When the Dallas Stars decided to Krys Barch a big favor and trade him to the Florida Panthers, there was an interesting response from fans about the current and future state of this roster. While most acknowledged that Barch's role was being diminished and he would certainly see less and less time on the ice here in Dallas, many wondered how the Stars would proceed without an enforcer on the team.
That got me to thinking about one of the current philosophic debates raging in the hockey world -- whether fighting still has its place in hockey. If you haven't read the New York Times article on Derek Boogaard, I recommend that you stop now and read it immediately. It's an incredible and frightening look at how a person's brain was traumatized from years and years of bareknuckle brawling in hockey.
While there are some that are apparently still skeptical, there has been enough research in recent years that shows that continuous brain trauma from concussions has a devastating and lasting effect throughout a person's life. There's a good reason why the NHL and the NFL have become much more strict when it comes to dangerous hits to the head during the course of the game. There some frustrations with the inconsistency these rules are being enforced, but it's tough to deny that at least the NHL is attempt to -- finally -- be progressive in this area.
More thoughts -- and a poll -- after the jump.
What is frustrating is that as much progress as the NHL is attempting to make there is still incredible resistance to make changes in other basic areas of player safety -- all in the name of tradition. No-touch icing, for example, is something that should have been implemented years ago but there is hesitation to break from the "norm".
These changes are all about actual in-game play, however, and you can see some difficulty in determining how it would affect the game itself. What is so frustrating about the fighting debate is that fighting itself is not part of the actual game -- it happens after the play is dead and no time goes off the clock. In fact, if a fight breaks out during play they actually stop the clock and wait for the fight to stop before proceeding with the game once more.
Now, the defenders of fighting in hockey steadfastly refuse to believe that banning fighting will not have a negative effect on the game. They'll give reasons such as enforcement, of protecting the star players or about how it makes the game more exciting for fans.
The enforcement issue is the one that I find I have the most problem with understanding. The basic argument is that if there were no fighting in hockey, then it would become open season on star players with dangerous hits and swings with sticks and who knows what else -- and teams would be powerless to "enforce" their protection of their star players.
If you really think about it, that is not how hockey works right now anyway. It's how it's thought to work, but the mindset that fighting is all part of "protecting" the star players on the ice is one I really hesitate to truly believe. Sure, you have Krys Barch going to Florida and saying his job is to protect those players on his team and in his very first shift with the Panthers, he proved it by stepping up in a fight.
This is all part of tradition and protecting the league from becoming "wussified", in the words of several pundits from Canada. With the new rules protecting players and some feeling fighting has no place in hockey, there are frustrations that the NHL is going to far and is taking away the "toughness" that the NHL has become known for.
The thing about fighting, however, is that it's really tough for me to understand exactly what purpose it truly serves other than excitement for the fans and hanging on to tradition. I'll admit, one of my favorite memories as a kid was watching Shane Churla destroy the faces of the Chicago Blackhawks with his fist. Yet knowing what I do now, about how those fights may have had permanent damage to Churla's brain, it makes me ashamed to think of how much I've enjoyed it in the past.
As far as the current game goes, the role of fighting has been altered to the point where -- at least to me -- the arguments about why it is needed hold no water.
There is no "protecting" the star players -- this is taken way, way too far. Because of this mentality, any big hit in the NHL now, whether it's clean or not, is immediately met with violence from teammates as they feel they have to jump and prove how wrong it is to lay a big hit on their star forward. I would argue that those big hits, especially clean ones, are much more a part of hockey than fighting will ever be.
The other issue I have with this is the thought that teams need "enforcers" on their roster, players who might not have the most skill but whose purpose is there to fight -- and they are willing to do so. There are fans who think that with Barch gone, the Stars should call up Eric Godard or Luke Gazdic, so that they can have that presence on the bench. The problem with this is that those players would take a roster spot from someone who can actually impact the game other than fighting and who certainly deserves playing time when it comes to actual hockey.
I'm also perplexed by the argument that it's integral to the integrity of the game, yet someone players find a way to stop fighting during the playoffs and when they play Olympic hockey. It is undeniable that Olympic hockey and the playoffs are much, much more exciting then regular season games; you also don't see issues with players suddenly taking out the other teams' star players without any repercussion.
The only purpose fighting currently has is to be a "proving ground" for players, where tradition rules over everything else. What other team sport on this planet allows players to actually drop their gloves and slam each other's faces with their fists? Even boxing and MMA have specific rules with what can be used on the hands of the fighters.
It's an archaic tradition that only the NHL is holding on to, just like every other tradition that the NHL is taking their time to change. Mandatory visors should have been implemented years ago, but because of "tradition" and keeping the sport "manly", this thought has been met with incredible resistance.
So what is your take? Set aside your visceral excitement from the fighting and ask yourself -- is fighting in hockey really something that is needed?