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Dreger Report: Some NHL GMs say it's time to lose fighting

Darren Dreger
10/2/2013 6:35:21 PM
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Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is among a group of NHL GMs and executives who believe the time has come for the league and Players' Association to take a more aggressive path towards eliminating fighting.

"Yes, I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting," Yzerman told The Dreger Report. "We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.

"We're stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be. Either anything goes and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting."

Yzerman's comments carry significant weight, given his Hall of Fame playing career and years of playing alongside legendary tough guys in Detroit such as Darren McCarty, Joe Kocur and the late Bob Probert.

When asked if the league and players should stop trying to make fighting safer and focus on banning fighting in general instead, Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said, "We've got to get rid of fighting, it has to go."

Rutherford said he would support an open and full discussion on additional penalties such as a game misconduct for fighting - with a significant suspension for any player, for example, who fights multiple times in a season.

Pittsburgh's Ray Shero has been a strong advocate in the league's crackdown on checking to the head. He believes that the NHL has a responsibility to consider a ban on fighting and not just simply raise the discussion when an isolated incident happens.

"It won't happen overnight, but we need to be leaders, not followers in this area," he explained. "I respect other GMs and their views, but we need to look at this and not just when an incident like last night (Parros) happens."

After reading the quotes from these three NHL executives, it didn't take long for one of the game's most celebrated builders to chime in as well. "I support views of Steve Yzerman, Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for addressing most fighting issues," tweeted the legendary Scotty Bowman on Wednesday afternoon. "Poll all Players." 

Bowman would express further concern to TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun on ESPN.com Wednesday, saying "It's a pretty complex issue. But with the emphasis on hits to the head, and the seriousness of concussions, if you look at fighting, it's mostly hits to the head. It's something that has to be looked at."

The NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, however, told LeBrun that change might not come as easily as other executives might hope.

"We are constantly in touch with our various constituents, including our players and our fans, on all issues pertaining to the game on the ice," Campbell told ESPN.com. "At the current time, there is not an appetite to change the rules with respect to fighting."

"That said," Campbell continued, "we intend to continue to review all aspects of our game, with a focus on making it as safe as it can be for our players."

This latest debate has been brought to the forefront in the aftermath of the fight between Montreal Canadiens forward George Parros and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Colton Orr on Tuesday night.

Orr, losing his balance in the middle of the scrap, grabbed hold of Parros on his way down. Orr's fall brought Parros down to the ice face-first, knocking him unconscious and forcing him to be stretchered off the ice.

Parros has since been released from a Montreal hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion. That's positive news, given the state that the hulking Canadiens enforcer appeared to be in after the fight.

It's unclear as to how the NHL will tackle this issue, if at all. However, moreso than ever before, NHL decision makers seem concerned enough to initiate discussions at their November meeting.

It's unlikely the NHLPA will endorse any radical change given the impact of such a move on the role of the enforcer. 

Ninety-eight per cent of NHL players polled in 2011-2012 were in favour of keeping fighting in the game and while there's no immediate plan to conduct a new players survey, the overwhelming support to leave things as they are may not change. And while sensitive to Parros' injury, Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier said Wednesday that if he was asked to vote again, he would vote the same way and believes fighting still has its place.

Darren Dreger

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