October 2, 2013 5:50 pm

NHL says no appetite to change fighting rules as debate rages on

Video: Another fight over fighting in hockey, after players from the Leafs & Habs duke it out. Mike Le Couteur reports

TORONTO – The sight of Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros hitting the ice during a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Colton Orr Tuesday night has rallied both supporters of fighting in the National Hockey League, and its detractors.

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But the NHL says Parros’ injury won’t lead to the removal of fisticuffs from the game.

“At the current time, there is not an appetite to change the rules with respect to fighting,” said NHL Senior Executive VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell in an email to Global News.

Regarding Parros’ injury, he said:

“We never like to see players injured, but the nature of the game does result in players being injured from all types of aspects of the game.”

Here are some of the common points and counterpoints in the hockey fighting debate.

“If you take fighting out of the game, star players will be left unprotected and suffer more injuries”

When European hockey players pick a fight, they are ejected from the game and the team faces a five-minute power play, notes CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyel.

In a Jan. 2012 interview on Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, Atlant Moscow supporter Denis Negliad told CBC Canadians play “simpler hockey.”

“Here the game is more intelligent. There’s more passes and strategy,” Atlant Moscow supporter Denis Negliad said.

Bob Stellick, who was director of business operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs for more than a decade, said fighting has become a “sideshow” in hockey.

“Europeans came over, and didn’t fight. Then Americans came up and by and large they didn’t fight. It’s become the bastion of this pacifist country, Canada, where we seem to be the guys that supply 95 per cent of the NHL’s…whether you want to call them policemen, goons or sideshows,” he said.

“If you don’t have those players, the 6’5” enforcers in the game, it certainly changes the overall look of the sport,” added Hockey News associate senior writer Ryan Kennedy.

George Parros is somebody who’s made his living doing this; he’s not a scorer. He does have a modicum of talent…but he’s Princeton-educated. He’s not a dumb guy and his teammates love him, the fans love him, but that is what butters his bread,” said Kennedy.

“You can’t market hockey without fighting”

Stellick, who now heads Stellick Marketing and Communications, says NHL games can “absolutely” be sold in the U.S. without fighting.

“It doesn’t change the game, it’s not really part of the game and no other sport has it,” he told Global News reporter Rob Leth.

Kennedy believes it’s up to the league to decide what’s most important for the welfare of the game, and how the fans feel. The bottom line is that the NHL is a business, he said.

“If you take fighting out of the game, do you lose a good chunk of the fan base?” he asked. “But do you gain it from people who do not want to see fighting in the game?”

Watch: Former NHL enforcer Jim Thomson wants fighting out of hockey (Oct. 2)

Kennedy points out if you have a fan base that knows the speed and skill required to play the game with regular hitting and hip checks, it’s possible they could still embrace the sport without fighting.

“Fighting has always been part of hockey”

When asked if the Parros-Orr incident made him question fighting, Philadelphia Flyers player Vincent Lecavalier admitted it did, according to TSN .

“Sure, people will be talking about it for weeks, (but) fighting is part of the game,” he said.

Ottawa Senators players Jason Spezza, Chris Neil, Eric Gryba and head coach Paul MacLean all hoped for Parros’ quick recovery in interviews Tuesday, but remain advocates of fighting in hockey.

Gryba said people who are calling for its elimination are experiencing a “reaction thing when you see something that isn’t pleasant to see.”

“Some people feel the best way to stop that from happening is to take fighting out of the game. But the fact of the matter is, that could’ve been a guy just tripping over someone at the boards…taking a puck to the face,” said Gryba. “You have to sit down and really think about it as opposed to just immediately making a decision just because something just happened.”

Coach MacLean said he believes hockey is a game that “needs fighting in it” and suggested only about 15 per cent of players actually end up fighting. He said he wasn’t a fan of the “staged version” but that fighting allows a “safer” release.

“We’re one of the few sports that you’re allowed to carry a weapon. So if you don’t have the release, what happens next would be my concern,” he said.

Watch the players and coach’s reaction to Parros’ injury and comments on the debate below:

Doyel wrote in March that playoff and Olympic hockey “make do” without fights because players (and fans) like fighting, but they don’t need it.

“The crowd loves it, but that’s what crowds do. Crowds love fighting at a schoolyard or in the parking lot at Burger King, too. Doesn’t make the crowd right,” he wrote.

Stellick thinks the notion that fighting is still needed in the sport is a dinosaur mentality.

“If you watch a game, the quality of a game in the NHL now versus 20 years ago, it’s astronomically better. The game is really good and it doesn’t need [fighting].”

Take a look at this infographic showing how Canadians feel about fighting in hockey, and share your thoughts in the comments below:

Fisticuffs-hockey-final

Former NHL enforcer Jim Thomson believes the game of hockey is evolving, and that cleaning up hockey fights is the next step.

Craig MacTavish was the last player not to wear a helmet, so we got helmets now. We changed,” he said. “Now we’ve got visors mandatory, now hybrid icing to save guys from busting their legs in the boards. And we keep talking about taking headshots out.”

Thomson points to other former NHL players who suffered from concussion-related disease as a warning of what’s to come if fighting continues.

“You look at the late Derek Boogaard, the late Bob Probert, and the brain disease they had from all the blows…The future is telling us we need to take the violence out of hockey.”

© Shaw Media, 2013

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