The National Hockey League has long been of two minds when it comes to fighting and so it remains, as two of the league’s top executives offered slightly different perspectives this week.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said during an appearance on Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590 that at least some fans would turn away from hockey if fighting was banned, and others, presumably in U.S. cities, might not take an interest in the sport if there were no fights. Mr. Daly also said most of the decision-makers in the NHL, the governors and general managers, are not in favour of increasing the current penalties for fighting, although the issue will probably be discussed at their meetings this season.
Brendan Shanahan, the league’s director of player safety who is attracting attention with a series of stiff suspensions on players who deliver hits to the head, went a step further. He told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge the role of fighting in hockey needs to be examined, especially as it relates to concussions.
“We [the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association]are definitely very serious about making advancements and studying blows to the head,” he said. “We have to also look at fighting.
“Now what the final decision is, I can't tell you now. That's obviously something that we're going to have to look at, but there is no way that we would ever deny that it's not something that we're looking at closely.”
Mr. Daly told Fan 590 host Bob McCown he didn’t think the NHL is close to issuing a ban on fights by throwing any players who fight out of a game and subjecting them to suspension. But he admitted the debate will continue.
“I wouldn’t say it’s imminent,” Mr. Daly said. “It’s an issue that will continue to be evaluated. It will continue to be part of the discussion as we are dealing with head injuries generally.
“I think 7 per cent of our concussions [last season]were [due to]fighting. From my perspective, that’s a pretty high number. It’s an added data point that probably goes for one side of the argument as opposed to the other.”
Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford is not ready to see an outright ban on fights because, unlike a hit to the head, fights are “consensual.” Both parties have to agree to engage in fisticuffs, he says.
But Mr. Rutherford does think most fights can be eliminated by a simple roster change. He would like to see playing rosters of 18 skaters and two goalies reduced by one skater. In most cases, he said, the dropped player will be the one who is only there to fight.