WARNING TO READERS: THIS IS AN ANTI-FIGHTING HOCKEY BLOG. IF AVERSE TO SUCH DISCUSSIONS, AVERT YOUR EYES AND PLACE HEAD FIRMLY BACK IN THE SAND.
"In the not-too-distant future, it'll be, 'You fight, you're out."
These were words that had to put a chill in the heart of every red-blooded Canadian who believes with all his heart and soul that fist-fighting was and continues to be an integral part of hockey.
They were spoken by Canadian Hockey League commissioner David Branch in a radio interview with The Fan 590 on Thursday night as he commented on the decision by the Quebec junior league to institute a variety of anti-fighting rules in response to the messy Jonathan Roy incident from last spring.
(The disclaimer that preceded this post, by the way, is out of courtesy to those who believe I write on fighting endlessly and constantly. The truth is, I rarely do, but be prepared to hear this from respondents who can't actually argue the point. I will also be cleverly invited by those same folks to restrict my future writings to badminton and figure skating.)
Basically, Branch was suggesting that the die has been cast, that the hockey world is gradually rejecting fighting as part of the game and soon, while it will still appear, combatants will simply be ejected from the game. Which is all I've ever espoused.
It would be nice, of course, to see Gary Bettman echo these comments, but you'll probably never hear that. He continues to believe there's a constituency and an important one that must be served by including at least one bout per NHL game, and sometimes a few. More than that, he's spent years trying to convince people that he actually knows the game, and would be terrified to take a position that "purists" would slam him for. I've long believed Bettman believes fighting is a waste of everyone's time, but thinks he can't say so.
Remember, fighting was actually up in the NHL last season. According to hockeyfights.com, the bible of such matters, there were 664 fights in the NHL last season, an increase of 33 per cent from the 2006-07 season. That said, last year's figure was down about 16 per cent from pre-lockout numbers, which leaves one scratching one's head about the trend here.
Branch, however, seems to think fighting is on its way to the extinction list, and those who run the Q seem to be of the same mind. Truth is, there is little of it these days, and the bulk of the practioners are specialists employed by teams and managers who believe the presence of such a player is a deterrent and thus necessary to the success of a club.
Well, last season the Detroit Red Wings were dead last in the NHL with only 21 fights. Yet the "pansies" of the league still managed to win the Cup a year after the Anaheim Ducks led the league in fighting and won it all.
What does that prove? Well, probably that you can win by brawling, but it's not a necessary component for a championship team. The lone argument, really, is that to some fighting is entertaining, and you are left to wonder why those who adore it so much don't watch the real thing, like boxing or martial arts or ultimate fighting.
Like mandatory shields, a ban on fighting - meaning game misconducts for those who scrap - is inevitable in hockey. Just expect the NHL to be the last league to make it happen.
Interestingly, Anaheim's Brian Burke continues to be the No. 1 proponent of fighting in the game. Should he come to Toronto at the end of this season, you can bet his first move would be to make the Maple Leafs more "black-and-blue."
Whether that's the right direction for any team given current trends in the game is certainly open to debate, although if fighting is up again in the NHL this season, Burke may still be on the right track.