Is NHL Fighting Going the Way of the Dodo?

alan lawlessCorrespondent IMay 12, 2009

UNIONDALE, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Mitch Fritz #49 of the New York Islanders fights with Eric Godard #28 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during their NHL game on November 26, 2008 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.  The Penguins defeated the Islanders 5-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Two months ago, the NHL competition committee recommended that fighting be nearly outlawed starting next fall. They seek to eradicate staged fights and fights where a player has to defend themselves after making a clean hit. 

Having to defend yourself after a clean play is clearly an act that won't be missed. It's a symptom of how little physicality is left in the league when even clean hitting is seen as crossing the line and requires dropping the gloves.

Years ago, players used to get hit (and hit hard) often. Now it's seen as an act that needs to be punished.

The players who usually make these hard legal and/or borderline illegal hits or who participate in staged fights are called "goons" as an indication of their status in the skill hierarchy.

Take away their ability to earn a paycheck with their gloves off and you might as well just staple their hockeypants to the bench.

Who needs to keep a player like Eric Godard, Georges Laraque, Riley Cote, David Clarkson, etc. on their payroll if their sole purpose has been nearly banished from the sport? 

The effect is already starting to be felt by guys like Chris Simon, Dale Purinton, Grant Marshall and David Liffiton...all marginal players who have been pushed out of the league and spent last season outside of GMs' offices begging for jobs, or loose change. 

As a positive, the level of skill will get higher and the games will move faster without these prehistoric anchors dragging their legs around the rink. It is also these type of players who give the sport many of its black eyes...both literally and figuratively.

Some of the most well-known and dirty plays to take place in the sport recently have been made by these players.

Even the casual or non-fan knows about the incident where Ryan Hollweg was hit in the chin with a baseball swing by Chris Simon, the brutal blindside hit that caused Steve Moore to fracture his neck and Marty McSorley's hitting Donald Brashear in the side of the head with his stick.

There are some players that have been able to adapt: Chris Neil of the Senators, Todd Fedoruk with Phoenix and Colton Orr of the Rangers have all made an effort to prove they know how to play with their gloves on.

Yet the question remains, will there be more or less violence in the league without these goons? Or will semi-skilled players like Cote, Donald Brashear and Fedoruk just be allowed to get away with their dirty playing?

In the spring of 2007 in a hotly contested game between rivals the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, Rangers coach Tom Renney made the mistake of not dressing Colton Orr, and Todd Fedoruk spent the whole game running around throwing his body at everything in a Rangers sweater, including taking a cheap shot at superstar Jaromir Jagr.

Would this have happened if Orr was in the line-up that night? It's hard to say, but Orr and Fedoruk met up the next game and shortly after the gloves were dropped Fedoruk was being carted off the ice on a stretcher. But at least no real players were injured in the course of the game.  

What effect will the reduction of fighting have on the sport? It's a question that we can't answer until we try it. And I think finding out the answer is worth taking the test.


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