After The George Parros Incident, We Need To Reconsider Fighting In The NHL


The NHL returned Tuesday night on the same day that the United States government shut down, or should we say, locked out its workers. Gary Bettman must have felt some vindication. The opening games showcased the good and bad of the current league.

Coming out of the lockout (lockout? What lockout?) the Chicago Blackhawks went on an unprecedented unbeaten run that ultimately culminated in a Stanley Cup. The reigning champs celebrated in style before winning a scintillating 6-4 game against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

It appeared that the good vibes from last June had continued to reverberate into the early autumn. Save for an incident in Montreal, that is. While the Hawks and Caps were renewing a match-up that hadn't been played since the 2011-12 season, the Habs and Maple Leafs faced off in their familiar French Canada-English Canada battle.

As tensions between the teams reached a boiling point, the Canadiens' new acquisition George Parros squared off with Toronto tough guy Colton Orr. After a heated scrap that saw both men land punches, Parros with his size advantage finally neutralized Orr. As the Leaf was falling to the ice, however, he dragged the Habs' big man with him. Parros met the ice face first, absorbing a shot as if Mike Tyson's fist had broken through the Bell Centre's surface. He was out cold.

The patrons remained on their feet, stuck in the moral dilemma that their favorite game presents. A moment ago, they were cheering on Parros. Now they stood with hands still raised but mouths agape, feeling uneasy about the spectacle they just witnessed. As the now conscious but visibly maimed Parros slid across the ice on a stretcher, you could hear the predictable refrain leave the mouths of the apologists: “It's an unfortunate accident, but it's part of the game.”

The rhetoric surrounding the aftermath was arguably more disheartening. The fighting debate lurks behind every hockey season. It just so happened to re-emerge on the first night of a new era. Some pundits bemoaned the anti-fighting sentiment. Others, including Carolina and Tampa Bay General Managers Jim Rutherford and Steve Yzerman, insisted that the league should stiffen the penalties for fighting.

Meanwhile, doctors diagnosed Parros with a concussion and a broken jaw. Analysts and players across the board breathed a sigh of relief. “It's good to see that George is going to be okay.” Read: It's good that he didn't die. He very well could have.

Perhaps I've read too much about concussions over the past few seasons, but isn't it time to scratch that phrase from our lexicon? Who are we to say George Parros is going to be okay? Sure, the enforcer will likely skate again this season. When he returns to the Canadiens lineup, the Montreal faithful will give him a hero's welcome. Maybe he deserves it. After all, he did put his life on the line for le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

But 10 years from now, who will George Parros be? The fighters who paved the way for men like Parros have tragically been falling by the wayside. In the offseason of 2011 alone, we lost Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard. Belak and Rypien killed themselves, while Boogaard succumbed to a long battle with substance abuse. Like Parros, all three were beloved teammates. All three fought on a nightly basis. All three lost their lives at least in part because they took and threw punches for a living.

This isn't to say that Parros will encounter similar demons as he faces retirement and beyond. Nor is it to single out the Canadien as a proprietor of the league's carnal activities. Fighting as an institution has lived far too long in the NHL. It needs to be removed.


The Parros-Orr clash was a rare occurrence but an occurrence still. (It should be said both men had fought each other earlier in the game as well.) Despite all the pro-fighter arguments — they help police the game, their presence prevents skill guys from taking cheap shots, their sacrificial nature inspires their teammates — the fight on Tuesday failed to embody any so-called positive cause. Instead, it cast a paltry silence over one of the game's great rivalries.

Fighting persists because people like it. It is a part of the game only because the powers that be allow it to be. Fighting was once a part of football, baseball and basketball as well. Those leagues sought to eradicate it like a deadly disease.

In the heyday of the Original Six, the NHL worked to limit the ferocity of the bouts. Stick fighting was banned. The early notes of the “Code” were internalized. But as mass expansion drastically watered down the talent pool, the practice reignited. The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s buttressed their lack of skill with a program of intimidation. They fought and fought and fought. People flocked to the arenas to either cheer on the Broad Street Bullies or deride their place in the game. The more success the Flyers had, though, the more others copied their new style. The fledgling league had no choice but to welcome the goonery — too many people were paying attention.

Forty years on and we're still here. While the pandemic simmered, the fighting remains. For an organization that so vehemently promotes and protects player safety, the NHL does little to suppress its most harmful act. Parros survived the fight, and with him so too did fighting. It needn't, and shouldn't, be that way. Hockey is too good of a game to be constantly defended for its apparent hypocrisy. The skill of the modern player should sell the league, not the fisticuffs of the enforcers. With that being said, an outright ban would never pass, but there are ways to limit the practice.

The immediate steps that hockey should take:

  1. Ban fighting in all leagues except the NHL. This includes the ECHL, the AH, and all junior leagues. If an enforcer can't fight, he'll face a tougher route to reach the NHL. The source pool of fighters should diminish quickly.

  2. Fighting should still carry a five-minute major penalty. However, a second fight in a game will result in a game misconduct for each player. You get one fight per game. That's it.

  3. After a team's fifth fighting major during the season, said team will lose a roster spot for 10 games.

  4. If an individual exceeds 10 fights during the course of the season he should receive a 25-game suspension.

  5. Any team that exceeds 20 fights during the season will face a stiff fine that counts against the following season's salary cap.

Eliminating fighters will not eliminate fighting. But it will help. The future of the game is too bright to be held back by the past.

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