Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Fighting’s days are numbered in NHL

Sooner or later, financial realities will force team owners’ hand

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The argument concerning fighting in hockey often comes down to "it will stop when someone dies." Someone has already died. We've just chosen to forget.

Don Sanderson died in early 2009 after suffering injuries in a fight while playing Senior AAA, the highest level of amateur hockey in Canada. He was 21.

The reaction following Sanderson's death was similar to what we're seeing today after Montreal Canadiens enforcer George Parros smashed his face on the ice Tuesday night during a fight with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr.

Orr and Parros engaged and carried out their fight within all the notions of what is considered acceptable in an NHL scrap. Parros lost his balance, fell face forward on the ice and lay bleeding and unconscious on the ice.

He left by stretcher for hospital.

Then, play resumed.

Like it always does.

Media types railed against fighting in hockey and were called all kinds of names for doing so in the days following Sanderson's death. Former players stood up for fighting and were called dinosaurs and worse. The same thing is happening right now on message boards and Twitter.

It's a divisive subject. You've got your opinion. Your neighbour has one, too.

But know this, the end is coming. Maybe it's a decade away. Maybe it's less. There is soon to be money, big money, involved in this subject and the NHL will shut down fighting. They'll make it too costly for the player and too expensive in terms of penalties for teams for fighting to continue.

They won't do it to protect the player. They'll do it to protect their business.

People in hockey are losing their appetite for scenes such as Tuesday's. Less and less convincing will be needed to eliminate it from the game.

The cons are rapidly outweighting the pros. Hockey people realize blows to the head result in brain damage. They'll keep engaging in it, however, until they're told to stop. Sadly, that's pro sports, where "kill or be killed" is the ruling maxim.

The decision-makers, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his 30 owners, have proven resistant to the moral arguments against fighting. But they won't ignore the financial realities.

A lawyer is going to convince a group of retired NHLers they have grounds for a similar class-action suit such as the one recently decided in the U.S. regarding the NFL and concussions. A deceased player's mother is going to take the stand against the NHL. The NHL will spend millions on a defence. They will lose.

The $800-million settlement was peanuts to the NFL. The NHL would have a more difficult time swallowing such a figure.

Morality won't end fighting in hockey. That's a shame.

But money will get the job done. And, I say, the end will justify the means. Twitter: @garylawless


Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:29 AM CDT: Updates with writethru, adds video, changes headline

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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