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Thursday, February 5, 2009
Another voice suggesting NHL will eventually ban fighting


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Former Buffalo Sabres tough guy Larry Playfair is the latest voice in the raging debate on fighting in the NHL, and you might be surprised to hear what he had to say.

"I think, in my lifetime, there will be no more fighting in the National Hockey League. I think the day is coming," said Playfair, 50, in a recorded interview that will air on the Sabres' team broadcast this weekend. "And that's OK. The game is so much better than when I played. The game is skill on skill. It's fun to watch."

Playfair was no stranger to dropping the gloves, piling up 1,812 penalty minutes during his NHL career from 1978-79 to 1989-90. But he's changed his tune on fighting.

"Have you ever gone to a game and complained that you didn't see a fight? I don't anymore," Playfair said. "It's pretty good hockey."

The topic will be front and center when our ESPN.com colleague Scott Burnside travels to Naples, Fla., for the NHL general managers meetings next month. We'd be shocked if anything drastic comes out of that discussion. But mark our words: Like Playfair, we also believe the day will come when fighting is banned.

Ruff outlasts 'em
This week's firing of coach Craig Hartsburg in Ottawa added to the head count of bench bosses let go since Lindy Ruff came aboard in Buffalo.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been 137 coaching changes in the NHL since Ruff took over behind the Buffalo bench in July 1997.

Has Ruff, currently the NHL's longest-serving coach, ever fretted about getting canned?

"Oh God, yeah, when you don't win in 10 games," Ruff said. "But then you bounce back and don't lose for 10. That's part of it. You have to get through the tough times. You have to fear losing, and that's my greatest fear, always."

Win or lose (but mostly win), the Sabres have had amazing stability with Ruff as their head coach and Darcy Regier as GM for a dozen years. We asked Regier what makes their relationship tick.

"Respect, and continuing to learn," Regier said. "We have to both push each other. I view it more as a collaboration and a partnership [than] I do the typical GM-coach relationship. You want to get to a point where you're very respectful, but where you can also get to a very unvarnished, truthful position. This is how I feel, and what I feel we have to do."

It's surprising Ruff's name doesn't get more mention for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. We agree Mike Babcock should be considered the leading candidate, but Ruff deserves a spot on the staff.

Counting on Connolly
Center Tim Connolly has eight points (5 goals, 3 assists) in his past five games, giving him 18 points (10-8) in 18 games this season. If only this guy could stay healthy for more than short periods of time. He's such a dynamic player.

"Connolly gives us that extra offensive weapon that makes us two lines deep, and the other team can't just take care of one line," Ruff said.

"His creativity is unbelievable," said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

We drafted Connolly for the basement price of $1 in our Toronto rotisserie media pool, but dropped him a few weeks into the season when he was hurt again. Since then, he was snatched up by another member. Not feeling good about that one!

Vanek's a natural
According to our friends at Elias, Thomas Vanek's hat trick Wednesday night against Toronto made him just the second player in NHL history since Cy Denneny (good ol' Cy) of the Ottawa Senators in 1923 and 1924 to record four straight natural hat tricks. It was Vanek's first this season, after scoring three last season.