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From the editor's desk: Joe Vitale injury a reminder of the NHL's fighting contradiction

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In a world where the damage caused by repeated brain trauma is undeniable, why does the league continue to tolerate fighting?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This is generally not the kind of message you want to see from the official Twitter account of any team:

The Arizona Coyotes lost Joe Vitale midway through his season debut thanks to this fight with Boston's Kevan Miller (video courtesy of Stanley Cup of Chowder).

The Coyotes have not said what the "upper body injury" actually is, but judging by the multiple blows to the head in rapid succession, a concussion is one of the possible issues (his jaw and eye are also two possible injuries).

But even if Joe Vitale escaped a concussion this time around, this is exactly the kind of play that leads to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy - or CTE. And this is one issue the NHL cannot ignore, because CTE is literally killing its players.

Derek Boogaard. Rick Rypien. Wade Belak. Steve Montador. All players who passed away too soon. All players who dealt with multiple concussions in the course of their careers as fighters.

While sports leagues like the NHL and NFL continue to litigate the consequences of repeated head injuries with former players in court, the NHL continues to tolerate - and even celebrate - one of the very situations that creates significant brain trauma in the first place.

Yet the NHL has considerably less to lose by taking action than the NFL does. Unlike the NFL, where contact is absolutely essential to the mechanics of the sport, head contact in hockey is not at all necessary. The league has taken steps to make checks to the head illegal, yet has done nothing to clamp down on fighting.

There are arguments about the legitimacy of fighting in the NHL. That it deters other bad behavior (a dubious claim at best). That it serves as a momentum changer. That it is an indispensable part of the traditions of the NHL.

Even if every one of those arguments is in fact true, the bottom line is that tolerating fighting means valuing on-ice results more than the long-term health of the players. No matter what, the game will be won by pucks in the net, not punches to the face.

Hopefully Joe Vitale's injury is not concussion related. Hopefully he is able to return to the ice soon. It is a tragedy for any player to have their career end due to injury.

But when players are preparing in advance to leave their brains behind to donate to medical research, we have to ask if we're doing all we can to protect player safety. And if we aren't, we have to ask if what we gain by exposing players to danger is really worth it.

The NHL needs to recognize that the benefits of fighting are not worth the harms. And it should take steps to end it once and for all.

Thoughts

  • Would Anaheim really consider firing Bruce Boudreau this early in the season? That seems incredibly short-sighted.
  • The Ducks were sixty minutes away from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and didn't get appreciably worse on paper this summer. Their PDO so far is just 92.9, 28th in the league. They're playing worse than they actually are?
  • The Mikkel Boedker Experiment on the power play has been disappointing, to say the very least. Boedker doesn't appear to have the right mindset for the power play.
  • He's certainly got creativity, and good hands. But those skills are more suited down low and in the circles, not necessarily at the point. Boedker has also struggled to hold the offensive zone while under pressure.
  • Who should Arizona turn to? Unfortunately, their options are limited. Michael Stone looks to be the most offensively gifted defenseman on the squad apart from Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
  • Mike Smith is looking considerably more human now. After giving up two goals through three games, he's conceded eight in the last two.
  • Worrisome? Yes. Yet thus far, the majority of those goals seem to be due more to defensive breakdowns than mental mistakes on Smith's part. That isn't to say that Smith won't struggle for the rest of the season, but he isn't giving up a ton of goals on his own.
  • There are now only five players currently on the Coyotes who have zero points this season. Antoine Vermette is one of them.
  • Watching the Boston game, Vermette didn't seem to be 100% there. It's worth following his health as the season goes on.
  • Finally, a huge congratulations goes to Shane Doan on lodging his 900th, 901st, and 902nd career points Saturday night. He's going to need to find the Fountain of Youth to get to 1000 points in his career, but if Jaromir Jagr and Marian Hossa are still going strong, maybe Doaner can squeeze a few more seasons in a reduced role out of his career.