When you're a sure-fire future hall of Famer people usually listen to what you have to say. It then should come as no surprise that when Bruins forward Jarome Iginla spoke about the current state of fighting in the NHL, people listened.
Iginla took the time to write for Sports Illustrated about one of the NHL's most controversial issues. According to SI, the former Flame has dropped the gloves somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 times. That number doesn't imply that Iginla is an enforcer, but it also says that he isn't shy about getting physical either.
There are a few arguments that support fighting's place in the game. One of those purposes' is that fights can swing the momentum of game. If you're a Bruins fan who is skeptical, here's a stat for you. In games that Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton has dropped the gloves, the Bruins have a winning percentage of over .650. Now, do you still want to remove fighting?
The other belief that is shared amongst many players is that dropping the gloves allows players to police one another for cheap shots on their own teammates. Even if a player is looking to avenge teammate and loses, at least their is a clear message being sent that dirty players won't go unchecked.
In his the SI column, Iginla echoed those beliefs loud and clear.
"If [fighting] was taken out of the game, I believe there would be more illegal stickwork, most of it done out of sight of the referees; more slashes to the ankles or wrists, and in between pads; and more cross checks to the tailbone," he wrote. "Incidents of players taking such liberties are rare in today's game because fighting gives us the ability to hold each other accountable. If you play dirty, you're going to have to answer for it."
The underlying force that is driving the potential removal of fighting from the game is the concern of injuries to the head. Hockey isn't quite on par with the NFL in terms of the number of concussions, but the fear is that the more fights there are, the more concussions will occur.
Players trading fists has always been part of the game, and there are certainly ways for the league and officials to better police what does happen. At the end of the day, fighting isn't the NHL's number one problem, not right now anyway.
The NHL's real problem is what to do about the real goons that are sprinkled in on rosters throughout the league. You might think of Shawn Thornton as such a presence, but the truth is there is a wide chasm between Thornton and a player like Sabres forward John Scott.
Bruins fans will remember Scott as the player that viciously elbowed a defenseless Louis Eriksson. Eriksson missed time with a concussion, and Scott took a seven game slap on the wrist from the NHL's dean of discipline, Brendan Shanahan.
Since Shanahan took over for the beleaguered Colin Campbell (father of Bruins' forward Gregory Campbell), the league's former vice president of hockey and business development has gotten better at being less tolerant toward individuals who are intent on injuring other players.
A path on how to handle those types of players has not yet present itself, but what is clear is that, players like John Scott, Matt Cooke and the like should have no place playing professional hockey at the highest level.
In terms of Iginla's comments, it's refreshing to hear a respected veteran player who understands what the real problem is. That fact that he was willing to speak out so publicly also suggests that the Bruins have found a figure who leads from the front.
Fighting in the NHL is far from a perfect system, but if the league can focus on the players whose soul purpose is to injure their opponents, then maybe the players can police themselves the way they are supposed to.
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