Players fight because we let 'em

True, the pro game can be cruel to those who choose fists over skills, and it is a tough way to make a living. But the more I look at the current state of the game, the more I realize a simple truth about it. The threat of a fight, or the fear of doing something that might trigger retaliation, is a powerful deterrent. It always has been, and it always will be.

Historically, skilled players were considered "out of bounds" when it came to fisticuffs, and that was respected around the league. Call it honour among thieves if you like, or the law of the jungle, but it worked. Often, in the current game, I see little pests with face shields or visors acting like tough guys and not having to account for their actions. Those pests take away from the honour of the game and actually help create more opportunities for injuries. Their job is to provoke retaliation, and they are almost never the guy paying the price.

I know that hockey fans are very interested in the arguments for and against fighting. On one side of the argument, you have Don Cherry, who is very much in support of the tough guys. Others call it barbaric and feel it should be banned.

The various kinds of data and statistics brought forward either to support or condemn fighting are often viewed with skepticism regardless of which side of the argument you might be on."

In short: Duty. Honour. Loyalty.

The second man in is Ken Dryden, arguing against.

"More than great and legendary, Orr was transformational. He changed how hockey is played. He was the best player I ever played against.

In his newly released book, Orr talks about the necessary place of fighting in the NHL. I think he is wrong.

Hockey "is a tough sport," Orr writes, "that requires physical play, and sometimes that can lead to frustration." The question, of course, is what a player does with the frustration.

Orr lays out the alternatives: A player can respond with sticks or with fists, and that fists are much to be preferred. In fact, the vast majority of NHL players the vast majority of the time, involved in the same tough, physical, frustrating game, don't respond with either. They get even by skating faster, checking harder, going to the net more unstoppably. Like Orr did …

Lose fighting, and you lose the fight in the game? No, it's the reverse. Lose fighting, and you make everyone fight -- in their own way; in the way they do it best.

The case for hockey fighting gets weaker and weaker. For fighting's supporters to make their case, they must twist logic and twist it again to fit the conclusion they've already arrived at. Fighting, a natural, normal part of a game that moves so fast, where collisions happen and feelings explode? Today, big, tough enforcers who look unlike everyone else, come onto the ice, separate themselves from their teammates and, to right a wrong, in the name of honour, without emotion, ritually hammer each other.

Fighting in the NHL will end because its proponents will lose their will, get embarrassed, grow tired, and give up. It will end because it is too dangerous, or too laughable."

That two titans of modern hockey represent these classic and opposing arguments makes plain how wide and deep this struggle runs. Mr. Dryden and Mr. Orr are arguing over the very heart of the game.

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