Commentary

Given recent events, should fighting be banned?

Updated: March 28, 2008, 6:37 PM ET
By Scott Burnside and Damien Cox | ESPN.com

Editor's note: In our "Friday Faceoff," ESPN.com NHL writer Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Toronto Star columnist and frequent ESPN.com contributor Damien Cox (based in Toronto) duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!

This week's topic: Given the recent incidents involving Patrick and Jonathan Roy, is eliminating fighting from hockey the answer?

Scott Burnside: Hello, Damien. Hope you're already making alternative playoff plans (sorry, Leaf Nation). Maybe you'll want to take in some of that lovely junior action in Quebec. I see that although Jonathan Roy may have missed out on his dad's goaltending pedigree, he got his fiery temper. Or was that less temper and more of a serious lack of class, a quality his father has likewise been accused of lacking (class that is).

Damien Cox: Well, my friend, you would not believe the furor this incident has caused in Canada, particularly in Quebec, where politicians are wading into the bog calling for an abolition of fighting and a large majority of the population believes the suspensions to Monsieur Roy and Monsieur Roy Jr. were far too light. This was an ugly one, and I would suggest the reaction to this here has been the largest to any on-ice incident since Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore.

Burnside: Do you think this will actually translate to any meaningful change vis-a-vis fighting in leagues other than the NHL? I know you're a longtime pacifist (not that there's anything wrong with that), so this is good news, no?

Cox: Sadly, no, I don't think it will make a difference. You know what will? The day a big-time NHL player and/or coach has the guts to come out and say it's time to get rid of it, as many already believe. From what I've seen, there seems to be a swing the other way; some are glorifying the presence of fisticuffs more than ever. What really bothered me about the Jonathan Roy incident is it wasn't a fight. The other kid was standing there, clearly not wanting to get involved, and Roy continued pounding him after his opponent had fallen to the ice and was simply covering up. To me, this looked a lot more like ultimate fighting than conventional hockey fighting.

Burnside: I suppose there's always been some of the "ultimate fighting" element in hockey especially, dare I say, at the minor pro and junior levels. I suspect that's because kids, being kids, are harder to control and often those who should be in control of these players have little control over themselves let alone their charges. This isn't the first time, after all, Father Patrick -- that's different than St. Patrick as he was formerly known in La Belle Province -- has lost his marbles or been on hand to see his players lose their marbles. What makes this more tawdry, of course, is it was Roy's son doing the most disdainful of acts on a night full of them.

Cox: Interesting enough, Patrick's ex-wife, Michéle Piuze, had some thoughts on that in the media, suggesting her former husband had different parenting methods than she did.

[Editor's note: Piuze told RDS: "It's not always easy for Jonathan to be Patrick's son. I have hot-blooded sons, they are my children but they also have a hot-blooded father ... that's not how I raised my children, but there were two of us raising them."]

I thought the suspensions (Jonathan seven playoffs games, Patrick five) were both light, but I did like the concept that Roy the Elder was accountable for the conduct of his player, who happened to be his son. If that principal was used more often when it comes to the NHL and other leagues, you'd see a lot less of the pointless stuff. No coach would consistently deploy a player who might get both banned for a series of games.

Burnside: I suggested that earlier this season, when the Flyers were laying waste to their opponents on an almost daily basis and the NHL did come out with a mild threat to bring the hammer down on the organization if the trend continued. But why not just make it part of the structure of discipline? If you have a player who commits an act worthy of a suspension of anything more than, let's say five games, the coach automatically gets a one-game suspension without pay. Use the money for a special charitable fund. And I think you're right, you'd see fewer morons committing moronic acts on the ice.

Cox: I'd go further. A game for a game. Simon gets 30, Nolan gets 30. These coaches make active decisions to use players they know are likely to cause mayhem. There's an accountability issue here. I always thought, for example, that Marc Crawford should have received a lengthy ban for the Bertuzzi incident.

Burnside: Well, I think that's a bit harsh, Judge Roy Bean. I agree that if you start hammering those in charge, the number of incidents would go down, but I also think you have to acknowledge that, occasionally, someone is going to go off the rails. I'm not defending it, but it's going to happen. I think there has to be a pattern before you start in on the coaches. In the case of Chris Pronger or Chris Simon, I'm OK with saying, if he goes bonkers, the coach goes with him. If Pronger knew he'd be looking at eight games, and Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle would be sitting with him in the trainer's room all that time, would he have thought twice before stomping on Ryan Kesler? Me thinks maybe.

Cox: OK, any repeat offender, then. You OK with that?

Burnside: I like it. As you know, I don't really give a whit about fighting. In or out of the game, don't care. But I think bringing some consistency to the business of discipline at the NHL level is crucial to way the league is perceived in much of sporting America. Imposing some sort of standard, like suspending a coach for repeat offenses by his players, would be a start. I sense, though, that the NHL is reluctant to embrace change in how the business of keeping players in line gets done.

