Hockey stars discuss fighting, head shots on The National

Peter Mansbridge hosted a panel Tuesday on The National as Scotty Bowman, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Ken Dryden and Elliotte Friedman debated head shots and fighting in pro hockey.
Stanley Cup-winning coach Scotty Bowman told The National on Tuesday that the NHL needs to address the issue of designated fighters before tackling fighting as a whole. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In Tuesday night's edition of The National, Peter Mansbridge hosted a panel of hockey experts to discuss head shots and fighting in professional hockey.

Hockey Night In Canada's Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Elliotte Friedman, as well as Stanley Cup-winning coach Scotty Bowman and Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden analyzed the NHL's recent changes to avoid head injuries.

This past summer's research and development camp experimented with reducing dangerous collisions. Not long after, the NHL's vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan began handing out stiff penalties for players targeting the head, which has sparked endless debate around the league.

Mansbrige asked the panel if the changes keep pace with how the game should be played safely.

"I do think they're trying to keep up and at the same time they're making sure that they're not just making change for the sake of change," Campbell-Pascall said. "But I really think that the NHL is doing a good job with what they're doing with Brendan Shanahan, with the research and development camp.

"I just have to think that we can't make too many changes all at once."

But Campbell-Pascall said any changes to fighting in the game won't be as significant.

"It's part of the competition of the game," she said. "As long as it's done in an appropriate and clean way … It's not as vicious as an elbow to the head, as a hit from behind into the glass. Taking fighting completely out of the game, does it increase those other vicious plays that will occur, and I think it will."

Dryden disagreed with Campbell-Pascall and said there is more to the fighting debate.

"The question is not about fighting or no fighting — I've been part of that debate for some time," he said. "The question is head injuries. The question is the severity of it. The question is, why do people like Reggie Fleming or Bob Probert show signs of significant brain deterioration? Why did that happen? If it happens because of fighting, there's a real message there."

When asked if he would vote to remove fighting from hockey, Bowman said hockey could do without the premeditated fights that don't result from the heat of the game.

"Part of it [fighting], I would like to get rid of," Bowman said. "There are players in the league that are there for only one sole purpose, that is to fight. I think that's what we have to address. Not for the players who play at a regular high pace game and get into the odd fight — that's not the ones that I'm targeting."

Friedman agreed with Bowman and suggested that before the NHL bans fighting completely, it is more likely the league will first outlaw prearranged fights.

"I think they will take rules like the Ontario Hockey League does this year to get stage fights out of the game at some point and see where that takes us."