USA Today engaged in an intriguing exercise this morning, having Calgary Flames president Brian Burke pen a "guest column" in support of fighting, USA Hockey's Michael J. Stuart and the Mayo Clinic's David W. Dodick and Aynsley M. Smith pen a guest column aruging for the abolishment of fighting in hockey, and USA Today's Kevin Allen speaking with NBC Sports' Keith Jones, NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider and one former Red Wings scrapper Darren McCarty about the fact that fighting's dropped by about 20% this season:
"There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn't used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past," retired NHL tough guy Darren McCarty said.
A rule was introduced this season mandating visor use for all new players entering the NHL. Plus, players receive an additional penalty if they take their helmets off to fight. That rule was designed to protect players' heads if they fell during a fight.
"It's more inconvenient now, and I wonder if that has had an effect on it," said former NHL player Keith Jones, now an NBC analyst. "Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction."
This season, roughly 65% of NHL games have not had a fighting major. That's the highest total of fight-free games in seven years. Twenty-five years ago, about 40% of NHL games were fight free.
This season, about 17% of NHL players have had at least one fighting penalty. Last season, roughly 29% players had at least one.
In the 1980s, about half of all players had a fighting major each season. That dropped to about 39% of players during the 1990s.
"A lot depends on how GMs want to build teams," said Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr. "(Calgary Flames president of hockey operations) Brian Burke builds a team differently than (the Detroit Red Wings') Ken Holland, and Holland builds a team differently than (the Carolina Hurricanes') Jim Rutherford."
Allen continues, and he engages in something of a Q and A about the practice, asking McCarty about the lasting impacts of his role as an enforcer:
Former NHL tough guy Darren McCarty says he suffered numerous hand injuries in fights and had several surgeries to fix issues ranging from broken knuckles to collapsed arteries to a severed tendon. He had 136 fights in his NHL career (1993-2009), according to hockeyfights.com. He estimates another 50 fights in the minor leagues plus dozens more in junior hockey.
McCarty, 41, says he has arthritis in his badly scarred hands and has difficulty with his shoulder, arms, back and neck.
"It all fits together somehow," he said. "Probably some of it is from fighting and some from playing the body for so many years and recklessly throwing your body around. My hand issues and the scars on my face are from fighting, but I also know that I threw a lot more hits than I had fights."
McCarty's Detroit Red Wings teammate, Bob Probert, was discovered after his death to have had the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That was a concern for McCarty.
"What you do is become as educated as you can and stay on top of it," he said.
Knowing the toll fighting or hockey took on his body, McCarty said he would not have changed anything about his career.
"That's for sure," he said. "It's the only way I knew how to play."
Again, Allen continues, and he talks about the paychecks enforcers command, how Burke believes one should build a team and what penalties are involved. It's an interesting read for NHL fans, never mind the non-hockey crowd at which the special section appears to be aimed.
The fact that Allen has been co-writing Darren McCarty's memoir explains why he utilizes McCarty as a resource.