The sight of George Parros face-down on the Bell Centre ice was sickening, but it was an earlier incident that surely brings home the fact we anti-fighting advocates are wasting our time with the NHL.
Travis Moen of the Montreal Canadiens and Mark Fraser of the Toronto Maple Leafs squared up Tuesday night, and Fraser – who wears a visor from a serious head injury sustained last season – motioned for Moen to take his helmet off so Fraser could do the same. Moen complied; an on-ice deal with the devil designed to get around the fact that a player who removes his own helmet before a fight gets penalized an extra two minutes.
Think of the message: Fraser and Moen essentially agreed it was better to risk a head injury than hurt their hands on each other's helmets; they decided a rule designed to protect them wasn't as important as fighting, because, as one former hockey tough guy said Wednesday morning, "everyone knows it's easier to hide a concussion than it is to hide a broken hand."
Seriously: At this stage, does anybody doubt that ought to shift focus to the long-term ramifications of the chemical concoctions NHL tough guys must take to conduct their business? That continuing to work for culture change and concussion awareness in minor hockey is the way to go?
Parros's injury, as gruesome as it was, was the result of a combination of circumstances brought on by two big men – Colton Orr of the Leafs was his opponent – grappling with each other and losing their balance. It was like most hockey fights a colossal bore and waste of time until Parros hit the deck.
And so the only team sport that gives players a second chance after they fight – and trumpets videogames that spend time trying to figure out how to make the blood lust more realistic – is once again left to explain itself. And so it gets caught up in talking about "the code" to people: that illogical ("here are the rules we'll follow to beat the crap out of each other and maybe get a concussion") yet common-place.
The helmet-removal rule was flaunted during the preseason – players removed each other's helmets before fighting, resulting in additional penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct – and the rule was revealed for what it is: a ham-handed attempt to essentially rewrite unwritten rules.
Tuesday's altercation between Moen and Fraser only reinforces the notion the NHL, frankly, is a lost cause for anti-fighting advocates. Survey after survey shows a majority of players feel it has a place in the game, and so the best the NHL can do is try to mitigate some of the consequences.
Because more than ever an uneasy truth is apparent: Until an NHL player dies on the ice from a fight, only lip-service will be paid to the idea of ridding the game of fighting. Until the lead item on cable news and sports for a 24-hour period is the death of a hockey player in front of your eyes, until there is an economic prerogative of some description – lawsuit, insurance crisis, whatever – there will be no serious attempt to get rid of fighting.
It is no longer enough to blame the continued existence of fighting on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the board of governors, or uneducated American hockey fans.
Truth is, we love the gore as much as the Americans. We are rapidly reaching the point where, if change isn't wanted by the players and their agents – the latter a group that always seems to skate away from responsibility in these matters – the rest of us might as well stop worrying about the NHL players and focus on the children playing the sport.
If you don't want to help yourself, boys, there's nothing we can do for you.