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The Straight Edge: Even without goons, fighting will, thankfully, remain

Milan Lucic  of the Boston Bruins fights against Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden on March 12, 2009. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins fights against Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden on March 12, 2009. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

As one of the few fighting Hawks in the THN office (big-ups to fellow ‘red-staters’ Rory Boylen and Brian Costello), I can’t help but getting sucked into the debate on fisticuffs that has been constant for many reasons this year.

The latest lit match to spark flames came from the GMs meeting in Florida this week, where talks of penalizing “staged bouts” – a fight between known enforcers right off a faceoff – was put on the table.

My take on fighting is pretty simple: If the NHL doesn’t like it, they could ban it at any time. I can’t do anything about it if they do, so I’ll just keep covering the game. In the meantime, the first thing I did this morning while perusing the latest in hockey news was hitting up YouTube to watch the Milan Lucic-Chris Neil fight in Boston Thursday night.

(Incidentally, fighting has always been in the NHL, so for people who are so against it, how did you get into the sport in the first place?)

But for all the fighting enthusiasts out there (and based on YouTube hits and crowds at actual hockey games, there’s a lot), if the staged bout is about to become a thing of the past, it certainly won’t be the end of fighting; it will just mean a change in the combatants.

Look at the Washington-Nashville tilt from earlier this week as a test scenario. The Wade Belak-Donald Brashear heavyweight bout probably won’t happen in a couple years, but the Jordin Tootoo-Matt Bradley scrap (though it did in fact come right off a faceoff) still would.

Maybe guys like Derek Boogaard or David Koci will be effectively legislated out of the game, but players such as New Jersey’s David Clarkson (15 goals, 28 points, 127 PIMs through 67 games) and Steve Ott of Dallas (13 goals, 33 points, 108 PIMs in 50 games) will live on, because they have value outside of fighting.

Now, if you’re not a Stars fan, you probably hate Steve Ott, but admit it: he backs up his chirping with his fists (when his fists aren’t broken) and that’s all you can really ask for.

So, yes, the old days may be ending. The Bob Probert-Tie Domi brawls came just short of having Don King promote them ahead of time and there’s two ways of looking at that: hyping up the sport to outsiders or denigrating it. That’s a tough one to quantify either way.

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But would I be satisfied with seeing star players such as Sheldon Souray, Shea Weber and Jarome Iginla squaring off every 10 games instead of seeing Riley Cote and Colton Orr every other game? Probably. It just seems to have more meaning when team leaders drop the gloves, as if a breaking point has been reached only they can stamp out. I always go back to the Vincent Lecavalier-Iginla fight in the 2004 Stanley Cup as evidence of this example. And you’ll always have the cagey veterans such as Ian Laperriere or Jamal Mayers that serve as de facto policemen for their teams (along with filling other gritty roles along the way), even if they’re not 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds.

As I said before, the NHL could stop fighting any second if it wanted to, but clearly the game and those involved in it do not.

If the GMs are seeking compromise, I still feel us Hawks win. Because I still like fighting, no matter how big the combatants are.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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