It's time to make NHL players earn the right to fight, according to CBCSports.ca hockey writer Mike Brophy. He proposes players must average 10 minutes of ice time per game to avoid ejection following a fight in an attempt to get giant thugs who only fight out of the game. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)
Until the day arrives when fighting is no longer permitted in the National Hockey League, let's at least control it better. Make it mandatory for anyone that fights to average 10 minutes of playing time per game or take away their right to fight.
Let's try this one more time.
A number of years ago when I was a senior writer at The Hockey News, I came up with an idea designed to not eliminate fighting from hockey, but hopefully lead to the abolition of the one-dimensional player who is only in the game to beat people up.
You know who I am referring to, the three-to-four-minute a night guys that ride the pine waiting for the tap on the shoulder that sends them over the boards to justify their existence by engaging in a fight. My thought was, shouldn't a player earn the right to fight?
It's not about eliminating fighting from hockey; it's about managing it better.
If memory serves, I believe my proposal was if a player averaging eight minutes of ice time per game got into a fight, his penalty would be the traditional five-minute major. He would be allowed to stay in the game. A player averaging under eight minutes a game of ice time that gets into a fight gets his fighting major, but is also ejected from the game.
I spoke with some of the suits at the NHL's head office who seemed to like the idea as did a few general managers. Of course, it went nowhere because the NHL likes, and even endorses, fighting. Your latest NHL-backed video game has more realistic fighting than any video game has ever had before. Yippee!
So I'm back again with a similar idea, only with a slight alteration: Make it 10 minutes a game of average ice time. Make it just about impossible for a team to carry a giant thug who does nothing except fight.
You'll still have tough guys and you'd still have fights. Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins averaged 16:54 playing time last season and fought five times in a lockout-shortened season. Under my system he would have been allowed to stay in every game. Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators averaged 13:51 ice time and fought six times.
Stars would be missed
One of the most celebrated NHL fights in the last 25 years took place between two superstars, Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames and Vinny Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. You know the kind of ice time those guys got. They could play; therefore they could fight. If they were ejected from the game, they would be missed.
Can the same be said of the likes of Buffalo's John Scott? Or Toronto's Frazer McLaren? Or Montreal's George Parros? The list, sadly, goes on and on and on.
If a player needed to average 10 minutes a game of ice time to have the right to fight and stay in a game, teams might be inclined to stock their third and fourth lines with skilled players and not goons.
What's the point of keeping a guy on the bench to fight once if he's going to get the boot? Better to have a player available who might actually score a goal, no?
What if Parros had died on the spot? What if his Princeton-educated brain suffered irreparable damage? For that matter, do we know for sure that it didn't?
Dead is dead
It wasn't a punch that injured Parros; it was hitting his head on the ice during a fight. Talk about semantics. I know, I know, guns don't kill people; people kill people right? What difference does it make? Dead is dead.
The hush that came over the otherwise wildly excited audience inside the Bell Centre was eerie. Fans that normally stand and cheer during a fight fell silent. It was a massive relief when Parros began to move, but it could have ended in disaster.
And it will one day.
I believe a day will come when fighting in the NHL carry with it an automatic expulsion from the game. It seems inevitable. The problem is many of those charged with running the league were fighters when they played. Many of the TV and radio commentators who offer us nightly insights into the sport were fighters when they played. Their perspective often lacks credibility and yet we turn to them for reaction.
To come out against fighting, in their minds, would be hypocritical. Even if they wanted fighting out of the game, having come to the conclusion that it no longer has a place in the sport, would they say so? Probably not.
So until the day arrives when fighting is no longer permitted in the NHL, let's at least control it better. Make it mandatory for anyone that fights to average 10 minutes of playing time per game or take away their right to fight.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.