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Should the NHL look to eliminate fighting?

Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

Photo: Alex Brandon, AP

If you had asked me only a few years ago whether or not I thought the NHL should eliminate fighting, I would have emphatically told you no. My defense at the time was that a) it is part of the culture of the game and has been for decades b) a good fight can cause a momentum shift c) it’s entertaining.

But as the years have gone by and the game has evolved, my point of view has evolved with it. Rather than look back at fighting’s importance in the past or even its acceptance — albeit curbed — in today’s game, the brightest minds in hockey should always be looking forward.

Make no mistake, whether you think fighting in hockey should be eliminated, watered down, or even championed, the league is chipping away at its importance. The instigator penalty, the determination to eliminate staged fights, and now the crackdown on helmet removals is evidence of the league’s evolved thinking.

Rule by rule the league is teeing up what will sooner or later be the elimination of hockey’s most polarizing subject. Ultimately, it’s probably the right thing to do for player safety. I mean it is incredibly contradictory for the league to be pro-fighting and trying to minimize the number/severity of concussions in the same breath.

More importantly, the elimination of fighting could also be good for business. The NHL for years has been focusing on growing casual hockey fans rather than serving their hardcore fans. The shootout, the removal of the redline, the Winter Classic, have all been about trying to get those millions of people who watch Olympic hockey to tune into the NHL’s regular season.

The only way the league is going to continue its upward trajectory is to keep appealing to a broader, more diverse audience. One way to accomplish this is to ban fighting, which is more of a barrier for potential fans to get into the game than it is a conduit for existing fans to connect.

While polls have shown that 98% of the players support fighting (which is to be expected), other polls have shown that the same % of existing fans will continue to follow their teams if fighting were to be banned.

Keeping fighting might appease current players, as there are still guys who use their fists to make money. However, even the Donald Brashears of the hockey world are dwindling and will continue to do so now that junior hockey has followed the NCAA’s footsteps and banned fighting. Pretty soon there will be more Ryan Carters and Dominic Moores, who can play in all three zones, getting 4th line minutes than there will be enforcer only types coming up the ranks.

And while some hockey fans will lament that eliminating fighting will allow certain players to have free reign to go after the game’s elite without fear of consequence, I’d argue that already happened a long time ago. This generation’s cheap shot artists barely ever drop the gloves.

When does Brad Marchand, Matt Cooke, Alexander Burrows, Daniel Carcillo, etc. ever pay for their bs? When are they ever “policed”? If retribution is what people want, hard hits may end up being the antidote.

Sooner or later, more and more important people in important places are going to change their tune and realize that banning fighting could be a win for player safety, growing the fan base, and most importantly making money. One day in the not too distant future the league and the NHLPA will determine what is for the greater good.

15 Responses to “Should the NHL look to eliminate fighting?”

  1. Dave says:

    How can the league say they want to get rid of fighting when they support the new enforcer engine in NHL 14?

  2. Tom says:

    You may be right about the direction of change and the PR reasons for it but you are wrong about the injury implications of fighting. I believe that few serious injuries result from a hockey fight. Most serious injuries result from illegal checks. And you are right that the “police” are not a deterent; but a good deterent is to take out the other teams talent in retaliation. I’d like to see Bettman’s approach to that problem.

  3. Tim B says:

    This has been an issue that was discussed the last few yers. Both sides have good arguments.
    Player safety is obviously a concern. Parros coudn’t brace himself when he went down and got injured. Players have hit their heads on the ice and have died. I do know that. However they should hve new rules for fighting. Remember when the Devils/Ranger gane opened up with 3 fights. That unnecessary. And its uncessary to have a fight to start the game.

    -no more unnecessary fights (fight on a faceoff, etc)
    -fighting only allowed after a dirty/controversial (standing up for teammates) play.
    -if someone is harassing you (geting shoved around/poked at with hockey stick), you should have a right to fight him.

    Only problem is that there would be less fights, and maybe some fans. Player safety is a lot better. Enforcers would find a way to bend the rules so that they can fight whenever they want.

    BSB staff/Readers,
    Are there any released stats of the last years fight stats? How many fights has the NHL had the last few years?

    • The Suit says:

      Not that I could find. There’s been less majors per team over the past decade, but they roll fighting with other major penalties so it’s tough to isolate.

    • Dave says:

      You could go by the length of the list at hockeyfights.com, but that’s really it.

  4. Walt says:

    I’m for a guy defending himself, and or a smaller team mate. With that said, people starting a fight should get a game misconduct, fighting major, and his team should have to skate short handed for the entire five minutes.

    If there is a staged fight, both players are given a major, game misconduct, and a game suspension. The coach should be fined $10 K for the first time, $20 K for the second time, and so on. By doing this, first rate players aren’t subject to crap from goons, and the game will be entertaining.

    Now if a player gets into a fight because he is defending himself, or in the heat of a game, that is fine, they sit for the 5 minutes, and the games goes on. Cheap shot artists won’t have a goon there to cover his coward ass, and he would be forced to defend himself, see how quickly the garbage stops.

    Leave fighting in the game, but stop all the staged junk.

  5. cv19 says:

    My father used to take me to the old Garden to see the Rangers. He was a solid fan. After a couple of years of the Big Bad Bruins followed by the Broad Street Bullies he never watched hockey again. Fighting compromised it’s legitimacy according to him. It marginalizes the game for many of the unconverted.

  6. Bloomer says:

    Unfortunately some player cross the line and target the better skilled players. Penalties and suspensions do work as a deterrent somewhat, but obviously that kind of crap still happens. Fighting plays a role in keeping the goons in their place. Your goon takes liberties on our stars so our goon will take you into the penalty box and off the ice.
    Fighting isn’t as prevalent as it once was in hockey, but it serves a purpose. If players were left to defend for themselves, there be more career ending injuries.

  7. Mikeyyy says:

    If you take away fighting you will have a substitute for it. Which would be a rise in dirty hits. My enforcer would be a person that can dish a mean hit to the offending player that takes him out of the game. Eye for an eye

  8. Evan M says:

    Maybe the league could start dishing out more severe consequences based on the action, not necessarily the results. Giving a 1-3 game suspension to a player for a dirty hit is silly, regardless of how benign the resulting injury might be. How about 25-30 game suspensions for moderately dirty hits, and a full season for headhunting or being Matt Cooke? Fighting won’t be necessary.

  9. Justin says:

    Good post, Suit. I generally think of myself as pro-fighting, but I think you make a very persuasive argument.

  10. Chris F says:

    Hockey is an aggressive, violent, physical game. Fighting, between willing combatants, is a release that keeps the overall level of violence somewhat tempered.

    I can’t see the game being played the way it is without that release vis-a-vis fighting. Take away fighting, and you’ll see an escalation of other (far more dangerous) violence. Once that happens, there will be a crackdown on all forms of violence, which will eventually lead to the elimination of big hits, and ultimately the bastardization of the game. It’s not a matter of hockey purity to support fighting. It’s a matter of survival. To ban fighting is to set in motion the destruction of the game.

    Seems apocalyptic, I know. But I sincerely believe this to be true.

  11. Tikkanen10 says:

    it’s a tough thing. I feel that too many men sacrificed way too much. that NY Times article about Boogaard is intense and totally eliminated any doubt, to me at least, that fighting in hockey needs to go the way of the dodo.