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Trending Topics: Stay out of NHL fighting, Ralph Nader

By Ryan Lambert

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Trending Topics is a column that looks at the week in hockey, occasionally according to Twitter. If you're only going to comment to say how stupid Twitter is, why not just go have a good cry for the slow, sad death of your dear internet instead?

You might remember Ralph Nader as the crusader who a million years ago wrote "Unsafe at Any Speed" and made it so cars had seatbelts and all those things. But you probably remember him as the joke third party candidate who everyone made fun of.

Now Nader has set his sights on concussions in sports and wouldn't you just know what he thinks is the leading cause?

It's fighting.

Because of course it is.

He also said that the NHL should ban all shots to the head outright, which is a more legitimate concern to express, but heck if that open letter doesn't say "Yeaheliminateallheadshotsorwhatever but seriously FIGHTING IS SO BAD."

Not liking fighting for what it represents within the sport is all well and good. Certainly, seeing two guys slug each other for between 30 and 60 seconds, which provides what may or may not be nebulous score effects within a single game, appeals to the baser instincts of the audience and, if you think about it, seems a little outmoded.

It's a perfectly valid opinion. It's a wrong one, but as Tim Thomas knows, you're entitled to have it as a Free Citizen. But saying that fighting is directly related to the number of concussions in the NHL these days, as Nader does, is obviously and very plainly stupid.

Reading his open letter to Gary Bettman, you can tell Nader hasn't watched too much hockey in, say, the last several decades. After conceding there is no evidence directly connecting fighting to brain injuries — the kind of missing link that makes the Intelligent Design crowd salivate — he says, "[r]epeated head trauma has shortened the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, and Keith Primeau. Currently, concussions are threatening the careers of Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar Sidney Crosby and the Philadelphia Flyers' Chris Pronger."

First thing's first: How many of those guys got concussions from fighting? Primeau maybe? He also got popped more than a few times in open ice during his career.

Nope, highlights of those players getting their blocks knocked off don't come from them getting popped by some cementheaded goon in a fight, but rather from coming across the blue line with his head down (LaFontaine, Lindros), admiring the play or getting run from behind or inadvertently catching a flying elbow (Crosby) or something more nebulous that could have been one or more of several incidents (Pronger).

It is, second of all, a bit hyperbolic to say concussions are threatening Crosby's career because of how uncertain everything is. But let's just let that go by to get to the real issue with Nader's idiotic letter.

"Three enforcers, Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak, whose primary job was to protect teammates by throwing fists at the heads of opponents, have died in the past year. It's certainly possible the brain trauma they received on the ice from their fellow combatants played a significant role in their deaths."

And that's where he loses any credibility he might have had as a guy who successfully made the roads safer for tens of millions of people worldwide. An admittedly horrific string of tragic events, the causes for which are disparate, cannot be tied directly to fighting except by the most ghoulish of agenda-pushers which, incidentally, is what Nader is.

His letter is also fraught with inaccuracies, only one of which he's bothered to correct after the fact, because he doesn't actually care about the sport or its participants. The point of this -- as it is with all busybody armchair advocates, like those who want dirty words and sexy ladies banned from television -- is, "Won't someone please think of the children."

The kind of fainting alarm expressed here has literally nothing to do with concussions in the NHL.

It has to do with kids getting concussions, which we can all agree is a pretty awful thing. But Nader draws a line between guys like Deryk Engelland and Paul Bissonnette (adults who aren't exactly surprised to find an angry 220-pound thug trying to punch them during one of their six shifts a night, getting paid handsomely to hit people in the face a dozen times a year and who, by the way, are not long for this league just due to the natural progression of the sport) to fights in junior hockey and youth hockey.

I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but I know enough about the sport to guess that the number of youth hockey leagues in the U.S. and Canada that allow fighting currently stands at zero and will do so forever.

So at the end of the day, this isn't an NHL issue, it's a junior hockey issue. Kids that are 16, 17, 18 years old absolutely shouldn't be allowed to fight each other in any setting. You'd probably be hard-pressed to track down someone who thinks they should. And if you can, you'll probably also find that they tend to breathe through their mouths. As he notes in his letter, the NCAA, IIHF, and even the OHL, all have complete or limited bans on fighting.

But no one cares if Ralph Nader writes a letter to the presidents of the OHL, QMJHL, WHL, OPJHL, AJHL, MJHL, BCHL, USHL, EJHL, and NAHL, among others. Because unless you really like junior hockey, you've never heard of any of them.

He wrote the letter to Gary Bettman because he wanted to get publicity for whatever harebrained garbage he cooks up next in his losing battle with irrelevance.

And I guess he did. So congratulations.

Jim Rutherford is ruining it for everyone

On Thursday afternoon, Pierre LeBrun tweeted that Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford spoke with Tuomo Ruutu, and decided that instead of trading him closer to the deadline like everyone thought would happen since the 'Canes stink and show few signs of improving, he would instead try to re-sign him.

So cross another one off the list.

I'm not sure if Rutherford knows how being a GM of a bad-and-going-nowhere team at the deadline goes (and he really should, given all the practice he gets) but usually they try to offload the mid-level, older, pending unrestricted free agents to other teams for picks and prospects. And, knowing Jim Rutherford, he'll dramatically overpay for Ruutu's services in both money and term. And maybe this is just him trying to drive up the price on his winger, but I'm disinclined, based on the Tim Gleason contract, to believe Rutherford thinks about his organization in those terms.

Remember, Ruutu and Gleason were getting hyped as The Guys who were going to make big splashes at the deadline and they're probably both going to be signed instead.

If things keep going on this way, this is going to be one boring-ass trade deadline, just like it was the last two years. But I guess at the same time, any trade deadline where Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruttu were going to be the big gets couldn't have been very good to begin with.

Pearls of Biz-dom

We all know that there isn't a better Twitter account out there than that of Paul Bissonnette. So why not find his best bit of advice on love, life and lappers from the last week?

BizNasty on exciting sports moments: "If you ever have a spare hour of time on your hands, try watching the last 2 minutes of an NBA basketball game."

If you've got something for Trending Topics, holla at Lambert on Twitter or via e-mail. He'll even credit you so you get a thousand followers in one day and you'll become the most popular person on the Internet! You can also visit his blog if you're so inclined.


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