While the issue of fighting in hockey continues to be debated across the country and around the National Hockey League, Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke offered his opinion as a guest columnist for USA Today this week.
In his various tenures as an NHL general manager, Burke made it clear that his formula for winning involves a combination of skilled players and tough customers. When his Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, the team led the league in fighting majors. And that was echoed in his written piece saying he supports fighting in hockey along with his concerns if policing the game in that manner is ever eliminated.
"Reduced to its simplest truth, fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game," wrote Burke in USA Today. "Players who break the rules are held accountable by other players. The instigator rule has reduced accountability. Eliminating fighting would render it extinct."
Burke went another step further in surmising that fighting makes the game safer.
"Our game is improved tremendously by players' ability to police the game," he added. "It makes it more exciting and honourable. It allows skill players to focus on the skilled aspects of the game because someone else can watch their back. And it fundamentally makes our game safer."
Burke added that there are three levels of protection for players in the current NHL with the league's Department of Player Safety as the last level, the on-ice officials as the second level and peer accountability as the first and longest standing.
"This was the first level of protection when we opened our doors more than 100 years ago. It still is. And that is as it should be," he wrote. "The first line of defense against players crossing the line is players."
However, the long-time NHL executive did provide two premises about the reduction of fighting and the legitimate safety concerns that go with it.
"First, the role and amount of fighting in hockey has been systematically reduced over the last 20 years. That's a good thing," added Burke. "Second, a guy like me who supports fighting is not saying to ignore the medical consequences. I care deeply about my players."