CHICAGO — Like broaching politics during social events, the subject of fighting in hockey circles is sure to conjure up some heated debate.
Is it a necessary part of the game to help the players police themselves? Or is it a violent sideshow that only lends itself to potential life-threatening situations for those who drop their gloves and engage in a bare-knuckle exchange on the ice?
The latest round in this debate came to the forefront last week when Montreal’s George Parros, regarded as one of the top enforcers in the league, was inadvertently pulled down to the ice by Toronto’s Colton Orr during a fight.
Parros fell face first to the ice with his chin the principle point of contact and led to the 6-foot-5, 228-pounder being taken off the ice on a stretcher and an overnight stay in a Montreal hospital.
Parros was diagnosed with a concussion, and while he lay on the ice there was an eerie silence inside the normally raucous Bell Centre.
The fight was the second of the night between Parros and Orr, two of the league’s top heavyweights.
The next day the debate raged and the anti-fighting faction grew as Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford and Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman all expressed their wish to remove fighting from the game, or at least stiffen the penalty for those who drop the gloves.
“It’s real clear they’re trying to do that,’’ said Lightning forward B.J. Crombeen, who has 79 career NHL fights on his resume. “I think it’s obviously a thing we have seen with all the head injuries in all sports and football and hockey. ... It’s obviously a main focus point now.
“It’s an unfortunate thing but you do see head injuries and fighting. Sometimes it’s going to be talked about. You’re going to have guys on different sides of the debate and it’s ultimately going to come down to an ultimate decision sooner or later.’’
It’s not as simple as banning fighting. There are potential consequences if players have no concern of answering for a cheap shot they deliver to a star player.
“I would never want (fighting) out of the game, personally. I think it keeps guys accountable to a certain extent,’’ Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “I think there are obviously movements to limit (fights) and I think we’ve limited a lot of the stage fighting for the most part. I think that was a big issue where guys were going out there looking for it.
“I definitely have no problem with fighting. It’s always been part of the game and guys have to be kept in check. As a skilled guy you want to know that you’re going to be protected.’’
Former Lightning forward Chris Dingman, now part of Tampa Bay’s broadcast team as well as a co-host of a morning sports talk show on 98.7 FM, said that if fighting was banned during his playing days, he would have taken more runs at players looking to inflict pain to give his team an advantage.
“It goes into a guy’s mind if you know you have to fight, if you are running around, so to speak, it definitely plays a factor and anybody who says it doesn’t is full of themselves. They’re lying,’’ said Dingman, who had 85 regular-season fights during his eight-year career. “Maybe it will come to a time when there isn’t fighting. I hope not.’’
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien, whose team is among the toughest in the league when it comes to fights, said he is willing to evolve and adapt with the game to whatever side the fighting debate sways. But he said time is needed to look at the full array of pros and cons.
“I think maybe with time the fighting will diminish, but at the same time it’s hard just to cut the cord and say from one day to another there’s no more fighting,’’ Julien said. “There’s two trains of thought here and part of it is being able to police yourselves because certain things that happen on the ice, and once the fighting is out and you can’t police yourself, then there could be some worse things happening than seeing two guys fight.
“I think it’s a matter of time. That time, to me, doesn’t seem like it’s close.’’