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Should The NHL Ban Fighting?


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The following is an interesting article I just read on ESPN.com by John Buccigross:

 

 

Should fighting be banned in the NHL? I wanted to get your attention and that sentence usually does the trick.

 

For the basis of this discussion, I'm using Ross Bernstein's book, "The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL." It's available at some bookstores and everywhere on the Web.

 

For the casual hockey fan, it is an excellent textbook on the who, what and why of NHL fighting. For the hard-core hockey fan who has a basic understanding and opinion on all aspects of the game, it is a book filled with excellent stories from the players themselves. I don't think the book will change your opinion on fighting, but, like any book, it will stretch your brain and initiate further thought.

 

In my mind, the stars of the book are Marty McSorley and Tony Twist.

 

I've never met McSorley, who is currently a rookie San Jose Sharks television analyst. I have spent some time with Twist, who did a few "NHL 2Night" shows with me after he retired from the NHL in 2000. After our first show together, we went out with the entire "NHL 2Night" crew at a quasi-"dive" establishment that was definitely not Ruby Tuesday.

 

That night, I saw Tony do a shot through his nose -- a good starting point in describing one's experience with Tony Twist. Twister wore a white T-shirt and jeans. He looked like a refrigerator, a tattooed refrigerator who was funny, engaging and an endless storyteller. Twister spoke an octave higher than you would expect and at a pace that resembles Martin St. Louis' legs. I enjoyed Tony's capsules in Bernstein's book more than anything. Tony should write a book.

 

I knew a few things that night as I shoved countless mozzarella sticks into my piehole:

 

Tony was 6-foot-1 and around 235 pounds. I am 6-foot-3 and close to 200 pounds. That would seem like a fair fight. Rest assured, Twist could kill me in 12 seconds. He was the bodyguard, I was the prima donna;

 

The chance of someone starting any trouble with me was about the same as me ever abstaining from fried cheese;

 

If someone did try to start something, Twist, even though we had met just hours before, would have had my sinewy back. Because we were on the same team.

 

That is the closest television host/NHL right wing analogy I can construct in trying to determine what someone like Twist meant to someone like Chris Pronger or any of his St. Louis Blues teammates during the late '90s. That is why some women not named Katie Holmes prefer to be around large, brave men. That is why boxers have bodyguards named "Tank." They feel safe.

 

In those cases, violence sometimes still occurs, primarily because of the presence of "bodyguards."

 

As readers of this space know, I love NHL fights. They are usually exciting, honorable and consensual. Probert vs. Tomi; Peat vs. Stock; Neely vs. Tocchet; Boogaard vs. Chuck Norris. Fights can add entertainment value, change a game and have fans talking for days, especially when someone like Jarome Iginla drops the gloves.

 

Still, I find it difficult to comprehend that people come to NHL games for fights. That is an awfully expensive night out for something that isn't guaranteed to happen, and, if it does happen, it may be short and unmemorable. There are plenty of ultimate-fighting highlights on television today. I understand hockey is the final frontier for sanctioned bare-knuckle fighting, but UFC matches are close enough. I guess the question is, how many fans would not watch or attend a game if the possibility of a fight was greatly reduced?

 

Ross' book certainly is a pro-fighting tome. That stance is set on the cover, which advertises a forward written by McSorley and Twist. All the arguments for maintaining fights in the NHL are well-crafted in the book.

 

Again, as an NHL fan, I have no problem with fighting. NHL hockey is primarily what I watch at home and what I watch at work while preparing for "SportsCenter" or ESPNEWS on Thursday Nights from 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. ET when we talk lots of hockey. As I've stated here before, low television ratings don't affect my NHL fan self-esteem. I don't care if the NHL never adds another fan. If they just replaced us with a new passionate fan when we die, I'd be fine. The popularity of the NHL has no bearing on my love for the sport. I'm certain the fan base's intimacy is a healthy percentage of my attraction. Case in point: As the NFL has become more popular over the last 20 years, I've liked it less.

 

With that in mind, if the NHL paid me a large consulting fee to be a part of an NHL think tank, where ideas are thrown around in an attempt to enhance the game and, perhaps, grow it, I would construct the following arguments on fighting, complete with devil's advocate responses (D.A.).

 

1. The presence of possible fighting deters cheap hits and dangerous stick play.

 

Devil's Advocate: Mandate full-facial protection, like the NFL. Eye injuries would virtually disappear and dental premiums would probably plummet; or severely penalize stick and head infractions to the point that players can't afford to purposely cross the line. The price would be huge.

 

2. We need enforcers to protect the stars. Injuries would increase for the most talented players if they were open season for contact all game, every game.

