One of the most sacred positions in all of hockey is also the most dangerous—and with Wednesday's news, the days of the enforcer may be numbered.
Bob Probert was one of the greatest hockey enforcers of his time. According to Hockeyfights.com, from 1985 to his retirement in 2002, Probert amassed 413 regular season fighting majors. In 1987, Probert lead the entire league in penalty minutes with 398 to go along with 23 fighting majors.
Probert once got into a full-on phone booth scrap with fellow enforcer Marty McSorely—a scrap that lasted 100 total seconds. Both heavyweight enforcers combined for nearly 80 punches thrown and in the end, McSorley lost his jersey, his pads and even his shirt.
These were the kind of scraps that hockey fans both loved and loathed. Loved because they got the fans and players into the game—but loathed because fights often were overblown or seemed to break the flow of a game.
Fights in hockey are part of the game. For many, a solid hockey scrap is enough to get the juices flowing and, at times, can turn the tide of a game.
A dead weight crowd will stand and applaud an all-out gutsy effort and often momentum can quickly shift due to a spirited hockey fight.
Some of the most respected, hated and beloved hockey players of all time were full-fledged enforcers like Probert, Tie Domi, Donald Brashier, Georges LaRaque and George "The Stache" Parros.
All of this may change, however, when on Wednesday, Boston University researchers concluded that Bob Probert suffered from a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is common in boxers, wrestlers, high school, college and professional football players.
Recently, the National Football League began taking a stricter stance on concussions. Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau hasn't played in a Major League Baseball game since July 7, 2010 because of a concussion. In hockey, the career of Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard may prematurely end due to a vicious elbow by Penguins forward Matt Cooke. Savard hasn't played since March of last season.
None of these injuries were due to fighting—they were, however, injuries to the head. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby hasn't played since January 5 due to a mild concussion suffered back on New Year's Day.
Not surprisingly, Probert played much of his hockey career more like a boxer than a hockey player—and herein begs the question: is fighting in hockey necessary? Furthermore, will news of Bob Probert's brain disease deter fighting in hockey?