Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman (left), now a senior adviser with the Blackhawks, says the NHL needs to take measures to cut down on fighting. (Richard Wolowicz / Getty Images)
Chicago — The terrifying images of Canadiens enforcer George Parros slamming face-first into the ice during a fight with the Maple Leafs’ Colton Orr and then being wheeled off on a stretcher with a concussion last week set the hockey world ablaze with debates about fighting in the NHL.
It has been a hotbed for controversy for years, with critics of fighting vocal about the image fisticuffs portray and the all-too-real potential for injuries.
Now Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman is weighing in, telling the Chicago Tribune the NHL needs to act to cut down fighting to curtail concussions as it has regarding stiffer penalties for hits to the head.
“We have taken real steps to eliminate concussions,” Bowman said. “(We) have to do the same thing with the fighting aspect.”
Supporters argue if fighting is abolished, there would be no protection for skill players and injuries could increase as there would be no retribution for illegal hits or stick work.
Parros’ injury grabbed the attention of several general managers in the league, including the Lightning’s Steve Yzerman, Penguins’ Ray Shero and Hurricanes’ Jim Rutherford as they gave interviews to TSN.
Said Yzerman, a former Red Wings great: “I believe a player should get a game misconduct for fighting (that results in an ejection).”
Shero and Rutherford called for a ban on fighting, or at least harsher penalties that possibly would curtail them.
The statements prompted Bowman, who has won 13 Stanley Cups as a coach and executive, to weigh in with a tweet, “I support views of Steve Yzerman Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for Addressing most Fighting Issues Poll all Players.”
A few hours later, Bowman elaborated to the Tribune given that the league has taken measures to reduce concussions with harsher penalties and suspensions for hits targeting the head.
The Hockey Hall of Famer said the NHL needs to do more than recently implementing a rule prohibiting players from taking off their helmets during a bout.
“It’s such a complex issue that I couldn’t categorically say (fighting) should be removed completely,” Bowman said. “I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue to me is the safety of the players. They don’t want to be falling backward to the hard ice surface with no protection. At the same time, you don’t want skill players being run at continuously without retribution.”
Take that to mean fighting still has a place in the game.
“In some cases, (a fight) has a big effect because you’re playing against some teams that have different makeups than others,” Bowman said. “When you want to build a championship team, you want to have a team for all seasons. You want to be able to play a skilled game and you want to be able not to back up when you’re being taken advantage of.”
Bowman said the league should poll players with their opinions of how to alter the rules surrounding fighting that are not in the fabric of the game _ especially the so-called “staged fights” that feature two enforcers duking it out.
“They had a survey in 2011-12 and 95 percent of the players said not to abolish fighting,” Bowman said. “(The league has) to present more to the players, not abolish it as much as going forward with mandates that we think will work.”
Among those, Bowman suggested, “maybe fighting has to stop when helmets are off” or “you give game misconducts for certain ones — you get the player out of the game.”
Another option is quotas. If a player reaches a certain number of fights, he then is suspended.
“There have to be ways to tweak it,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he doesn’t envision a time when fighting is eliminated completely from the game.
“I don’t think so, no,” he said. “You might see rule changes that if you do fight under certain circumstances _ without any rhyme or reason — you may not be able to stay in the game. That’s what Yzerman was saying.”