On Friday night on Long Island, the game between the Penguins and Islanders, won by the Isles in a 9-3 blowout, turned into a fight-marred mess of a game in which 346 penalty minutes, 10 ejections, 15 fighting majors and 20 misconducts were given to players on both teams.
Today, Mario Lemieux, the former Penguin, a member of the NHL's Hall of Fame and now the owner of his former team, took the NHL to task for not coming down hard enough after this melee:
"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed," he said. "We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action.
"If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it."
Well, that's just great, NHL -- send the message to one of your greatest players and the man who saved the Penguins franchise that he might not want to be part of the sport any more.
I've written about this before, but it seems time to say it again after the fight-marred game on Long Island on Friday: it's time to end the fighting in hockey. That's right, end it, period. Lemieux said, "Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be," and he's right about that. But the hits in hockey are part of the game. What does dropping gloves for a bloody fistfight have to do with the beauty of skating and shooting and scoring? Nothing, I would argue. And Lemieux agrees:
"But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty," Lemieux said. "It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that."
While some fighting has always been part of hockey, the fistfights didn't become rampant until the days of the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s. It doesn't have to be that way. Every time you see a scrum around a goal, players push and shove and more often than not, someone takes a swing and starts a fight.
End it. End it now. It's easy, really: your first fistfight gets you thrown out of the game you're in. The second one, a 10-game suspension. The third one, a season suspension. The fourth one, a permanent ban from the sport.
That would end it in a hurry, without taking anything away from the beauty and speed and physicality of hockey. Do it now, NHL -- before someone gets killed out there.