Fighting in the NHL is down compared to this point last year, but Toronto GM Brian Burke worries that the end result will be players not policing themselves.
The gloves are not off in the NHL, and one GM says that is a problem
Brian Burke is struggling to come to grips with the evolution of hockey.
Long a proponent of rough-and-tumble hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager now presides over a team built on speed and skill. The sport has trended in that direction, a development Burke finds troubling.
"If you want a game where guys can cheap-shot people and not face retribution, I'm not sure that's a healthy evolution," he said. "The speed of the game, I love how the game's evolved in terms of how it's played. But you're seeing where there is no accountability."
According to the NHL, fighting is down this season. There have been an average of 0.8 major fighting penalties per game compared with 1.2 at the same point last year.
"To me, it's a dangerous turn in our game," Burke said.
Burke's comments come as the sport has been forced to do some soul-searching. Tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak died in a short span over the summer, and Boston University doctors found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological condition, in Boogaard's brain, as they have with other former fighters.
At the same time, a number of high-profile players have been sidelined with concussions.
Brendan Shanahan, the new league disciplinarian, has attempted to lead a crackdown on dangerous hits.
Burke once held Shanahan's job and believes the director of player safety would not be so busy if players were policing the game themselves with more fights.
"These guys that won't back it up, won't drop their gloves, run around and elbow people in the head and hit people from behind," Burke said. "They never have to answer for that in the game. They used to have to answer for that in the game. The players [used to] police the game, and now it's Brendan Shanahan."
A number of recent incidents have drawn Burke's ire, including the hit that got Chicago's Daniel Carcillo suspended for seven games and the elbow that drew a five-game ban for Calgary's Rene Bourque.
"I wonder about the accountability in our game and the notion that players would stick up for themselves and for each other," Burke said. "I wonder where we're going with it, that's the only lament I have on this, the fear that if we don't have guys looking after each other that the rats will take this game over."