FORT WORTH, Texas -- Even with the NBA stuck in a lockout, the NHL around Texas can't catch a break.
Has there ever been a season opener for the Dallas Stars that generated such little buzz? If you had not read this sentence, would you know that the NHL's regular season began Thursday night, and the Stars open their season tonight against the Blackhawks at the AAC? Tom Hicks should be forced to watch his creation until this mess is sold.
Even if that does not happen, the good news is the Dallas Stars are back. The NHL is back. This also means fighting in the NHL is back, and it should never, ever be taken away.
To those who say fighting should be abolished in the NHL, Stars enforcer Krys Barch says, "I'd say they are pretty liberal. It's been around since 1910. UFC is one of the biggest sports in the world, so it's hard to say that..... If you go to the die-hard, grassroots fans, they love (fighting). The guys who don't are the ones who have never watched the game, sit around on their computers and really have no life."
This summer was the perfect time for "the liberals" to bash this sport, the enforcers and call to abolish fighting once and for all. This off-season was one of the roughest a sport, and one specific job, could endure.
This is the part Barch really doesn't want to talk about, and absolutely no one can blame him. He lives by a code, and part of that code is not to talk about what he does other than to endorse his job.
Those who no longer play and enforce, however, don't have to live and speak by the enforcer's credo: Fighting in the NHL is good for the sport, and good for business.
This summer the code was subject to serious criticism and debate when former NHL enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died. Boogaard reportedly suffered from an addiction to pain pills; Rypien suffered from depression; Belak, who committed suicide, had suffered from depression, his mother said.
The immediate overreaction was to insist that this trio of tragedies directly correlated to their jobs as enforcers. It didn't help when a guy like retired Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque admitted he absolutely hated fighting. So did others. A few guys mentioned that painkillers are widely abused in the league.
Any time the NHL gets bad PR is usually the perfect time for the drive-by media to take repeated shots at a game they usually never, ever watch. If they did, they would realize the violence in this sport is consistent with that of the NFL, NCAA football, boxing, MMA and other contact sports we condone.
The people who do this are grown men who know the risks. It's their call. If they didn't want to do, they don't have to.
This sampling of three enforcers is sad, but it is not wide enough to draw any hard conclusions. Certainly not enough for the banishment of fighting.
"They are all different situations. There were some mental issues there, and it obviously is a serious matter. But to say these guys fight and that is why they are dying? I don't think you can say that," Barch said. "It's unfortunate and it's life. For me, I feel for the families and the people that have to deal with it. But I don't think there is a correlation."
Barch figures he gets into what he calls "real" fights about 20 times a season, and a few more during the preseason, when people are literally fighting for their jobs.
"People get into one fight when they are in elementary school, and they remember it for the rest of their lives," he said. "I do this and move on. But for people who never do it, they think it's something that I don't see."
Barch has a vested interest in keeping fighting in the game. Even though it can be a stressful, demanding job, it is a way on a roster and to a six-figure income.
But the reality is that the NHL does not need any new rule in place to take fighting out of the game because the game is taking care of it. Or at least reducing it.
With a heavy emphasis placed on speed and skill, NHL GMs are feeling the pinch on spending a roster spot on an enforcer. When the games turn tight in February through the end of the playoffs, enforcers are usually the first to be a healthy scratch out of the lineup.
Regardless, fights still happen because that's the way this league polices itself. If you cross a line, there is a price.
The role of the enforcer may not have the same place it once did 10 years ago, but the role of fighting does. As long as there are pucks, sticks and nets there should always be a fight, too.