Why Connor McDavid won’t change fight debate

Evander Kane #9 of the Winnipeg Jets lands a hit to the face of Simon Despres #47 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during a second period fight on November 6, 2014 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Lance Thomson/Getty)

Years ago it became clear that fighting would be slowly eliminated from hockey, and every year it declines in numbers. By the time the ban finally arrive, there will so little fighting left to miss that the news will be greeted with a shrug, the pro-fighting lobby already disbanded in defeat.

I am one of those who condones hockey fighting. Especially now that unwilling participants are no longer forced to fight; now that it is an inherent risk that a player can choose or refuse to take part in.

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Connor McDavid chose to fight, and we will find out today if he indeed broke his hand. I recall the night Taylor Hall messed up his ankle when he fought Derek Dorsett, ending Hall’s rookie season and likely costing him the Calder Trophy.

It was a dumb decision by Hall, but one he made willingly. Dorsett even confirmed before the fight, “Are you sure you wanna go?” Hall said “Yes,” and they fought.

On Tuesday night McDavid took a hit behind the net, doled out a healthy slash, took one back, and then willingly engaged in a fight with Mississauga’s Bryson Cianfrone, who did not have a penalty minute all season before the scrap. The fight was anything but staged, borne of passion and pride, two qualities we want in our players. You just can’t always control how those characteristics manifest themselves.

Hey, I have no illusions here — defending fighting is a losing battle, and every anti-fighting argument is strong. Players’ long-term health; the NHL’s inevitable fatal fight, with the heavyweights throwing lethal bombs that just didn’t exist in the Wendel Clark v. Basil McRae days; the lawsuits being launched by former players who were literally told (in some cases) to hop the boards and incur brain damage in a scrap.

Bare-knuckle fighting in 2014 is hard to defend, though I am always up for the debate.

Because I also know that the vast majority of paying customers like the odd fight as part of the overall entertainment package. And that the people who play, coach, scout and manage the game are nearly unanimous in the opinion that fighting should not be banned.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I like to watch the odd hockey scrap as well. Then again, I probably hung on to my Betamax too long too.

That we are debating the topic today, however, is highly opportunistic on the part of the anti-fighting types. Have we ever before heard that self-righteous anti-fighting lobby opine on how fighting should be banned because hands are at stake?

San Jose’s Logan Couture broke his hand in a playoff fight with Mike Richards last spring. Had he been concussed and wobbled off the ice, we would have read the predictable (and accurate) laments about Couture’s long-term health. But we didn’t hear a peep, because this isn’t about the long-term viability of a player’s right to enjoy needlepoint in his retirement.

Last month Anaheim defenceman Ben Lovejoy broke his hand in a fight with Joe Pavelski. Well, Lovejoy’s dreams of being a court reporter may be dead, with carpal tunnel syndrome waiting in the wings. Where was the righteous indignation over that?

The point is, the anti-fight lobby is getting its way. And as member of the opposition, I can see that it should be getting its way.

Ontario Hockey League commissioner David Branch, appearing on The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 Wednesday morning, reported that the OHL is down to 0.61 fights per game this season. That’s down 13 percent from a year ago. (That’s down 42 percent from six seasons ago.)

LISTEN: David Branch on Connor McDavid injury

“I do not believe we need fighting in our game,” said Branch matter-of-factly. Most fans do, however, and as they are the ones who fork over the ridiculous sums charged to watch hockey these days, I’ve always been very sensitive to their collective opinion.

Heading into this season The Hockey News polled its readers, with 74 percent of respondents saying they are happy with the status quo, or would like even more fighting. All fan polls that I have come across – particularly inside an NHL arena when a fight is occurring — tell us that most hockey fans consider a fight part of the overall entertainment package and do not want fighting gone.

A few years back the Globe and Mail found a way to have a poll answered with an anti-fighting tone, but such a large percentage of their respondents were either people who never watched hockey, or people who considered themselves casual fans, that it was like asking football fans about the opera. Useless.

If, in the end, it is death by 1,000 cuts for fighting, and pro-fighting writers like myself. I can live with it. But nobody likes a spot-picker though, among fighters or hockey writers.

Are we protecting heads or hands here? Or is there simply not enough head trauma these days to support the soapbox?

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