Bettman worried about player safety and injury

TORONTO -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says fighting is
part of hockey and believes some people have been "running off a
little too fast on this topic."

"My view on fighting hasn't changed," Bettman told The
Canadian Press on Monday. "We've never taken active steps or
considered eliminating fighting from the game.

"I've always taken the view that it's a part of the game and it
rises and lowers based on what the game dictates."

"I think fighting has always reached whatever level is appropriate in the
game and has been a part of the game. And I don't have a problem
with that."
-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

While Bettman seemed OK with the game's current stand on
fighting, he's concerned about the larger safety issues.

"The discussion that we've been having is about player safety
and injuries," said Bettman. "We've had a number of injuries
resulting from fighting recently.

"The question is whether or not that's an aberration or whether
or not it's something we need to be concerned about."

He's not convinced anything needs to change.

"I think it's premature for anybody to reach any conclusions,"
Bettman said. "I think the first [thing] is for us to decide
whether or not it's an issue, whether or not there needs to be an
adjustment. Because there may not be.

"I think people are running off a little too fast on this
topic. I know it's an emotional one for a lot of people and it gets
a lot of attention, but to have a discussion about whether or not
this is an issue is a long way from saying, 'Here are the 10 things
we need to do.'"

The recent debate started with Philadelphia Flyers tough guy
Todd Fedoruk being taken off the ice on a stretcher last Wednesday
night after a fight with the New York Rangers' Colton Orr.

The following day, league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said it
was time to look at fighting in the game.

"I think it's time to ask the question," Campbell said.

That simple comment immediately sent shock waves through the
hockey world, with players, coaches and general managers weighing
in on the issue.

Bettman offered his opinion Monday.

He expressed concern over the increasing size of players, citing
the example of players who have led the league in fighting majors.

Garry Howatt held that distinction 30 years ago and was
5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Twenty years ago, it was Chris Nilan of the
Montreal Canadiens, who was 6-foot and weighed about 200 pounds.

Ottawa Senators tough guy Brian McGrattan had the most majors
last season. He's 6-foot-5, 250 pounds.

"Players have gotten bigger," Bettman said. "As a result, we
at least have to take a look to see what is the consequence of that
on player safety."

Suggestions about ways to increase safety have been wide
ranging. While some have called for fighting to be eliminated
completely, Fedoruk said he'd like to see tough guys wear
protective gloves like mixed martial arts fighters.

Don Cherry, the host of "Coach's Corner" on "Hockey Night in
Canada," doesn't believe fighting will ever be banned.

"Gary Bettman and I are great friends," he said. "And we both
know that fighting has always been part of the game."

Bettman thinks all relevant parties should be included in the
discussion of whether fighting seriously jeopardizes the health of

"The PA [players' association] obviously is going to have to be
involved," he said. "This is something that's going to have to be
discussed with the managers, with the competition committee ... and
ultimately the board of governors."

The popularity of fighting is not something that influences
Bettman's opinion on its place in the sport.

In fact, the commissioner doesn't think fighting has helped sell
the game in nontraditional U.S. hockey markets.

"I've never looked at it that way," Bettman said. "I think
fighting has always reached whatever level is appropriate in the
game and has been a part of the game. And I don't have a problem
with that."

The only thing he's concerned about is the players who make the
game what it is.

If fighting is a threat to their safety, that's the only reason
he wants to talk about it.

"Nobody wants to see our players injured on a regular basis,"
Bettman said. "That's the concern."