Skip to main content

You can count Rick Vaive among former NHL players who believe new rules are needed to curb fighting in professional hockey.

Not many share the view of the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain. The majority of players, past and present, as well as coaches and general managers are more likely to say fighting is an important part of hockey and should continue to be.

But Vaive says to dismiss the dangers of fisticuffs in today's game is to ignore a potential disaster.

"My views have changed [because]of the tragedies that have happened," he said.

Amateur player Don Sanderson died this month of a head injury after he struck the ice during a fight in the Ontario senior league. Last week, an AHL player suffered a seizure and was taken to hospital after he was pummelled.

Vaive, who played in the 1980s and early 1990s and three times scored more than 50 goals in a season, says the size and strength of today's players along with their fighting skills have changed everything. The two combatants in the AHL fight were 6 foot 5 and 247 pounds and 6 foot 5 and 235 pounds.

"What's it going to take?" Vaive said. "A senior hockey player passes away. Another player convulses on the ice in the American league. Is it going to take a death in the NHL before anything is done about it? That's the question. Don't be reactive, be proactive."

Vaive insists he is not in the anti-fighting camp. In addition to his playing career, he has coached in minor pro and junior hockey. He understands how an incident can incite a spontaneous reaction and that perhaps fists are preferable to sticks.

But the role of designated enforcer concerns him. He also worries about what awaits his son, Justin, a sophomore at Miami University of Ohio and a fourth-round draft choice of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

"Through minor hockey, there was no fighting and he didn't have to worry about it," Vaive said of his son. "But he's 6 foot 6, and he'll probably be 245 pounds by the time he gets to pro hockey.

"He plays physical. He's a grinder. And he's going to get challenged, because he's big. All of a sudden, you start to think about that. He's not going to get challenged by guys 5 foot 10. He's going to get challenged by the other team's tough guy. And he's never fought before.

"So all of a sudden he's thrown into the situation where he's fighting the other team's tough guy, whose job is fighting and he's good at it. I'm not so sure I'm going to like that idea."

Vaive isn't specific about what should be done about fighting, although he's in favour of pugilists being required to keep on their helmets with the straps secure. He says the instigator rule, as it pertains to retaliations to clean hits, should be enforced. And he suggests thugs engaged in predetermined fights be tossed. He is hopeful the NHL's general managers will make a serious effort to examine the issue when they meet in March.

But of one thing Vaive is reasonably confident. If the full membership of the National Hockey League Players' Association voted in a secret ballot on fighting, the outcome would contradict the pro-fighting lip service that players give to the media.

"I think you'd be surprised," he said. "If they had a questionnaire for each player, I think people would be surprised by the number of players in the NHL who would say they don't want fighting. I think there would be far more than people think there would be."

TV loves all-stars

Canadians tune in when the NHL all-star game is in a Canadian city.

With Montreal as the host, Sunday's all-star game drew its largest television audience since 2000, when the game was played in Toronto.

The CBC telecast was watched by 1.516 million viewers, just less than the 1.557 million who tuned in for the 2000 game.

The CBC drew its largest audience ever for Saturday skills competitions, 1.358 million, bettering 1.327 million in 2000.

The French-language Réseau des Sports, with distribution limited mainly to Quebec, drew huge audiences.

It pulled in 1.146 million for the Saturday skills competitions, up 139 per cent from last year.

The game telecast on Sunday was watched by 1.007 million, an increase of 144 per cent from 2008.