Cross Checks: Frazer McLaren

The debate on "staged fighting" carried on Thursday in the wake of the scary knockout from the previous night’s game in Toronto.

Only 26 seconds into the latest installment of the Battle of Ontario, Toronto's Frazer McLaren decked Dave Dziurzynski when he caught the Ottawa forward flush with a right to the chin, sending him face down to the ice. Dziurzynski needed help getting off the ice and the Senators announced he has a concussion.

For now, though, I wouldn’t expect a knee-jerk reaction from the NHL.

Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of hockey operations, told ESPN.com Thursday that, unless a general manager wants to add it as an agenda item, the subject is not currently scheduled to be discussed March 20 when the 30 GMs gather in Toronto.

That can change, however, if this topic once again heats up and gathers more momentum.

Let’s remember that Campbell and the 30 GMs agreed to bring in a new rule after their March 2009 meetings that would see two players get 10-minute misconducts on top of their five-minute fighting majors for bouts right off a faceoff.

But the new penalty was blocked by the NHL Players’ Association in June that year via the Competition Committee -- NHL tough guys voicing their displeasure with the rule.

Many hockey people don’t like staged fights because they feel they don’t have a meaningful place in a game. Fights that come from the heat of the moment, from teammates avenging another, etc. are considered part of the game by most hockey people. But the staged fights annoy many GMs, which is why they attempted to bring in that rule four years ago.

"They’re just plain stupid," one NHL GM told ESPN.com Thursday, referring to staged fights. "But what are you going to do about it?"

Either way, Campbell said Thursday that the league has continued to monitor/discuss the topic of staged fights internally since 2009, but there’s nothing in the works to do anything about them at this point.

According to research done by my other employer, TSN in Canada, 39 of 185 fights this season -- prior to Thursday’s games -- were directly off faceoffs, aka staged fights.

That’s more than 1 in 5 for those counting at home.

One league did take action this season. The Ontario Hockey League, which features some of the world’s most talented junior-aged players, implemented a new rule that sees players suspended two games for each fighting major they receive once they’ve surpassed the 10-fight threshold for the year. The league was targeting serial fighters with the rule.

The result? Fighting is down 27 percent in the OHL this season.

"We feel that the new fighting standards, new fighting rules, have had a positive impact in terms of, first of all, reducing the one-dimensional player in terms of his frequency of fights -- which is what we initially set out to target -- and secondly, the overall decrease of 27 percent has certainly, in our view, been a very positive by-product of the new rule as well," OHL commissioner David Branch told ESPN.com Thursday. "Right now we’re very pleased with the adjustment to our game.

"What we really look at, too, is attracting the best, young skilled players to our league. That’s what we really want to be about. We’re the No. 1 development league in the world for the National Hockey League. We want to make sure the Connor McDavid’s of the world want to come and play in our league and we’re mindful for their well-being."

It’s a rule that the NHL has kept an eye on this season, but I don’t suspect it’s something that will see the light of day in the big league.

For starters, NHL teams could get around the rule by demoting/promoting tough guys once there’s danger of a player getting close to the threshold. The NHL has a wider pool of players to choose from in that regard.

So the answer, if there is one at all, is not clear for the NHL.

But I suspect the debate will continue.

Pronger GM material?

Chris Pronger hasn’t retired yet, but it’s a given at some point in time.

He’s not going to play again, but for salary cap and CBA reasons he won’t officially retire while there’s still four more years after this season remaining on his seven-year, $34.55 million contract. Because the contract took affect after Pronger turned 35, the Flyers would still take that cap hit if he retired, but do not take the cap hit while he is on long-term injured reserve.

Once that’s resolved, you wonder what’s in store in his post-playing future?

How about NHL management?

People close to Pronger told ESPN.com Thursday that he’s got GM material written all over him. As it is, he’s already been helping Flyers GM Paul Holmgren this year, scouting players on video for Philadelphia and watching the odd junior game.

Just like Steve Yzerman went from Hall of Fame playing career to learning the management side for a few years under Ken Holland and Jim Nill in Detroit, there are some who feel Pronger would do the same with the Flyers, or elsewhere.

