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Button: Fighting, head-shot debates at are healthy

by Craig Button
NAPLES, Fla. -- The NHL's 30 general managers are gathered here to discuss the "State of the Game" and to hear and discuss ideas to enhance the game.

Colin Campbell and his Hockey Operations group spend a lot of time preparing for these meetings. They asked for input and ideas regarding the game well in advance so that when they are together with the GMs, the focus can be on good productive discussions and suggestions on strengthening the game.

When you gather this collection of experienced, passionate and intelligent people to discuss, debate, analyze and make recommendations on how the game can be improved and enhanced,  the beneficiary becomes the game of hockey.

Paul Kelly, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, also made a presentation on behalf of the players with respect to various opinions they have on issues surrounding the game.

So, what are the topics being discussed?

Fighting is a 'hot-button' issue with many layers and nuances to it.

The black-and-white argument is: does it or doesn't it belong? The reality is considerably more complicated and finding a simple answer is extremely difficult.

How does a fight begin? Is it the result of the constant friction of a competitive battle or is it as a response to a player being hit? Does it occur as a result of the game tactic of "trying to change momentum?" How can players be better protected from serious injury as a result of fighting?

In a similar vein, the players are concerned about the place of "head shots" in the game. Seems odd that a debate can rage on about fighting and its place in hockey at the same time there is a concern with head shots.

Again, the consideration of factors is complex in regard to head shots. Do you hit a player who is unsuspecting? Is it the player who's unsuspecting -- or unaware in some instances -- who is responsible? Or does the responsibility remain with the player who is delivering the hit to stop short of delivering such a blow? What are the penalties to be levied against a player in a sport where the action is fast and the intensity high?

These are just a couple of the topics being discussed here, but fans can be reassured that everybody involved in the discussions surrounding the NHL, specifically, and the effects for hockey, in general, have the best interests at hand and will deliberate appropriately. 

Remember this is the same collection of people who during the lockout made the recommendations that have lead to many of the enhancements -- including the shootout and the elimination of the red line for passing -- found in the game today.

Those are enhancements that have led to the excitement of hockey being played at the highest level with superbly skilled players.

The GMs will meet this challenge as well -- and hockey will benefit once again.

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