that drop the gloves know what the risk is, know why they’re doing it. I do it for my team and I’m willing to do it.
“What’s going to happen if we’re gone? Is Daniel Briere going to fight his own battles? Is Chris Drury going to fight his own battles? You have to have someone there to protect your teammates.
“If you do remove it I think you’ll see guys run around and take even more liberties.”
Edmonton Oilers forward Ethan Moreau agreed.
“It would be a pretty chippy game if you took fighting right out of the game,” he said.
Moreau feels the Fedoruk incident makes it look worse than it is.
“It’s like boxing. How many guys really get hurt? Or martial arts. How many guys really get hurt in that? Not many, but when they do, it really looks horrible,” he said. “It’s like a hockey fight.
“When guys do get hurt, it looks bad, but it’s a fight, you know? It’s not like you’re wrestling in your basement. Guys are huge now. That’s their objective. They’re trying to hurt the other guy. That’s what a fight is.”
With a file from Robin Brownlee in Edmonton