- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fighting words about fighting

There always seems to be a hot-button issue to fix with the NHL. In recent weeks, the media glare has shifted to fighting and what can be done to at best protect players better or at worst eradicate it from the game.

Fighting is never going to be banished from the highest levels of the sport. Too many traditionalists support it, and it is too much of a draw for average fans. Like it or not, the two things in hockey that get people out of their seats consistently are fights and shootouts.

NHL Players’ Association boss Paul Kelly has been outspoken about new rules for fighting that would protect players and possibly rid the league of “staged” fights by two enforcers just looking to prove their worth. Not allowing players to take their helmets off or having officials step in when a helmet does come off to prevent a head-banging-off-the-ice situation is a fine step forward.

Not allowing players with visors to fight might not be a good idea, if only because more guys will ditch the visor to keep that option available to them and face/eye injuries from pucks and sticks are far more frequent/dangerous than the issues with fighting.

Other issues deserve more attention than this. Hits to the head and from behind are bigger problems because those instances show a growing lack of respect toward other players and that is when more serious injuries can occur. A little bit of fighting legislation might be a good thing for the NHL, but an overreaction and massive changes just aren’t needed at this time.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Dallas Stars

Early in this season, the Dallas Stars were in trouble the team’s play was far from the work that got the franchise to the Western Conference finals last spring. Goaltender Marty Turco was floundering, top defenseman Sergei Zubov and captain Brenden Morrow were hurt and free agent addition Sean Avery’s antics were proving problematic.

Then Avery made some unflattering comments about Kim Bauer, er Elisha Cuthbert, and the Stars said goodbye to their $16 million mistake. Since then the Stars have shot from the dregs of the conference to the thick of the playoff race.

Blaming the woes all on Avery or crediting his departure for the success doesn’t tell the whole story. Turco has found his game and has been an elite netminder of late. Young wings Loui Eriksson (25 goals) and James Neal (18) have provided a jolt of offense, while veteran centers Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro also have upped their output.

POWER RANKINGS (Biggest disappointment edition)

1. Bruins (last week: 1)

No real disappointments here, but P.J. Axelsson’s goal production is down.

2. Sharks (2)

They haven’t missed him, but Jonathan Cheechoo has seven goals in 38 games.

3. Red Wings (4)

Valtteri Filppula hasn’t taken a step forward like fellow 2002 draftee Jiri Hudler.

4. Capitals (5)

He has been better lately, but 26 points from Michael Nylander isn’t enough for his price.

5. Devils (3)

Brian Gionta is on pace to score fewer goals for the fourth straight year.

6. Blackhawks (7)

Dustin Byfuglien has tasted a bit of the sophomore slump in Chicago.

7. Flyers (9)

Scottie Upshall has only six goals in 45 games and could be trade bait.

8. Canadiens (8)

Alex Kovalev (13 goals) and Tomas Plekanec (10) are far from meeting expectations.

9. Flames (6)

Defenseman Dion Phaneuf has only six goals in 180 shots and a minus-11 rating.

10. Stars (NR)

Surging Stars are 18-8-3 since getting rid of the Sean Avery circus.

TROPHY TRACKER

HART (MVP)

1. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals Scoring in bunches has 11 multigoal games this season.

2. Zach Parise, Devils Opposite of Ovechkin he has scored in a league-high 28 games.

3. Jarome Iginla, Flames His place on this list is slipping, just like his team recently.

VEZINA (Goaltender)

1. Niklas Backstrom, Wild Twice as many shutouts, 200 more shots faced than Tim Thomas.

2. Tim Thomas, Bruins More playing time down the stretch could steer him into the lead.

3. Ryan Miller, Sabres He’s one big reason why Buffalo might be back in the playoffs.

NORRIS (Defenseman)

1. Zdeno Chara, Bruins Less offense lately, but he still has a large lead in this category.

2. Mike Green, Capitals It’s silly to be on pace to score 32 goals in 82 games.

3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings The reigning champ hasn’t been far from top three before.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Now showing: Ryan Parent, Flyers

Once part of a package for Peter Forsberg, this former first-round pick has as many career postseason points (one) as he does in 25 regular-season games. A shoulder injury derailed his chances of making an impact earlier this season, but the young defenseman is back with the Flyers and could help a playoff push on Broad Street.

Coming soon: Colin Wilson, Predators

A first-round pick in June by the Predators, Boston University’s Wilson is the front-runner for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey. Nashville needs a dynamic forward to build around with Alexander Radulov in Russia. Wilson could play his last NCAA game at Verizon Center during the Frozen Four in April.

Show’s over: Manny Legace, Blues

How quickly things can change Legace represented the Blues in the All-Star Game this season, and he was just sent to the minors over the weekend. Legace has a 3.18 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage. Those numbers are substandard, but as a pending free agent he might intrigue a team looking for goaltending help.

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