The fact that owners and team presidents in the QMJHL decided to kick the can down the road to August when it comes to dealing with fighting doesn’t really have a huge effect on what the final outcome will be. By delaying their vote until the summer, it still gives the league plenty of time to implement a ban for next season. Even if it had voted in favor of a ban on Thursday, it’s highly unlikely it would have gone into effect this season anyway.
But what does confound is that the league is taking this time for sober second thought on what it will have you believe is a very complex issue. QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said the conversation was “very nuanced.”“This is a sensitive matter,” Courteau told reporters after the meeting. “Everyone wants to understand it to the fullest.”
That’s what they’re going with? Understand it to the fullest? Did this debate creep up on them? With all due respect, give me a break. This is not a conversation that is nuanced or complex or riddled with mystery. As much as power brokers in hockey will have you believe that this is an issue that has many layers, it actually doesn’t. It comes down to a very, very simple choice. You either want or will tolerate fighting in your league or you don’t.
Junior hockey does not believe the debate is at all nuanced when it comes to paying its players a living wage. All three major junior leagues are very clear on that one. But when it comes to their “student athletes” giving and receiving bareknuckle punches to the head it suddenly becomes a vexing dilemma for them?
Like any other league, the QMJHL could have easily increased the penalties for fighting. Actually, it’s a lot easier for one of Canada’s three junior leagues to do it because none of them has to deal with a players’ association or go through the approval of a rules committee. The omnipotent rule they hold over these young men is astounding, so perhaps it’s time they used it for something good.
The new rule could look like this. You fight and you’re out of the rest of that game, period. You clearly instigate a fight and you are suspended for the next game. The level of discipline increases by one game with every subsequent offense. So, you fight a second time in the same season and you’re suspended one game, a third and you’re out two games and so on. And there you have it. You’re welcome. One can only hope that removes the nuance and complexity from all of this.
And of course, they will have you believe there are other things to consider here. One is that if the league bans fighting, it will be implementing rules that don’t exist in other major junior leagues in Canada. That would only become a problem during the Memorial Cup, which is the only time the leagues play against each other. Then there’s the matter that junior hockey prepares players for the professional ranks and in a minority of cases that’s true. But stricter fighting rules in college hockey and European leagues don’t seem to stand in the way of players there being able to adjust to higher levels of pro hockey.
As it stands, there is an average of one fight for every four games in the QMJHL. If it’s on the wane and rarely happens, what is the fear in abolishing it altogether? Will fewer people buy tickets to games? We don’t know whether that’s the case, but if someone were going to a QMJHL game hoping for a fight, there’s a 75 percent chance that person is going to leave disappointed anyway.
It’s time for the QMJHL to show the way on this. And it can be done easily, as Quebec Remparts president Jacques Tanguay told reporters. “We need to get rid of (fighting) completely,” he told reporters. “It’s as simple as that.”
Courteau stressed that it’s his priority to enhance player safety, something that was echoed by Ronald Thibault, president of the Sherbrooke Phoenix. “It may sound strange,” he told reporters, “but what we’re trying to do is keep our players safe.” Yup, he’s right. That does sound strange. Saying you want to keep your players safe and not immediately doing everything to prevent them from punching each other in the head sounds very strange, indeed.
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