What to do about fighting in NHL?

DETROIT — My Uncle Bertrum used to tell me that you can never have it both ways.

But that appears to be what the NHL is trying to do with fighting.

Former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman told TSN’s Darren Dreger that the league needs to re-examine the place of fighting in the game.

Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, told The Dreger Report: “Yes, I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting. We penalize and suspend players for making contact with the head while checking, in an effort to reduce head injuries, yet we still allow fighting.

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

It’s pretty easy to see that Yzerman the GM doesn’t see the benefits of fighting quite like he did when he was a player. In short, he wants it out of the game now.

But proposing game misconducts to combatants would never work as a deterrent. As games wore on, better players would become targets for goons, and before you know it, Henrik Zetterberg and Colton Orr would get kicked out of the game for fighting.

There’s only two ways to go here: You allow fighting or you ban it. Trying to implement new rules and penalties to curtail it will never work.

“I believe that fighting definitely has a place, I really do” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Can you make it like Stevie (Yzerman) was suggesting, a game misconduct or something like that? I think you can look at that.

“But if we want to make a difference, if we want to change something, it has to be a sit down (between players and the league). It has to be something that you really go over the benefits, the upside and the downside to each idea, and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Kronwall, one of Detroit’s player reps, realizes that fighting is a complex issue. He doesn’t have a problem with two guys dropping the gloves and squaring off, but if a player is targeted, he feels that’s wrong and needs to be addressed.

Kronwall is adamant, however, that the players will never agree to ban fighting.

His coach, Mike Babcock, thinks otherwise.

“When your league is so much against head shots and the penalties are so severe — fighting’s a head shot isn’t it?” said Babcock, who’s unsure if there’s a fine line here, if you should allow players to scrap but throw the book at them for targeting the head.  

But Babcock sounds confident the days for NHL fisticuffs are limited.

“For sure, there will be a day, I don’t know when,” was Babcock’s response when asked if he thinks the NHL will ban fighting someday. “You’re always judged in the court of public opinion, are you not?”