On Fighting: Its Role and Its Cost in Today's NHL

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03:  Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames fight during the first period at the Verizon Center on October 3, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The fighting debate has emerged once again, with it unfortunately coming on the heels of a scary sight in Montreal Tuesday night involving the oft-battling George Parros. 

As Parros was stretchered off the ice, Twitter erupted with the ever-growing factions in the debate voicing their support or disdain for the institution of fighting in the NHL game. It wasn't an injury you'd expect with a fight, but it stirred the pot nonetheless. 

Given the increasing sensitivity to head injuries in all sports, the conversation is a necessary one, but that doesn't make it an easy one.

As much as many want the debate to be either that it's antiquated and no longer necessary in the game or that it is a hallmark of the game and can't be removed, it's nothing close to that.

Hockey is a game that loves to say that it polices itself. In that sense it's so much different than any other sport. Sure baseball has batters getting plunked and the NFL has its ways, but there is no other sport where in-game retribution is so ingrained.

The amount of times a player from their mite years on hears the words "get his number" from their coaches and teammates could probably rival War and Peace if written out. And that's not to say the coach is saying "go fight," because most of the time they're not. They're saying get him when you get the chance. 

From that culture is where fighting was born. 

Fighting has also served many purposes over the years, whether it be to address a purported wrong that occurred on the ice, to protect fellow players, or, more recently, to find a place on a team. 

In a simpler time, a great example of fighting revolved around Wayne Gretzky. While Gretzky only fought a handful of times in his career, he also shared a lot of ice time with a guy named Dave Semenko during his time in Edmonton. 

Semenko's only job was essentially to pound the pulp out of anyone who even looked at Gretzky wrong. And for the most part it worked. 

While Gretzky's sheer ability was the biggest factor in him rarely getting hit, Semenko was a big part of that as well. 

So regardless of what some may say, fighting does have a place in the NHL. The difference is the type of fight. 

The staged "goon" fights are becoming more and more of a sideshow. Players like John Scott have a expiration date, and probably rightfully so. 

Guys like Dave Semenko aren't needed as much anymore because of the size and skill of the new superstars. Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin certainly aren't small guys and can take care of themselves. 

Beyond that, NHL rosters are filling out with more players that have the size to duke it out, but the skill to be so much more. There is a decided difference between two top-six forwards dancing and the staged fourth line fights. When someone in your top-six fights, it's for a reason.

The other disconnect is between the players and coaches and the media and general managers. 

Most players are fully behind fighting in the game, as are most coaches. Mike Babcock had some negative things to say about fighting the other day (via the Detroit News), but other coaches, like Paul MacLean and Ron Rolston have expressed their stout support as well. 

General managers are more likely to be against fighting because of its costs and their specialized concerns about their rosters. Media members decry it because of the violent nature of the practice and the seemingly hypocritical stance of the NHL. 

This is not an easy debate, and even John Scott has said (via John Vogl) that he's against staged fights, which essentially keep him employed, but there will always be a wide gap between the two sides.

Realistically, one can expect the rules on fighting to tighten in the coming years, and the roles of "goons" to diminish even more, but I think you'd be mistaken to think that fighting will be eliminated entirely anytime soon.

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