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Steve Yzerman Comments on Fighting in the NHL


Newsflash: We’re talking about fighting in hockey again. In the wake of George Parros lying limp on the ice smeared across all of our television screens, it should come as no surprise.  The debate is back.  Should fighting remain a part of hockey?

Oct 1, 2013; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens right wing George Parros (15) gets medical assistance as teammate Brandon Prust (8) looks on during the third period against Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an awkward catalyst to this latest version of the argument.

Parros wasn’t knocked unconscious from a punch, but rather from a fall after his opponent, Colton Orr, lost his footing.

And yet it was still a fight, and Parros was still injured. The arena went quiet. The scene was grisly.

Of course, the media was all aflutter this morning with sombre-voiced personalities weighing in on one of the debate or the other. Does fighting belong in the game? It depends who you ask. 98% of players polled in 2011/2012 said: Yes, fighting still has its place.

TSN’s Darren Dreger found three general managers, however, who are leaning the other way. And one of those general managers is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s own Steve Yzerman.

"“Yes, I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting,” Yzerman told Dreger. “We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce injuries, yet we still allow fighting.”"

Nov 30, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman before the game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Yzerman himself, of course, was very well protected for the duration of his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings.

The most famous of his body guards was Bob Probert, but people often forget the Red Wings acquired the likes of Stu Grimson and Joe Kocur during their glory years, and players like Darren McCarty and even Brendan Shanahan weren’t exactly shy about dropping the gloves.

Regardless, Yzerman is nothing if not logical.

"“We’re stuck in the middle and we need to decide what kind of sport we want to be. Either anything goes and we accept the consequences, or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”"

April 4, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper looks on from the bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC center. The Lightning defeat the Hurricanes 5-0. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, since fighting is still legal, Lightning coach Jon Cooper plans to incorporate it, or at least the intimidation factor that comes along with it, into his tactics.

He has said since his arrival that his ideal team would play a hybrid of the styles of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers and the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers, the latter of which were known for their readiness to square off.

Speaking on the Parros incident, Cooper told the media,

"“You never want to see somebody get hurt in any of these situations. But this part of the game’s been around for a long time, and people can argue this, and will argue it, until the end of time. There’s a fanbase out there that doesn’t like it, there’s a fanbase out there that does. I still believe intimidation, if you will, is part of the game. Intimidation comes in many forms.” Later, he said, “Fighting is one of them.”"

Cooper also brings up the fact that players are often injured on clean hits.

"“There’s only I think so much you can do. Again, the players have gotten bigger and stronger and faster and the rinks have stayed the same.”"

On Parros, Cooper said,

"“He’s a warrior, and I’m amazed at what these guys can do.  And what they’ll do to stick up for their teammates is remarkable. I have a lot of time for those guys. Like I said, it’s within the rules and I’m okay with it.”"

There are arguments within arguments over fighting in hockey, and it’s important to remember they’re not all one in the same. For instance, whether fighting should be legal is a far different argument than whether fighting is effective as part of a strategy. And both of those are different arguments than whether or not staged fighting should be part of the game, or whether or not the single-function “goon” has any real value.

Arguments are passionate on either side of the cause, and they’re rarely more heated than they are today. Of course, you and I can have the argument all day, and so can television and radio personalities — but we don’t play.  The 98% of players still in favor of it looms large, immense, like a boulder. And even if that boulder will someday move, it likely won’t be any time soon.