PITTSBURGH--Throw a punch in an NFL game and a player will get an ejection and invoice from the commissioners' office detailing his fine.
Throw a flurry of punches in an NHL game, and a player will get a five-minute timeout and a chance to throw more punches later.
Fighting is a hot button issue for hockey every year.
The NHL permits fighting -- with a five-minute major penalty -- and is the only major sport that makes allowances for bare-knuckled punches.
How different would hockey be if fighting were banned?
"Completely different," Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke said. "Obviously (fighting) isn't in other sports, but hockey is different and always has been. It's something that's part of the history of the game.
"I think anytime you have grown men with emotions, that much testosterone out there, there are just going to be times. I think you'd see other things if you couldn't resort to dropping the gloves."
Those are two familiar themes. Fighting is a natural extension of passionate play in a physical game. Ban fighting and players would be settling their disputes with stick work and other physical play that's potentially more dangerous.
Fighting is banned at the collegiate level. Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik played for Boston College and is familiar with that brand of hockey.
"I was amazed when I went back afterwards and watched a college game," Orpik said. "How dirty the college game was, how many head shots."
Brutal as it is, there's a protocol to hockey fighting. Most of it is by invitation, either verbally or with a gesture.
"You want to go?" is a common phrase.
"The players keep it fair," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "There are very few times where guys are chasing after guys. I don't think some fans realize there's a little structure to it.
It's not players just running around trying to find guys to fight. There's just times in games when emotions take control. Things like that happen."
Almost every team employs an enforcer, who may not suit up for some games and may rarely leave the bench when he is in the lineup.
The Penguins signed hulking Steve Macintyre (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) in the off-season to take the place of Eric Godard.
The Penguins are MacIntyre's fifth NHL organization. He entered this season with 78 career games, two goals, four points and 157 penalty minutes.
His role is clearly defined, one reason why Orpik found it challenging to answer the question about a ban on fighting.
"It's tough to ask players about that because we have a lot of peers that if you take fighting out of the game, you're taking a job away from guys that you're friends with, and guys who have worked hard at that," he said.
The Penguins know MacIntyre will stand up for them if there's trouble. That's why he's on the roster, and the players appreciate that reinforcement.
Still, Orpik can see a mixed message from the NHL regarding player safety.
"It is a little ironic, though, that the big issue this year in hockey is head shots," Orpik said. "Sometimes it's like you barely hit a guy in the head and you get a penalty.
"They're trying to get head shots out and eliminate concussions, but then you let guys punch each other in the face. I can see where people can't really figure that out. It doesn't seem logical."
It doesn't seem likely the NHL will move to ban fighting. For one thing, fans seem to love it.
The sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center went crazy when the Penguins' Arron Asham knocked out Washington's Jay Beagle during a brief fight on Oct. 13.
What the fans didn't know was Beagle initiated the fight. He wanted to go, and Asham accommodated him.
Because it's voluntary, the players believe it's OK.
"I think it's completely misunderstood," Cooke said. "I think if you asked all the guys in the league, the answer would be pretty much the same with every guy."
Staal added, "It's a part of the game when emotions get high, guys want to let loose. I think there are less people getting hurt in fights than there are with the hits and the other stuff that's going on now. It would be a different game. You wouldn't know if that would be good or bad, but I'm for keeping it in the game."
The last word belongs to Orpik, who can see both sides of the issue.
"Fighting definitely does serve a purpose," he said. "When you have fighting, it makes guys think twice about running around and throwing dirty hits. The other side of it is it's dangerous because guys are getting so big and strong. You have guys the size of MacIntyre and they can really hurt people."
SUBHEAD: Heavyweight champs
The Pittsburgh Penguins have historically had some accomplished fighters. Here's a look at the franchise's top five pugilists:
1. Georges Laraque. Acquired late in 2006-07, he spent the next season with the Penguins and piled up 141 penalty minutes. He would have had more, but people were very reluctant to fight him.
2. Paul Baxter. Still holds the franchise record for penalty minutes, 409 in 1981-82. Off the ice, Baxter was soft-spoken and religious.
3. Steve Durbano. Played at a time before the NHL cracked down on bench-clearing brawls. Known for a volcanic temper and his nickname, "Demolition Durby."
4. Marty McSorley. Big farm boy took on anybody, which earned him a long career as Wayne Gretzky's personal bodyguard in both Edmonton and Los Angeles.
5. Eric Godard. Gone (to Dallas) but not forgotten, Godard was rangy and tough. He broke the orbital bone of current enforcer Steve MacIntyre in a November, 2008 fight.