Credit Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman for stepping out of line from the old guard when it comes to the most controversial topic in the game.
After an ugly incident opened the NHL season on Tuesday night, Yzerman weighed in on the fighting debate a day later, telling TSN’s Darren Dreger that the league should seriously look at eliminating it from the game.
“I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting,” Yzerman said. “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 was one of three veteran executives quoted in the story, joining Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero and Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford in calling for stiffer penalties for dropping the gloves.
Their comments came after Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros was taken to the hospital as a result of crashing face first into the ice following a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr.
Parros has been released from hospital but is now out indefinitely with a concussion.
"We've got to get rid of fighting,” Rutherford told TSN on Wednesday. “It has to go.”
Later in the day, legendary former coach Scotty Bowman tweeted that he agreed with all three men that something should be done.
"I support views of Steve Yzerman, Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for addressing most fighting issues," Bowman wrote. "Poll all players."
It will be interesting to see what weight, if any, Yzerman’s comments carry. It has long been suggested that many star players in the NHL would privately like to see fighting become a game misconduct, but they do not speak out because it would mean eliminating NHLPA jobs and alienating teammates.
Official player surveys on the issue of banning fighting have come back overwhelmingly against the measure.
But Yzerman is the sixth highest scoring player in league history and won three Stanley Cups as the long-time captain of the Detroit Red Wings, making him one of the most respected voices in the game. It’s possible that his comments could marks a significant shift in the debate, which has raged for decades but always left the five minute major penalty untouched.
NHL GMs like Rutherford and Shero have spoken out about the issue in the past but been overruled by the majority, a group that has often included some very old school voices like new Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, who has even challenged other GMs to fight publicly.
In 2009, after Ontario senior hockey league player Don Sanderson was killed in a fight, NHL general managers debated instituting a 10-minute misconduct penalty for so-called staged fights, the type that occur between two one-dimensional punchers immediately off the faceoff.
The measure never went through, but it appeared to have a considerable amount of support. The league had believed that roughly 20 per cent of all fights were occurring off of faceoffs and could be eliminated.
"I'm kind of offended by the fact that it’s a staged fight," former Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough said at the time. "I think fighting is a reactionary thing. When you say staged, it’s not much of a reaction."
That type of half-measure is probably more likely to go through before an outright ban like the one Yzerman is calling for, but it will be worth monitoring whether or not the discussion comes up at future GM meetings, or if this is merely a one-time response to a horrible on-ice injury.
Either way, when someone like Steve Yzerman speaks, a lot of the hockey world tends to listen.