 

D.A.: When Tom Brady or Marvin Harrison or Shaun Alexander is "jacked up," NFL players don't fight. Even on an illegal hit, players rarely react with fighting. Sometimes there is pushing and shoving, but the 15-yard penalty is bad enough. If the NHL had five- or 10-minute penalties on hits from behind, or 10-minute penalties on intent to injure, those plays would probably decrease. Shouldn't all NHL players be open to receive legal hits?

 

Quarterbacks are protected, but that's because they are often defenseless in the act of the forward pass, as are punters and kickers while kicking. Their minds are on something else. A runner or receiver or returner knows the deal. All hockey players need to keep their heads up and be prepared to get hit.

 

3. What about people like Ryan Hollweg of the Rangers or Cam Janssen of the Devils, who run around slamming into people yet neither has scored a point this season? What if one of them tears Sidney Crosby's ACL on one of those torpedo hits? Would a decrease in fighting increase the chances of that happening?

 

D.A.: That's possible, but if that happens this season, what would happen? Players would fight, and then someone would try to take out Brian Gionta or Patrik Elias or maybe Martin Brodeur. Is that a better alternative? And just because the NHL banned fighting, that doesn't mean there still wouldn't be fights. Baseball and basketball still have fights. Someone can still jump Hollweg and pound at his face, the crowd will be fired up, the player will be ejected and Hollweg will get a 10-minute intent to injure penalty. Then, he'll probably get suspended for 10-15 games. But if Hollweg or Janssen chooses to play a physical game with legal hits, why should he or someone else have to fight? Take out hitting if you're going to do that.

 

As long as they keep their elbow pads and shoulder pads away from the opponent's head, why can't they bodycheck whomever they want? Maybe we would have a more exciting game with more hitting. Imagine if NFL players had to fight after a good hit. There would be fewer big hits. Of course, hockey is different because play isn't over after a big hit. It usually continues, building a player rage. The end of a football play has a natural drop-off. It's what makes the sport a tough watch in person and a better watch on TV. We get plenty of replays.

 

4. People come to NHL games for the chance to see a fight.

 

It is a tension that other sports just don't have. It's the gut of the game. It keeps people honest and helps separate the rugged from the weasels. Hockey is the most honest sport that way. Other sports have players talk and strut and dance, but, among those, who are tough and who are poseurs? In the NHL, we know who is or isn't the real deal. My guess is Terrell Owens is not Jarome Iginla, a star who fights. Joey Porter of the Steelers would probably back it up with his fists.

 

D.A.: If fighting were banned, how many fans would stop watching? More people watch the Olympics and the Stanley Cup playoffs than the regular season. The Olympics have no fighting and the Stanley Cup playoffs have virtually none. If anything, fighting keeps hockey as an extreme sport. Extreme sports, while entertaining, do not garner mass appeal. Ultimate Fighting is a growing sport that will probably flatten. The NHL is probably still viewed as an extreme sport by much of North America. That's cool for the hard-core fan, but it may scare off the casual fan. Mom doesn't want Sparky to see Derek Boogaard break Todd Fedorur's orbital bone or see Nick Kypreos sleeping in a pool of his own blood. That is part of the game for the hard-core fan, but "extreme" to most of the sporting world. They will take their kids to see professional wrestling -- while it's exciting and well-produced, it's still staged.

 

5. What if someone dies in a fight?

 

These men are getting bigger and stronger. These aren't the days of 5-foot-10, 190-pound players, or even 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. This is 6-foot-7, 270 pounds of bare-knuckle fighting on a rock-hard surface. Even Ultimate Fighters have a padded surface. People die from hitting their heads on natural and artificial ice every year. It's why USA Hockey coaches now have to wear helmets in practice. What do we do if someone dies?

 

We all know it would be on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, "Today" and all the rest for weeks, just like the Todd Bertuzzi incident. Hypothetical tragedy aside, we know this isn't fair in terms of equal time, and perhaps we should not even concern ourselves with this scenario. These same shows have never shown a second of Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby doing something extraordinary. But a fighting death will define the sport to a greater degree than the Bertuzzi moment did, way more than if someone fell headfirst into the boards and died.

 

In some people's minds, a player death from a fight would have a more negative dynamic simply because they'll know fighting was technically allowed in the game. It's one thing if fighting was against the rules; then, it could be better described as an accident by two out-of-control athletes. But, until fighting is banned, hockey will appear to be an extreme sport, and people generally, though not always, avoid activities that they deem "extreme." Some dissuade their children from such activities even if they partake in them. This all would be bad, something that could fill us with guilt if we saw it coming and didn't take measures to diminish the chances of a hockey mom and dad losing a child.

 

D.A.: Let me get back to you on that one.

 

This sure makes an interesting topic. If fighting was extinct in the NHL, I would still watch. What do you guys think?

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Fighting, while lame a lot of the time, still serves a purpose on occasion.

