Hawk Talk: The Gloves Are Off
It seems to be an annual debate. Any time a player gets knocked out, especially at Madison Square Garden or in Toronto, invariably we have to hear about the fighting "issue."
Wake me when this one has finally been decided.
I won't go into my grocery list of grievances with Gary Bettman. But I will say to him and his people, "Make up your mind!"
Let's get something straight right off the bat. I'm all for fighting. It's part of the game. It has been forever and it should continue to be. It's unique to the sport and that is its greatness. It doesn't happen in any other team sport, and while critics will use that idea to their advantage, I say it makes hockey, well, hockey.
Even though it's a "savage" moment in the game, at the NHL level at least, it's done in a civilized manner. That sounds weird, but 99 percent of the time there are no cheap shots, there's no spill over to the parking lot, and some fighters are actually best of friends off the ice.
The ones that specialize in it are paid handsomely and are not forced to take up the occupation. A small percentage of the time, players are hurt a little more serious than normal. To that I say: That's life in the big city.
There are plenty of dangerous moments in any competition. I'd say a 30-60 second NHL fight ranks low on the list. I would assume most of you reading this would agree. Hockey is a great sport because it combines skill, grace, and toughness -- not despite it! And yes, that toughness includes fighting.
Having said all that, this column is about the league needing to decide once and for all if they want it in the game. If they don't, fine. Eliminate it and I will still enjoy hockey. I can admit it's not essential to the survival of the sport. As I stated earlier, it's uniqueness makes it cool more than anything else.
If eliminated, I'm not sure all the clichés are true. Would stick fouls really increase? Would Sidney Crosby and Martin Havlat be going to the hospital every other night? I doubt it.
Now, if the league is going to keep it, then say so and say it emphatically. Don't be embarrassed by it. Next time someone asks Bettman or Colin Campbell if fighting should be banned, their response should be something said very incredulously like, "Ban it? Should we ban slapshots and power plays? It's part of the game like the ice and the Zamboni?"
And when they say, "What about poor Todd Fedoruk?", they should say, "Well, it's too bad for him. I assume his paycheck will cash next Friday."
I'm not kidding. Say it and mean it. Anything else opens the door for critics to think the league is completely confused about the issue. When Campbell, director of NHL hockey operations, says it's time to "ask the question" about fighting, I wonder where's he's been for 50 years.
I'll end with a comment from Brian Burke, an extremely accomplished GM now with the Ducks: "The notion that because one player got knocked cold in a fight, that's going to touch off a debate about eliminating fighting, to me is silly."
Silly doesn't begin to describe the league office at times. Then again, maybe we should go to an unnamed video replay official in another country for a closer look.
Email Blackhawks pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org