Does fighting have a place in hockey anymore? I’ll admit, a good bout of fisticuffs completes any game for me, but every once and a while I have to pause and ask “is this really necessary?” For the most part fighting’s inclusion into the sport is almost integral. Hell, there’s rules and regulations governing what is and isn’t allowed, probably more than those for MMA and professional boxing. So by that standard one could argue that there’s no need to crack down any further on fighting, no need to question whether or not the league needs to reevaluate its stance. Especially when you consider that a majority fights end with both players serving their penalties without even needing to be looked at by a trainer for more than a minute. Every once and a while, a fight comes along with such a brutal result, that even I stop and give it all a second thought. Thursday’s fight between Asham and Beagle (see FFC#9) is a perfect example; up until the point that Asham landed those two titanic blows, it seemed like just another boring scrum. For reference to how badly messed up Beagle was, consider that Michal Rozsival wasn’t bleeding that badly when he caught a puck with his face last week (note: Rozsival is on the IR, so on-ice injury).
Let’s put aside for a second, the notion that fights like these turn normal looking human beings into Jody Shelley and Mike Ricci, and talk about the more pressing matter with fighting: grey matter. When the NHL rewrote Rule 48, they clarified their intention to protect hits to the head. So why then did no one bother to say “don’t boxers get concussions when they’re using gloves?” Why is it illegal to check someone with your body, but it’s ok to smash them in the jaw with your fist? A study from last summer showed that only 10% of concussions in the NHL over a span of three seasons were the result of fights, so it would stand to reason that there is no real need to regulate further. It does beg the question, how bad of a fight will it take for the league to take a step back and reconsider the repercussions? When it happens it may not wind up being because of a concussion, more likely someone will get their jaw broken or some kind of permanent damage to their eye.
All in all it’s a tricky situation that shares a lot with Rules 41 and 48. How do you keep players safe while not binding them so much that it takes away from the game itself, or turning it into an outright illegality? I think to a certain degree it actually eases tensions, say for instance the Islanders v. Penguins fights of last season. Have it out, take your penalties, and get back to the reason why you’re on the ice in the first place. Pugilism won’t go away in hockey, there’s always going to be the need to let out that aggression. I don’t want to see fighting go away, I wait with bated breath to see Murray and Ott, or Clowe and Parros drop the gloves. Hockeyfights.com will remain in my bookmarks, and I’ll continue to sit up and feel that adrenaline rush whenever I see equipment go flying, but I will always take a moment to think “how will that player’s career be affected by those 10-30 seconds?”