 

Plus, for the most part it's "civil." Meaning, unlike the NBA, 99% of the time, when guys fight you don't have the benches clearted and all that running around, dude acting crazy, dude talking trash, dude throwing stuff into the crowd (virtually impossible in hockey), dude throwing bitch-punch(es) bulls***, and it's decided by the two fighters ahead of time.

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I agree with Buckeye and most of his points.

 

It's always been part of the game. It's in a semi controlled environment where it can't spill into the crowd like in the NBA. Don't get me wrong I would still watch if there was no fighting b/c I love hockey.

 

BTW I didn't read any of that article b/c it's blinding red and italicized, any chance you can post the link where it came from?

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Guest Juanky

The penalties for various offenses should probably be beefed up, including those for fighting.

 

But outright banning.....nah. I have no problem with fights as long as players serve their time, whatever sport that may be, and they keep the coaches/fans/players that aren't involved out of it.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

Plus, some of the most popular guys on some teams are fighters. I know Shelley has his own little following in Columbus just because he's the resident badass. For at least two years he was probably THE most popular (sadly; because I think he sucks, but he did get in a fight which lit a fire under the team's ass against Anaheim IN Anaheim in a game we would go on to win, so...).

 

I don't necessarily think the one on one confrontations STOP the bigger fights, however. I just think it's more civil and you have less of the bench-clearning brawls in hockey (not that they don't happen).

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

For the same reason we like big hits in football, but don't like to see the teams or players get in fights. Unless I'm alone on this one too. Hitting is part of the game; fighting is not.

 

And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

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And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

My first problem with this argument is that you are assuming that hockey has fans... :whistle

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Mabdul, your argument is correct. We should get rid of the low skilled enforcers. However, the high skilled enforcers and tough guys in the mold of Gordie Howe are some of the most respected guys in the league.

 

 

People like Georges Laraque who can score goals and put up 15-25 points a year are always welcome.

 

 

My problem is with players like Cam Jannsen who has made several hits on the Panthers alone this season worth rendering a fine at least. He makes checks while coming off his skates and guess what? He has no points over the entire season. Guys like that who are there with intent to injure other players and can't score worth a sh*t have no place in the league.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

For the same reason we like big hits in football, but don't like to see the teams or players get in fights. Unless I'm alone on this one too. Hitting is part of the game; fighting is not.

 

And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

 

Bad assumption.

 

You're assuming these guys are out there, and they're just not. And, even if they were, teams cannot afford to pay them what they're worth if they're so good. Hence you have the 3rd and 4th line tough guys.

 

Fighting is a part of hockey. Anyone who says it isn't cannot be a fan of the sport. I'm 50/50 on fighting itself, because sometimes it's a waste of time (but the average fans/fans of that player still love it). However, I've proven that it has it's point. There have been fights that have gotten entire teams back into games, hell I've seen fights get teams to play way better than they are. It CERTAINLY serves it's purpose.

 

As long as they keep it civil, which it pretty much is, I don't have a problem with it.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

For the same reason we like big hits in football, but don't like to see the teams or players get in fights. Unless I'm alone on this one too. Hitting is part of the game; fighting is not.

 

And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

 

Bad assumption.

 

You're assuming these guys are out there, and they're just not. And, even if they were, teams cannot afford to pay them what they're worth if they're so good. Hence you have the 3rd and 4th line tough guys.

 

Fighting is a part of hockey. Anyone who says it isn't cannot be a fan of the sport. I'm 50/50 on fighting itself, because sometimes it's a waste of time (but the average fans/fans of that player still love it). However, I've proven that it has it's point. There have been fights that have gotten entire teams back into games, hell I've seen fights get teams to play way better than they are. It CERTAINLY serves it's purpose.

 

As long as they keep it civil, which it pretty much is, I don't have a problem with it.

 

Well...

 

1) I'm just assuming there are guys out there who are more talented than Peter Worrell. And Cam Jannsen, whoever that is. I'm not saying they're All-Stars. I'm just saying they can skate, and maybe pass. I don't think this is asking too much. I'd rather have 3rd and 4th lines composed of minor-league caliber hockey players than brutes.

 

2) Just because it influences games doesn't make it a good or neccesary part of the game. There have surely been brawls in every sport that have seemed to shift the momentum of the game. We do not condone fights in those sports. I still don't see what makes hockey special in this regard.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

For the same reason we like big hits in football, but don't like to see the teams or players get in fights. Unless I'm alone on this one too. Hitting is part of the game; fighting is not.

 

And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

 

Bad assumption.

 

You're assuming these guys are out there, and they're just not. And, even if they were, teams cannot afford to pay them what they're worth if they're so good. Hence you have the 3rd and 4th line tough guys.

