In discussing the Rome-Horton hit, we came back to the hit by Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros. The question was, what's different between the two hits that leads to Rome being suspended? I think most of us agreed that it was a different time, before the long term effects of multiple concussions were better known. Anyone whose seen Ali in the last decade, or video of old football players, knows that their health is basically shattered. What some of them are doing is hardly living, and it's due to concussions. There have been attempts and a continual movement to get all head shots banned in the NHL, and for good cause.
But if you ban head shots, do you ban fighting? Personally, I think you do. We all figured out a long time ago that bare knuckles boxing isn't exactly the healthiest activity. Add in the fact that most hockey fights consist of punches exclusively to the head and you have a mixture that is blatantly toxic. You can't get rid of head shots in the NHL for fear of concussions and then allow players to drop the gloves and punch each others face as hard as possible. In the end it would be counter productive.
Part of the problem though is the popularity of fights...
Like crashes at a NASCAR race, there are a section of fans dedicated to the fights. For example, hockeyfights.com which collects video of hockey fights and keeps score cards for individual players is currently in the top 50,000 websites in the world as ranked by Alexa.com. According to Alexa It is more popular then Hockey's Future which keeps track of prospects across multiple leagues. Somewhere along the line the NHL must realize this, given the unwillingness to outlaw head shots.
Fighting has been given a flyer, because it's seen as a way for players to serve justice for committed wrongs. But the reason players had to hand out justice was because of the absolute insanity coming out of Colin Campbell's office. But with Brendan Shanahan taking over for Campbell, he has a clean slate. All he has to do is mete out justice fairly and you don't have players taking things into their own hands. The enforcer, already seen as a dieing breed, can be shoved out of the league even quicker if Shanny can just do a better job then Campbell.
In the end the league will be better off seeing the end of fighting and the end of the enforcer. How many times have we seen a marginal player shorten or end a great players career from a head shot? Aaron Rome is just another example of it, he's a bottom pairing Defenseman who barely managed a positive +/- on the President Trophy winning Canucks. Meanwhile Nathan Horton is a former 3rd overall pick who has had nearly 50 points a season since joining the league and in his first playoffs had 17 points in 21 games.
The end of the enforcer might also mean a 4th line that can be exciting to watch. Players with offensive upside being given a chance to show what they can do, instead of being stuck in the AHL while a marginal player gets called up. It will only make the game better in the long run. The further we can get from the clutch and grab zone players of the past the better.
I believe head shots and fighting both have to go. With Shanny in office it's the perfect chance for the NHL to show it is turning over a new page. The league can answer a lot of questions by putting out a basic sheet saying "If you do this, this is the amount of games you can be suspended". Meanwhile the league can finally take some real steps forward to remove head shots from the game. It's been time for a while, and it only gets worse with every player who suffers a serious concussion.
(Article inspired from a post by Quisp at Jewels From The Crown)