The NHL's Board of Governors took another step last week towards the eventual banning of fighting in the National Hockey League, as per Pierre LeBrun:
Pending BOG approval, the 30 GMs also agreed today to implement 2-min penalties to fighters taking off their helmets before a fight ...— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) June 20, 2013
The NHL already implemented a rule last year in which any player who instigates a fight while wearing a visor shall be given a two minute instigator penalty and a game misconduct for his actions. Presumably this was to cut down on hand injuries that can be caused in fights, as we all recall Anthony Peluso breaking his hand and missing the rest of the season after punching Aaron Volpatti in the helmet in March. Those two rules, coupled with the grandfathering in of visors starting next season, means that in the near future it will be impossible for a player to start a fight without receiving a two minute minor penalty in addition to the normal 5 minute major that accompanies these knuckle chess bouts.
The NHL knows that to outright remove fighting from the game would draw the wrath of the traditionalists among the NHL fan base, who have long argued that fighting is part of the game and that its removal would detract from the sport as a whole. The NHL obviously does not want to alienate any part of their fanbase, and have to tread especially lightly after the recent lockout, but there has been increasing pressure from medical authorities to eliminate the fisticuffs, as head injuries becoming an increasing concern in not only hockey, but organized sports as a whole. When the face of your product, in this case Sidney Crosby, is constantly battling a seemingly preventable ailment, it raises questions as to how to protect the players from similar injuries.
We have also seen the lasting effects that fighting can have on enforcers in the game, as we lost Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien due to the lasting effects of repeated blows to the head. So it's understandable to see why action is being taken.
So why dance around the issue?
The NHL just does not have the courage to come out and ban fighting, as they fear economic backlash in a league where multiple franchises are struggling. Yet, here they are effectively ending it through rule changes. Don Cherry will argue that without fighting in the game players will be free to target star players with dirty hits without fear of reprisal for their actions, as the Dave Semenko and Wayne Gretzky anaology gets bandied about saying nobody dared go after The Great One because they knew Semenko would stand up for him. The instigator penalties have eliminated the possibility of this happening, as discipline has fallen completely into the hand of the NHL, as Brendan Shanahan has to police the league, in an increasingly scrutinized role. Without a consistent and stern punishments, the fear is that things on the ice could get out of hand if their isn't the instant repercussions for dirty play.
So it begs the question: is the NHL right to all but ban fighting in the NHL? Or is it just another blunder that will alienate fans?