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Blog Entry

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Posted on: August 15, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: August 15, 2011 8:03 pm
 

By Brian Stubits

I remember as a kid growing up attending minor-league hockey games, nothing would excite me, or the crowd, like a fight. Goals were nice -- and there were plenty, the Tacoma Sabercats were regular contenders in the now-defunct WCHL -- but a sure-fire way to get the people out of their seats was a good ol' scrap.

This isn't limited to the small leagues, you can see it all across the NHL. Not to speak too broad, but people love fights. They're exciting. They get the blood pumping, on the ice and off.

To further illustrate, I recall my fondest memory of going to the rink growing up wasn't when I watched my hometown team win the championship, but it was a fight that went too far. After a fight sent an opposing player to the sin bin, things got heated with a fan sitting near the penalty box. Next thing you know, a beer comes flying from about 10 rows up and hits the box. From there the player, rightfully, snaps as the fan comes rushing down the stairs and starts pounding the glass. All the while, the player in the box begins grabbing anything he can -- sticks, water bottles, whatever -- and is throwing them at the guy right below him. Realizing that isn't working, he attempts to climb out of the box, skates on and everything. Standing on the bench, he tries once or twice to jump over the boards before he and the fan are eventually subdued and hauled away by police.

Even such extremes like that aren't limited to the minors. Remember this nostalgic Nordiques-Sabres scrum?

The Islanders will be hosting a party where they will replay the big brawl the team had with the Penguins. The Puck Daddy blog runs a summer series interviewing other writers and celebrities about their hockey Guilty Pleasures, with one of the standard questions asking the subject for his/her "Favorite Fight or Brawl of All-Time." Heck, there is an entire website out there dedicated just to fights in the sport -- Hockeyfights.com.

For those reasons alone I am a fan of fighting. The way I see it, you give the customers what they want, and they have shown they want fights, the most ardent fans that is. That's what TSN concluded in 2009. Attend any game across the league and notice how the reaction for a fight can be nearly equal to that of a goal (regular-season game, at least).

But as I said, you can't put every fan into one stereotype, there are plenty of people who oppose hockey's gladiatorial nature. That crowd is growing by the hour. The more injuries that occur, the more people are waking up to the serious dangers and risks enforcers put themselves through. Take a look at what Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland looked like after a scrap that was caught in HBO's 24/7 series. Watch (NSFW warning: language).

The more brain trauma gets linked with former fighters such as Bob Probert or tragedies happen to fighters like Derek Boogaard's death, the closer we will get to fighting being removed from the game. I believe I will see fighting all but phased out of the NHL in my lifetime. It's not happening yet or very soon, but eventually.

Here is what NHL spokesman Frank Brown told the Washington Post earlier this year: “We believe it’s a safety valve that prevents worse from happening on the ice.”

That's pretty much the same rationale people give for supporting the legalization of drugs. If you erase the underground nature of drugs you can reduce crime and the logjam of the criminal justice system. (Plus it would help with the nation's deficit, but that's another discussion.)

In that Post story detailing Matt Hendricks' enforcer role with the Capitals you will find the exact reason why it will be so hard to get rid of fighting if the NHL even wanted to.

“It’s not the most fun job in the world,” he says, shrugging. “I like it when it’s over. I like what my teammates say when I’m done. They know I’m doing it for them. You have to be willing. You don’t do it for personal gain. ... It’s what I have to do to play in the NHL.”

That last part. It's what I have to do to play in the NHL. Try convincing the players and NHLPA to cut fighting, because if you do you are cutting jobs for those guys who do it for a living, it's how they earn their paychecks. It's what they have to do to play in the NHL.

At some point, though, it has to be about player safety, doesn't it? In today's NHL when they are always examining ways to eliminate dangerous shots that have sidelined players, isn't fighting the next logical target? Won't somebody please think of the children!

Peter Raaymakers (how awesome is it that a guy who writes a blog post on fighting has a name that rhymes with haymakers?) at the Silver Seven blog did, writing an excellent post concerning the mental toll the enforcers take.

Of course, if every fight looked like this, nobody would care. (Hat tip to Puck Daddy.)

Now back to the regularly scheduled programming. ...

People will forever debate for and against fighting in hockey. The traditionalists believe there is a place for it, saying its vigilante justice is imperative and fights can be key to momentum. There's a reason fighting exists and it's more than pure primal rage. But I would counter that if fighting were so important and vital to the sport, why does it all but disappear in the biggest games of the calendar; the playoffs?

The game transforms more and more every year to a skilled version that is opened up. Remember all the rules the NHL established after the lockout to increase scoring and thus interest? Fighting doesn't necessarily fit in.

A look at the numbers show fighting has gone down since the start of the century, with a slight decline in fighting since 803 in the 2001-02 season. Take a look at the chart below (source: hockeyfights.com) to see for yourself. It is still prevalent, but the same way Rome wasn't built in a day, you won't have a sharp decline in it overnight without more stringent rules to deter.

Admittedly, I'm OK with fighting in hockey. But I would be OK without it, too, and I find myself trending that way more and more each day. Would the game really be missing much? Well, colorful guys like George Parros might not be as visible or even in the NHL, which would be shame, but from a standpoint of the game? I don't think so.

So here's our informal poll: Do you want to see fighting taken out of the game?

