Well, that didn’t take long, did it?
Less than three periods into a new NHL season, the eternal debate about fighting is front and centre yet again after Montreal Canadiens tough guy George Parros smashed his face into the ice during a bout with Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday.
So, naturally enough, Ottawa Senators heavyweight Matt Kassian was playing defence Wednesday, claiming that dropping the gloves is, and always will be, a necessary evil to control “the rats” who would otherwise run rampant around the ice.He also offered some pointed words to the people he described as “the vocal minority” who will jump at every opportunity to “further their agenda” to eliminate fighting for the sport.
Kassian is nothing if not passionate — after all, it’s his job to drop the gloves.
However, it’s intriguing to note former tough guy Jim Thomson, who compiled 416 penalty minutes in 115 NHL games during his 10-year professional career — including 41 minutes in 15 games with the Senators during their first season in 1992-93 — is equally passionate about the need to eliminate fighting from hockey.
Thomson told TSN 1200 Wednesday that there’s no place in the game for fisticuffs, that there’s too much compelling evidence of long-term concussion damage, to allow it to continue. At the very least, Thomson argued, players who fight should immediately be thrown out of the game. Thomson also said he’s fine with being labelled a hypocrite, if that’s what it takes for his anti-fighting stance to be heard.
But back to Kassian, who is particularly upset about the immediate knee-jerk reaction to what happened between Parros and Orr.
“Like with anything, you really have to sit down and think about it, without making a decision on something just because something just happened,” he said. “You have to take some time to work through it before you’re all up and arms and making an evaluation on that. But obviously there are going to be people using this for their agenda, which is fine. That’s what they’re going to do and that’s their right, I guess.”
Kassian suggested the damage that Parros suffered at the tail end of the fight (his hands were tied up as he fell over Orr and had no protection as his upper body swung to the ice) could also have happened if a player had tripped over another player, or had lost his edge or had been hit in the jaw with the puck.
In the bigger picture, though, Kassian argued that allowing fighting prevents the bigger potential danger of having a free-for-all, with players wildly swinging their sticks at one another because there would be little fear of retribution.
“You would see an upswing in stick infractions with it out,” Kassian said. “You would see a lot more, I guess we call them rats in the business, taking over. We have enough of those guys already. People are going to say what they want to say and people are going to think what they want to think. If I’m being honest, the vast majority of people want (fighting) in the game. It’s just, as in a lot of things in life, the vocal minority that is making the noise and that’s what you hear then, because those are the people that are speaking up.”
Kassian also insists a solid bodycheck against an agitator doesn’t have the same impact as the threat of that player being hurt with a punch, which “holds them more accountable.”
Fellow Senators tough guy Chris Neil supports all of Kassian’s arguments. Neil claims the stick-swinging exhibition by Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs against Buffalo Sabres heavyweight John Scott two weeks ago was “just as bad” and “you will have more incidents like that if you don’t have fighting in there.”
In the couple of years, the shift within the NHL has been for more and more teams to carry players whose chief role is to fight. The Sabres responded to being pushed around by the Boston Bruins by acquiring the 6-8 Scott. The Senators, upset at watching David Dziurzynski get punched to the ice in Toronto, and having earlier had non-traditional fighters Chris Phillips and Patrick Wiercioch drop the gloves early last season, picked up Kassian. The Canadiens, beaten up physically by the Senators in the playoffs, acquired Parros. And on and on it goes. Kassian, for one, can’t see the fighting being eliminated any time soon.
“You would have to get that sense from every single player, the coaches and all the general managers first,” he said. “When those people are the guys that start speaking up against it, then maybe I would start to go that way. I can guarantee you that if you talk to 99 per cent of the guys in the room, or 95 per cent, at least, that’s not going to be the case.
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