It's a question that is on the mind of every sports analyst, fan and casual observer: Does fighting have a place in hockey?
This is a question that can not be answered with a simple yes or no. It all depends on your point of view.
Fighting in hockey has been classified as "barbaric" by most mainstream media outlets. The recent death of Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops has brought this debate to a head.
The OHL furthered the issue by taking immediate action suspending players who intentionally remove the opposing player's helmet during a fight. This put pressure on the NHL to make its statement on the topic.
In typical Gary Bettman fashion, he has not come out and done what I believe the majority of hockey fans would like to see him do regarding fighting: defend it.
The truth is that fighting does have a place in hockey, and the new NHL has revolutionized the "goon" role. The reason fighting is necessary is not complex or something even a casual sports fan cannot understand, it's simple.
First off, like it or not, ESPN will not dedicate a 6-5 game displaying all the worldly talent that die-hard fans love. Rather, they will devote that kind of air time to a particularly nasty scuffle (Who could forget the Buffalo-Ottawa battles two seasons ago, think ESPN would have paid attention to those game otherwise?).
It does get the casual, as well as the die-hard passionate about the game. Need proof? Count how many people remain seated during a fight at the next game you attend. Truth is, fighting has a financial benefit, but it doesn't stop there.
Aside from the front office, fighting has a place on the ice. This ensures that skill players will get the room and respect to display the kind of talent that the league would like to package to the public.
Just ask Wayne Gretzky if he appreciated Marty McSorley, or Mark Messier if he appreciated Joey Kocur.
Also do you hate the Sean Avery's of the world? Take away the goons and that kind of "rat" behavior will reign in the NHL. Just imagine players of that bloodline only having to worry about a mere minor penalty for running a goaltender.
And with the new NHL, the "goon" role cannot simply be filled by some knuckle dragger without an ounce of skill. Coaches simply jeopardize their teams' chances to win by dressing that kind of player.
The new fighter must be capable of participating in a game or will more often than not view the games from the press box.
Arguments against fighting rarely encompass the fact that hockey is a different game than most. One counterargument made most is that football players are ejected for throwing blows.
That is all well and good, but the average play in football last approximately 7 seconds, while you may go minutes in between whistles.
Something tells me that if you were to let a pile in the NFL go unpoliced for a minute, some blows would be thrown.
The ugly truth is that most people who complain about hockey violence are not watching on a consistent basis. that certainly does not make them wrong. A mother taking her kids to a game has a right to expect not to see one man rearrange another's face.
But it seems that eliminating fighting pleases the minority and alienates the majority of hockey fans.
A final note on Sanderson, as reported by Don Cherry. Corey Fulton, the young man who fought Sanderson, approached Sanderson's father and was told that he should continue to engage in fighting and serve his role.
The man who has just lost his son can understand, that while violent, fighting in hockey has prevented a lot more injuries than it has caused.