Blues' goalies

Jake Allen got the start in goal Thursday night in Phoenix and, if he gets on a roll, it could be his job for a bit.

It’s officially about the hot hand now in St. Louis. Whoever is making saves will stay in goal.

The Blues entered Thursday with the worst save percentage in the NHL (.870) after posting the No. 1 save percentage in the league last season (.929).

Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have struggled, and the defensive coverage in front of them hasn’t been ideal, either.

For whatever reason, the Blues seemed to play some of their best hockey in front of Allen during his earlier call-up this season, so he gets another shot now with the team in desperate need of some saves and some wins.

Speaking of the Blues, sources around the league say GM Doug Armstrong is on the lookout for a left-handed, top-four type blueliner, a guy who can play with either Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk on either of the top two pairings.

Easier said than done at midseason, and it might have to be something Armstrong waits until the summer to get.


Today’s Need to Know blog should focus on Chicago’s remarkable, historic point streak continuing with a rallying victory over Colorado on Wednesday night. But I can’t bring myself to ignore what transpired in Toronto.

The sight of Ottawa Senators forward Dave Dziurzynski lying on the ice, knocked out, after getting pounded into submission by Toronto Maple Leafs heavyweight Frazer McLaren sickened me to no end.

Oh, wait, no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight, right?

What a crock.

Dziurzynski has a concussion and I’m happy it’s not worse.

I’m not here to suggest a fight can’t swing the momentum of a game. Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier swinging fists in the 2004 Stanley Cup finals was a thrilling moment and I was there to cover it. Those are emotional bouts that are part of the fabric of the game.

But this? Can you say "staged fight?" Battle of Ontario and these two guys drop the gloves 26 seconds into the game?

There’s no heat-of-the-moment here. This is a predetermined affair that had zero consequence on the outcome of the game.

Just plain old stupid is all it was, with an unfortunate consequence.

There’s no easy answer here. I’m not calling for all-out ban on fighting because like many, I’m not sure what the NHL game would be like either if the rats got to run around with their sticks up without fear of retribution.

But what I am saying is that I’m sick and tired of seeing these senseless types of fights in our game. And that was a senseless fight.

My fear is that one day a player isn’t going to recover from one of these punches. This is a fear I can tell you that the higher-ups at the NHL’s head office also share deep down.

It just seems to me that today’s NHL tough guy hits harder than ever before. Which only stands to reason, because today’s NHL player is also bigger and faster and shoots harder than ever before. The game continues to evolve in that direction.

Mind you, a former NHL tough guy -- via text message Wednesday night -- disagreed with my notion that tough guys hit harder today, referring me to watch any of Joey Kocur’s fights from back in his day.

Point taken. My source dropped the gloves in the NHL, I did not, so his insight here would have more value than mine.

Either way, even if they’re not hitting harder, we are certainly more aware now about head injuries and the long-term health risks involved. That in itself should be enough to get everyone thinking more about this.

And, from a society standpoint, we’ve become less tolerant of these kinds of violent acts. Our appetite for this kind of thing has changed.

I mean, I could barely bring myself to watch rest of that Senators-Leafs game Wednesday night, I was so sickened by that fight.

The only solution I’ve heard about that has any kind of merit is to introduce a sliding scale, or a threshold if you will, that after a certain number of fighting majors the player faces a suspension.

The Ontario Hockey League introduced something like that this season, suspending players for two games after they’ve passed the 10-fight threshold on the season. The point is to minimize the impact of serial fighters and while I don’t have the exact statistics, multiple media reports during the OHL season pointed to fighting being down this season in the league.

It’s a rule that I can tell you the NHL has watched very closely. In fact, Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior vice president and director of hockey operations, told me back in September when the OHL announced this rule change that he had been in contact with the junior league on this.

"They talk to us when they make rule changes like this," Campbell told ESPN.com back in September. "We’ve discussed the aspect of fighting over the years. We had a couple of initial discussions about this last spring. They were thinking about implementing some sort of quota. I mentioned to him we had debated that internally in hockey operations at the NHL level."

I’m not sure the NHL would ever get the mandate to introduce something similar, but if my vote counted, it would be a hearty yes.

How can you not feel that way after Wednesday night?

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