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THN.com Blog: Will 'wild things' run free if fighters fade?

Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators yells at the Vancouver bench during the game against the Canucks Dec. 28. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jarkko Ruutu of the Ottawa Senators yells at the Vancouver bench during the game against the Canucks Dec. 28. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

I grew up hearing legends of players like The Rocket and Mr. Hockey; players who were the best of their time, but were tough as nails and took care of themselves.

That was before the Broad Street Bullies; Wayne Gretzky needing Dave Semenko on his wing for protection; the tragic tale of John Kordic; the first staged bouts between Bob Probert and Tie Domi; and the death of Don Sanderson. All of which got us to where we are today.

Whether it’s TV analysts getting heated with each other, the NHL deciding it’s time to re-examine the issue or THN devoting an entire edition to it, there’s no question the debate surrounding fighting in hockey has gotten much louder in recent weeks.

For my part, I’m still on the fence. I’m sure some consider that a copout, but I just haven’t made up my mind yet. On one hand, I can’t imagine the NHL without fighting – it has just always been there. On the other, I can’t imagine watching someone die on the ice in what, away from the rink, would land the perpetrator in prison. The latter has me leaning towards an all-out ban.

But I read a book recently that made me re-think that position. William Stolzenburg’s Where the Wild Things Were recounts the history of predator-extinction research. It documents theories and observations by eminent ecologists and biologists concerning what happens in nature to environments when top predators are removed – by whatever means, natural or not.

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To summarize Wild Things simply – too simply, really: When top predators are removed from an environment, negative effects cascade – or more direly put, spiral – down through the entire ecosystem, throwing off its equilibrium and giving rise to unforeseen and generally catastrophic consequences.

When I take those observations and ponder how they might translate to the NHL, I worry. Here’s why: In nature when a top predator (i.e. the NHL enforcer) is removed from an environment, another lesser predator (i.e. the NHL agitator) takes its place and runs amok.

What I worry about is the Jarkko Ruutus and Steve Otts of the world replacing the Derek Boogaards and Eric Godards as the NHL’s top predators. I prefer four-minute-per-game goons pounding on each other and anyone else who gets out of line to the play of 14-minute little-balls-of-hate who skate around with seeming impunity endangering others with their reckless play.

I worry that the NHL will become a cheap-shot league of slashers, hackers and cross-checkers.

I still don't know where I stand on fighting in hockey, but one thing is for sure: when Georges Laraque beats a guy down for taking liberties with Alex Kovalev, it’s a lot better than Jordin Tootoo slamming someone from behind for taking liberties with J-P Dumont.

John Grigg is a copy editor with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog and the Top 10.

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