 

Fighting is a part of hockey. Anyone who says it isn't cannot be a fan of the sport. I'm 50/50 on fighting itself, because sometimes it's a waste of time (but the average fans/fans of that player still love it). However, I've proven that it has it's point. There have been fights that have gotten entire teams back into games, hell I've seen fights get teams to play way better than they are. It CERTAINLY serves it's purpose.

 

As long as they keep it civil, which it pretty much is, I don't have a problem with it.

 

Well...

 

1) I'm just assuming there are guys out there who are more talented than Peter Worrell. And Cam Jannsen, whoever that is. I'm not saying they're All-Stars. I'm just saying they can skate, and maybe pass. I don't think this is asking too much. I'd rather have 3rd and 4th lines composed of minor-league caliber hockey players than brutes.

2) Just because it influences games doesn't make it a good or neccesary part of the game. There have surely been brawls in every sport that have seemed to shift the momentum of the game. We do not condone fights in those sports. I still don't see what makes hockey special in this regard.

 

 

Not I. 4th line players usually arent very good (or they wouldnt be on the 4th line). I would rather have a 4th liner who can fight than one who cant. If I have a start player such as Ovechkin on my team, then I want a Donald Brashear on my bench just incase the opposing team starts taking liberties with Ovechkin.

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The only purpose I can really see to the fighting is what Buckeye mentioned...that these smaller fights prevent bigger fights from erupting. But then again, do they really? We're all familiar with the real fights...when even the opposing goalies get involved...and I've seen dudes emerge bloody from fights.

 

I'll be honest...I don't get it. I think it detracts from the game, and serves as a point of ridicule towards the sport for outsiders, making them less likely to embrace it. To me, the fights are never that interesting to watch. Two guys spin in a circle, while holding to the other guy's jersey with one hand, and landing blows with the other. Just play some damn hockey.

 

But I seem to be in the clear minority here, so I will just go on not getting it.

 

Lots of guys have followings or are in the league by virtue of the fact that they're tough guys. I don't know why fighting would "turn anybody off," I mean if they don't like fighting why would they like hitting either? And I definitely don't want to get rid of hitting.

 

For the same reason we like big hits in football, but don't like to see the teams or players get in fights. Unless I'm alone on this one too. Hitting is part of the game; fighting is not.

 

And also, maybe if you removed a bunch of the guys from the league whose sole purpose is to fight, you'd get more skilled players in there, and maybe that would lead to more skilled hockey being played, and maybe that would lead to more excitement from the actual sport and also to more fans for the sport.

 

Bad assumption.

 

You're assuming these guys are out there, and they're just not. And, even if they were, teams cannot afford to pay them what they're worth if they're so good. Hence you have the 3rd and 4th line tough guys.

 

Fighting is a part of hockey. Anyone who says it isn't cannot be a fan of the sport. I'm 50/50 on fighting itself, because sometimes it's a waste of time (but the average fans/fans of that player still love it). However, I've proven that it has it's point. There have been fights that have gotten entire teams back into games, hell I've seen fights get teams to play way better than they are. It CERTAINLY serves it's purpose.

 

As long as they keep it civil, which it pretty much is, I don't have a problem with it.

 

Well...

 

1) I'm just assuming there are guys out there who are more talented than Peter Worrell. And Cam Jannsen, whoever that is. I'm not saying they're All-Stars. I'm just saying they can skate, and maybe pass. I don't think this is asking too much. I'd rather have 3rd and 4th lines composed of minor-league caliber hockey players than brutes.

2) Just because it influences games doesn't make it a good or neccesary part of the game. There have surely been brawls in every sport that have seemed to shift the momentum of the game. We do not condone fights in those sports. I still don't see what makes hockey special in this regard.

 

 

Not I. 4th line players usually arent very good (or they wouldnt be on the 4th line). I would rather have a 4th liner who can fight than one who cant. If I have a start player such as Ovechkin on my team, then I want a Donald Brashear on my bench just incase the opposing team starts taking liberties with Ovechkin.

 

Well, so would I, but only because fighting is currently allowed. You have to have a brute or two on your team these days. But if you were to outlaw fighting, the brutes would become largely obsolete. I mean, if there are only about 200 hockey players in the world worth watching, such that you can't find ANYONE who plays a better brand of hockey than a bunch of brutes, then I guess my argument is moot. I just find this hard to believe, though I am admittedly not the world's most avid hockey fan.

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I haven't read one reason as to why, that makes sense, that fighting should be banned.

 

You're assuming brutes can't play hockey. They earn their spot, just like anybody else.

 

Fighting is hockey tradition. Period. Getting rid of it waters down some part of the game and changes it from it's roots. I don't think eliminating fighting is the answer. You want to fine cheapshot goons? I'm fine with that. Doesn't mean everyone who fights is a cheapshot goon, either.

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