Fights in the NHL
Season Games Fights Fights per game Games with fights No. of players who fought
2010-11 1230 645 0.52 458 348
2009-10 1230 714 0.58 493 341
2008-09 1230 734 0.60 509 355
2007-08 1230 664 0.54 473 324
2006-07 1230 497 0.40 384 292
2005-06 1230 466 0.38 357 276
2003-04 1230 789 0.64 506 340
2002-03 1230 668 0.54 464 321
2001-02 1230 803 0.65 519 348
2000-01 1230 684 0.56 469 329

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Comments

Since: Feb 6, 2008
Posted on: August 16, 2011 11:56 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

I never understood why these hockey players who like to fight, if they're so bad-azz, don't just put on some gloves and prove it against someone who you can't pull their shirt up over their head and then punch them.  There's alot more money to be made as a great fighter/boxer than as a goon hockey player.  my take is, if you think you're a toughguy, prove it toe to toe in a ring.  If these hockey goons are so good, it'll improve the current state of both sports.   



Since: Jan 16, 2010
Posted on: August 16, 2011 11:22 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

@ Cutler I agree a 100%, but who watches Versus other then when a hockey game is on. If they want to make the game more exciting, leave fighting alone and 2 things they could change,  smaller goalie pads and leave the crease where it is now or goalie equipment stays the same but move the crease back to the original spot. If they want the sport to be safer telll the players to stop turning there backs right before they are about to get hit into the boards. Start suspending the repeat divers and the players that jerk there heads back prime example go to you tube Don Cherry on Dan Carcillo the stick hits him in the elbow he jerks his head back holding his jaw and turtles on the ice for 5 minutes while the trainer comes out.



Since: Apr 25, 2008
Posted on: August 16, 2011 11:19 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

pussification of America continues.  If the NHL takes fighting and physical play out of hockey, I will no longer watch hockey.  I am all for player safety, agree with the head hitting rules, but hockey is physical and fighting keeps the game cleaner than it would be without fighting. 



Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 9:34 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Perhaps on a more important note: WTF was that garbage in the KHL "fight"? Looked like flailing monkey kung fu. No wonder no one takes that garbage league seriously.



Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 9:31 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Taking fighting out of hockey would just once again demonstrate how wussified America is becoming. Hockey is hockey. Leave it alone. If you can't stomach the fighting for whatever fault of your own, then don't watch. Similar example, if you don't like what's on the radio change it. Too much pandering to p*ssies these days.



Since: Jul 29, 2009
Posted on: August 16, 2011 9:24 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Get rid of the instigator penalty, change the equipment back to the old days, for heavens sake listen to what DON CHERRY has been telling us for DECADES!Hockey is a mans sport(a long with football) not like the other 2 big leagues. Piss me off, cheap shot me in the playoffs, take a run at my captain, or my rookie superstar, even look at my goalie the wrong way and your going to get it.Maybe not in this game, but we play next week or next year YOUR GOING TO GET IT. The league needs to get rid of these pussy's and cheap shot artists who are ruining the game. What that prick Matt Kook did was end someones career.If there was no instigator penalty.The very first shift Big Z would have sent him to the dressing room for stiches and then his next shift Scott Thorton would send him to the hospital.You think that might teach that cheap shot MO**** F***er a lesson.More bench clearing brawls with minimal reprecussions.Kind of like the mafia we clean our own laundry.



Since: Feb 10, 2009
Posted on: August 16, 2011 8:51 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

The league has done everything in its power to all but eliminate the fighting. It absolutely needs to be in the game and if the league was smart they would promote it more in a day and age of MMA and violence etc. IMHO the players were safer when fighting was more prevalent and there werent as nearly as many cheap shot artists like we now have. That was due in large part to the repurcussions that wouldve taken place. I also believe it opened up the ice more for the skill players to do what they do best and thats score.Its one of my favorite parts of the game and to me the NHL is at its peak when there is lots of fights and goals. Thank you CBS for throwing one in my wheelhouse and nice job Staubits taking the PC route on this topic - cant say Im suprised



Since: Aug 10, 2011
Posted on: August 16, 2011 8:47 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

If the NHL takes out fighting, they will def lose more fans and the NHL cant afford to lose anymore fans. WHen the WNBA ratings are higher then the NHL's you know you have a problem..Taking out fighting would def make it worse. Plus you will see a increase in dirty hits and stick fouls...so thats safer????



Since: Oct 20, 2008
Posted on: August 16, 2011 7:28 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

20 years ago there was more fighting in the NHL, but players were taking less severe injuries.  If players attempted to cheapshot others like Matt Cooke does these days, he'd be forced into a fight and pummelled immediately.  It was a natural outlet and proper way for players to discipline themselves.  The NHL can't be counted upon to discipline players and fine/suspend them into good little boys. 

Get rid of the instigator penalty, reduce the size of the pads, and the game will become safer overnight.  Then Colin Campbell won't have to worry about actually doing a good job anymore.



Since: Jul 3, 2007
Posted on: August 16, 2011 12:29 am
 

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

This seems like essentially a non-issue. "Fighting" as an institution has to remain in hockey to protect the Patrick Kane and Pavel Datsyuk types from being destroyed. There are very few fighting majors these days, and almost none of them have anything to do with "player safety". In fact, fighting in hockey PREVENTS more brain trauma than it causes by offering a deterrent to cheap shots.

Realistically, the reason(s) for more head injuries is multi-fold. 1) Players watch their passes, not their surroundings (Paul Kariya, Tim Connolly); 2) Better equipment and more athletic players - watch old games on Hulu and try not to laugh; 3) Lack of a credible deterrent - people may complain about the timing, but when Darren McCarty wrecked Claude Lemieux for his hit on Kris Draper, people PAID ATTENTION, and Lemieux just caught an old school asswhoopin', no brain trauma required.



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com