Biggest problem in NHL right now is the disrespectful, dangerous hit, the head shots and the checks from behind into the boards. If the lack of fighting makes this problem worse, than I don't want to see fighting go away. I would love to see the elimination of the "specialist." I would prefer to see the "tough guys" be regular shift players. Maybe if they had these roles, guys wouldn't feel the need to earn their spot in the lineup by running around and taking people's heads off.
One of the toughest fighters I ever saw was Larry Playfair of the Sabres. In his time in Buffalo, he was likely the most feared one in the game, a man who could literally break your face with one punch. But back then, it wasn't a 30-team league and even the tough guys had to be able to play. Playfair played the role of policeman with dignity -- he fought the toughest guys, but also protected Gil Perreault and the French Connection, Phil Housley and, late in his career, Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles -- and got respect from around the league. He didn't start fights unless a player took liberties with one of his teammates. That said, he was also a first-class person, a solid blueliner and one of the better tape-to-tape long passers in the NHL. In short, he could play.
Those days are long gone. Players have simply become too big, too strong and, in some cases, too disrespectful of other players on the ice. A lot of them feel their only contribution to a team (and only justification for being on it) is to do many of the things you described in your letter. Even Playfair recently said that fighting has gotten out of hand in the game today and that he not only expects it to be curtailed but that it should be.
If the Players Association finally agrees to require players to wear visors and they implement the rule that the helmet stays on during a fight, don't you think that the chances of punching a visor would curtail the pre-arranged fight?
We'll find out. The Ontario Hockey League, an elite junior league run by Dave Branch -- who also happens to be president of the Canadian Hockey League, an umbrella group for all of junior hockey -- put in a rule this season that players must keep their helmets on during an altercation and failure to do so will result in ejection from the game and a subsequent one-game suspension.
The players in that league are also required to wear face shields and even neck protection. Branch is an innovator and he was deeply moved by the death of Don Sanderson in an Ontario Senior League game last December. The rule has yet to have long-term implications, but fighting does seem to be down in the OHL and the feeling is that more and more players will eschew fighting because the helmets are on and they can cause damage to hands and the subsequent suspension hurts both the player and his team. It's too early to tell if that will prove to be the case, but much of the hockey world is watching, and parents especially hope that the rules will decrease fighting in the games.