The Commish Vs. The Enforcer
Gary Bettman isn’t the slightest bit concerned that his league’s top heavyweight, Georges Laraque, has proclaimed new proposals aimed at clamping down on NHL fighting are a “joke.”
“I’d like to talk to Georges about it one-on-one,” said the NHL commissioner today as the GMs meetings wrapped up. “Somebody told me he said he wished that people who understand the game and fighting had participated. Well, the sub-committee that focused on fighting included Paul Holmgren and Kris King, who collectively had more than 250 fights.
“Not everybody is going to like everything. . .I think these rules aren’t so far off the mark with things (Laraque) would be comfortable with.”
Laraque, after hearing new proposals on fighting voted upon by the league’s general managers, told TSN, “They might as well take fighting out of the NHL” and said they were the “stupidest thing ever.”
Oddly, Laraque made headlines a few weeks ago by saying he was in favour of rules that would make fighting safer. Most of his fights, of course, occur off faceoffs, the so-called “staged” fights, and he was embarrassed last year when a hidden microphone caught him arranging a fight on the ice with another player, ending the conversation with, “Good luck.”
The league’s GMs voted on Tuesday in favour of proposals that would give extra 10-minute misconduct penalties to participants in staged fights and the increase use of the instigator in cases in which players are responding to a clean hit on a teammate.
The league will also instruct linesmen to break up fights in which one of the participants is losing badly more quickly, but couldn’t come up with a proposal to make it mandatory for players to wear helmets in fights. That, of course, got a lot of attention after Whitby Dunlops defenceman Don Sanderson died in January after striking his head on the ice during a fight, which motivated the Ontario Hockey League to make it illegal to fight without a helmet.
Bettman pronounced himself pleased with the new measures proposed by the GMs.
“Greater enforcement of existing rules as they relate to the instigator, I think that makes sense,” said Bettman.
“In response to the trend over the last eight years of fights off the faceoff being up 30 per cent, and the notion of giving a penalty for that kind of fight as opposed to the guys who are out there to play hockey, made sense.
“The notion of having the linesmen being a little more aggressive if they think a player is vulnerable made a whole lot of sense. As far as helmets, because of the visor issue people were concerned about the ramifications of not taking helmets off. You have players like Jarome Iginla and Mike Richards who, when they fight, take their helmets off. We’re going to take a further look at what a mandatory helmet rule might entail.”
Bettman said the GMs believed it was time to have a thorough discussion on fighting.
“We always try to be self-aware and self-analytical,” he said. “We were of course very mindful of the Sanderson tragedy. . .the group felt it was something we needed to talk about and needed an analyze. But as a group we felt it was important not to have a knee-jerk reaction.”
The NHL commissioner said he knows the new proposals won’t end the debate on fighting, but he doesn’t see a ban on fighting in the NHL any time soon.
“Fighting has always been an emotional issue,” he said. “In terms of any interaction I’ve had with hockey executives, coaches, players and fans, the overwhelming sentiment is that its part of the game and there’s no burning desire by people who have a large interest in the game to get rid of it.”