Bettman admits fighting sells tickets, won't ban it

The National Hockey League admits fighting sells tickets and it has no appetite to abolish fisticuffs.

Commissioner says league is looking at changing the 'rules of engagement'

The National Hockey League admits fighting sells tickets and it has no appetite to abolish fisticuffs.

But in an effort to show it is taking the issue of fighting seriously in light of recent events, including the death of an amateur player, the NHL will look at the so-called "rules of engagement" to see whether the statutes governing fisticuffs need to be tweaked.

"I believe that most of our fans enjoy that aspect of the game," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Saturday at the all-star weekend in Montreal. "I do not think it is the be-all and end-all of our game, but it is a part of the game."

General managers will deal with the issue when they meet in March and the all-important competition committee will also weigh in on the role of fisticuffs.

Rules of engagement include how a fight gets initiated, how players get sucker punched, how goons drop their gloves for the sake of it, how chinstraps are undone with ease, how helmets come off accidentally and whether they should come off at all.

It also includes how a player makes a legal hit and is jumped by a teammate of the player he flattened.

The issue of fighting was heightened with the recent death of 21-year-old Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops in an Ontario senior league game. He died after his helmet came off during a skirmish and his head hit the ice.

The Ontario Hockey League, one of Canada's three major junior associations, has already made it a rule that fighters must keep their helmets on.

But as far as fighting in the NHL is concerned, Bettman emerged from a board of governors meeting Saturday to say, "I do not think there is any appetite to abolish it. We will study it before we make changes, if we make changes."

At least one general manager is vocal in his opposition to removing fisticuffs. 

"As I said before, any discussion about the abolition or the elimination of fighting will be a very brief one," said Toronto president and GM Brian Burke.

"I do not think there is any support for that, but the discussion of how we do this, how players do that part of the job, may be a lengthy one."

Klotz incident a reminder

If the NHL needed a reminder of the consequences of an unprovoked fight, all they had to do was look at the television footage from an AHL game on Friday night.

Immediately following the opening faceoff, Philadelphia Phantoms forward Garrett Klotz dropped his gloves with an opponent and later left the ice on a stretcher after suffering a seizure.

There are fears that a ban on fighting would lead to more stick fouls and dirty play, but others argue fighting has become more dangerous because players today are bigger and hit harder.

Joe Thornton feels fighting is an integral part of the sport.

"I'm a traditionalist when it comes to hockey," the San Jose Sharks centre said. "Fighting's been around since Day One.

"I think it would be a shame to take it out of the game. It's part of hockey, like tying up your laces or shooting the puck. It's been part of hockey for a long, long time."

Attacking after a good hit

One trend many hockey people would like to see eliminated is the attacking of players after a legal body check.

"It is a disturbing trend in my opinion because if it is a clean hit, why should it be a fight. I do not understand it," said St. Louis president John Davidson.

"If a guy throws a great hit and it is within the parameters of the game, why should that guy have to look around to see whether he will be involved in a fight?"

Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau had another idea.

"I like the suggestion that Wayne Gretzky had two weeks ago that any other league than the professional league should ban fighting. I think that would be a start," Carbonneau said.

"If they're not allowed to fight in the minor hockey or in organized hockey, maybe in five, 10 years there will be no fighting in the NHL.

"But it has its place," he said. "I don't think they're going to be able to get rid of it. But they have to start somewhere."

Talking begins in March

In the NHL's case, the discussion starts in March when the GMs meet.

"I think it is simple. When it comes to the safety of the players, managers and the league has been more than receptive and interested in protecting the players," said Edmonton president Kevin Lowe.

"It will get a lot discussion but it has not risen to the level where it is an emergency."

Hence, the status quo remains.

"I think fans love the game of hockey and fighting is a part of the game," said  Washington owner Ted Leonsis.