Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday the NHL isn't going to debate the issue of fighting in hockey, but admitted the league may have to find a better way to protect its hulking players from fighting-related injuries.
"From a player safety standpoint, what happens in fighting is something we need to look at just as we need to look at hits to the head," Bettman told reporters after a news conference in Toronto to announce the NHL had reached a new six-year broadcast deal with the CBC.
"But we're not looking to have a debateon whether fighting is good or bad or should be part of the game."
Bettmanis adamant the discussion be about injuries and player safety adding the crux of the problem is the physical stature of today's players.
"Players have gotten bigger and we at least have to look at the consequence of that on player safety.
"If you look at who was the most penalized fighter 30 years ago, he was five-nine and 175 pounds. Last year's leading fighter, Brian McGrattan, is six-five and weighs 250 pounds."
Bettman's comments come in the wake of several ugly fighting incidents over the last month.
On Saturday, Atlanta Thrashers first-line centre Jon Sim had surgery to repair a broken left orbital bone he suffered during a scrap with San Jose's Mark Bell last Thursday.
The fight occurred one night after Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk was knocked unconscious by a punch from Colton Orr of the New York Rangers.
Earlier in the week, Colin Campbell, senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the NHL, slappedNashville Predator Jordin Tootoo with a five-game suspension for a gloved punch that knocked out Stephane Robidas of the Dallas Stars.
Bettman said the NHL will look at the issue and determine whether it's necessary to add more rules to protect players or ramp up punishments for offenders. He also said the NHL may decide to do nothing at all.
"I think it's premature for anybody to reach any conclusions," Bettman said. "I think the first [thing] is for us to decide whether or not it's an issue, whether or not there needs to be an adjustment, because there may not be.
"I think people are running off a little too fast on this topic."
Bettman pointed out that despite perception among some, fighting is actually down over the long term, suggesting the recent rash of fighting-related injuries may be an "aberration not a trend."
"Fighting has always had a role in the game and the amount of fighting is determined by how the game is played."