First, I just want to say that my condolences go out to his family, friends, and teammates. Don was both a good hockey player and human being, and his life was taken much too soon.
But this tragedy brings about a question that seems to be coming up more and more as of late.
Should fighting be allowed in the NHL?
Fighting has been a part of hockey since, well, the beginning of hockey. Players and fans alike find that fighting allows players to solve their frustration on the ice. It keeps more skilled players from getting hurt by sticking up for them and keeping agitators from messing with their game.
But the troubling fact is that no matter who fights, big or small, everyone has an equal chance of getting hurt.
You could break your nose, hand, wrist, jaw, get a concussion, or in the most extreme case, hit your head on the ice.
Some suggestions have been made to fix the issue with fighting and keeping players safe.
A few skeptics have suggested that it should be mandatory to keep helmets on during a fight, so if players do fall and hit their head on the ice, they will be properly protected.
I find two issues with this suggestion.
First, no matter how tight the strap is on a helmet, in a scuffle or fight, it will sometimes come off regardless of how hard you try to keep it on. Because of this, players would probably be subject to questionable calls which would lead to more controversy.
Second, if you leave helmets on during hockey fights, it makes players more prone to breaking their hands and wrists.
During a fight, players sometimes don’t have a chance to see where they are punching, so they have no control on where their fists will land. Most of the time they do get hit in the face, but sometimes they miss and hit the players head instead.
If the helmet were to be on when his happens, there would be a good chance that a player will break their hand or wrist on the helmet, which will hold a player out of hockey for a few weeks, minimum.
While one issue is more obvious than the other, both are valid arguments against the implementing of rule changes towards fighting.
Finally, some skeptics have also said that instead of “refereeing” hockey fights, we should just ban hockey fights all together, ultimately just giving suspensions and misconducts to whoever is involved in a fight.
To me, this seems to be a little extreme and to be honest, not a very thought-out idea.
Fights allow players to relieve frustration on the other team in a mediated environment. Anytime that one player has a distinct advantage over the other opponent, the referee steps in to stop the scuffle and separate the players.
Fighting also keeps players from hitting the star players who can’t defend themselves, the same way a grinder or enforcer can.
One argument has been made that there is no fighting in the playoffs, which means that the NHL should have no use for fighting.
This isn’t true.
Players in the playoffs don’t want to take a stupid penalty that could hinder their team from winning a crucial game in a series. If a player were to try to start a fight in the playoffs, he would run risk of getting a penalty that would change the momentum of the game, and ultimately, the playoff series.
Plus, the teams have nothing to lose and everything to gain at this point, which forces players to keep their emotions at bay and do the smart things it takes to win, instead of making the mistakes that cause you to lose.
In an 82 game schedule, you play teams that aren’t doing well and are constantly frustrated because of this. If a team were being blown out and were really angry at the situation, eventually it would force a player to do something that is even worse than fighting, like two-hand a guy with their stick, or hit a guy from behind.
Fighting keeps players from doing more stupid things, and ultimately keeps players from getting more seriously injured.