Cox: My belief has always been that the NHL can get rid of whatever it doesn't want in its game. Just look at the near disappearance of hooking as an art form. The fact fighting remains a part of nightly NHL activity means the league wants to keep it alive, perhaps because it believes a majority of its fans like it. On suspensions, I think the NHL likes to have a tinge of the outlaw mentality associated with its game, the danger element, if you will. Therefore players who snap are always welcomed back into the fold. I mean, look at Georges Laraque's elbow on Nathan Paetsch. Three games? C'mon.

Burnside: I think fighting is one of the great red herrings in the game today. Most of the fights involve guys who want to fight. I remember watching Jon Sim (then with the Thrashers) practically begging Mark Bell (then with San Jose) to fight last season. Bell reluctantly obliged and immediately broke Sim's orbital bone. Sorry about your luck, Jon. But, to me, the blows to the head (Laraque's cruncher that likely cost Paetsch his season is a fine example) and the hits from behind and the stick fouls and the stomping need to be put down. The league has the wherewithal, but I don't think it has the will. Maybe it's that outlaw mentality or that it needs a better way of administering it. With all due respect to NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell, why not have a panel, kind of like the Supreme Court? Put it on TV, for gosh sake. I'd watch.

Cox: It's the inconsistency that's trouble, not the justice, although maybe it's the same thing. The reality is that it's impossible to please everyone on any of these instances, and so I've always given Campbell the benefit of the doubt. No other league faces the constant disciplinary issues the NHL does, but there seems to be no end in sight to it. Moreover, the Ducks won it all last season and appear determined to punch, interfere, crosscheck, slash, run-the-goalie and charge their way to the top again. When they are a league's signature team, it tells you where the league is going.

[+] EnlargeQuebec Remparts
AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Clement AllardPatrick Roy, far left, and his son Jonathan received suspensions for their roles in a recent QMJHL brawl.

Burnside: You know, I don't really buy that about the Ducks. I think then-Sens GM and coach Bryan Murray trotted out the obstruction card early in the Cup finals and everyone bought it -- his players, the media, everyone. The Ducks fore-checked the crap out of the Senators and they played tough, physical hockey in a manner that was hitherto unknown to the Sens during their playoff waltz through the Eastern Conference. But I don't buy that Anaheim set the game back or it cheated its way to a Cup. How often did George Parros get on the ice in that series? If the Wings or Sharks win the Cup this spring, we'll be watching 29 GMs writing down "speed," "skill" and "Swede" in their notebooks.

Cox: I forget, sometimes, that you don't actually watch the games. Look, I'm not blaming the Ducks for the state of the game or crimes ranging from the Kennedy assassination to Barry Melrose's hairdo. Still the fact of the matter is the Ducks treat the rulebook as a mere inconvenience. If that approach works for them, more power to them. They won and they deserved it. But if you believe the game is better than that, you have to acknowledge that style of hockey doesn't advance the league or the game.

Burnside: You're supposed to watch when there are cookies and ice cream in the press box? I just think the Ducks proved teams can win a different way in the "new" NHL. I don't think they're in the same class as the Devils, who dumbed down an entire generation of hockey in the mid-1990s. I want to get back to Patrick Roy for a second. You and I were both in Quebec leading up to Roy's enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2006. I figured it would be only a matter of time before he tried his hand at coaching NHL style. Do you think he's on that track and, if so, does his history of being over the line make that harder?

Cox: Great question. I've wondered, for example, if Roy's success in junior hockey would translate just as well to the NHL as Brent Sutter's style has with the New Jersey Devils. I think Roy the coach -- given that the Quebec Remparts won the national championship a year ago -- has undeniable talent, but Roy the personality would be a lot for any GM and team to handle. That said, the man's a Hall of Famer, and I would like to see him try to coach Canada's high profile team at the World Junior Championship; it would be a test of how he responds to coaching on a larger stage.

Burnside: Yes, it'll be interesting to see if this latest dust-up, one in which he has clearly lost face in Quebec, makes Roy toe the line a little bit going forward. I agree, he clearly understands the game and has a knack for coaching. It's just a question of whether his enormous ego will prevent him from doing anything with that talent. Good thing you and I don't have to worry about that -- enormous talent, I mean. The ego part we have down pat.

Cox: Are you writing to me or Don Waddell?

Burnside: Ouch. Given that the Mighty Leafs won't be taking part in the playoffs, you may find yourself in Patrick's neck of the woods at the World Championship. Until next week. Hey, maybe we'll have a playoff matchup or two to kick around.

Cox: That'd be cool. By the way, I noticed the NHL has extended trophy voting this season until the night before the playoffs begin, rather than the end of the regular season. So, for those we've outraged so far in Washington by suggesting Alexander Ovechkin shouldn't win the Hart, there's still time for the super Russian to change our minds. 'Til next week!

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com. Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."

Damien Cox, a columnist for the Toronto Star, is a regular hockey contributor to ESPN.com. In this role, he writes numerous columns on the NHL.