With each passing day, fighting's role in hockey is changing. While it remains at the NHL level, it is slowly being fazed out at the roots, in the junior levels.
Previously, the Canadian Junior Hockey League approved a plan to start assessing match penalties in conjuction with five minutes for fighting. The idea was that, essentially, this would go a long ways in deterring fighting and getting it out of their league at the junior level.
USA Hockey could be following suit for the junior leagues in the States, most notably the USHL and the NAHL. From Jeff Z. Klein of the New York Times:
Junior A hockey, for 16- to 20-year-olds, is the last remaining level of the game under USA Hockey's jurisdiction that still tolerates fighting. The push to outlaw fighting is being spurred by a recent spate of serious injuries resulting from fights and concern over the prospect of lawsuits.
"We need to take a firm stand to preserve our sport, prevent catastrophic injury and avoid financial repercussions," said Dr. Michael J. Stuart, the chief medical officer for USA Hockey, who has been a leader in the effort to ban fighting.
The new rule would punish all fighters with automatic ejection from the game, and instigators with an automatic two-game suspension. It would also give referees more latitude in making decisions to eject players.
This proposal has not been approved yet, it will be presented next month at USA Hockey's winter meetings. But if it is passed by the summer, it could be in place next season at the junior levels.
While this will certainly bring plenty of blowback from the pro-fighting crowd in hockey, this is a bit different than fighting at the NHL level. We're talking about kids who are not old enough to drink alcohol (in the States) yet. The concerns here are over the long-term health of these players.
Our Chris Peters wrote in October after a terrifying scene following a fight in a USHL game that the time had come to end fighting at the junior level, distinguishing the argument from the pro level. They are two different animals.
There is an important piece of information here that needs to be pointed out as well: this is not a total ban on fighting that's being proposed. It's just making the penalty much stiffer: fight and your game is done. That doesn't mean fighting won't still be allowed, it would be a baby step in that direction, though.
And of course by fazing fighting out of the junior ranks (though it's still present in the CHL in Canada), it would likely lead to an eventual fazing out at the pro level. If they aren't fighting as juniors the likelihood they fight at higher levels is diminished. Fighting is in the NHL and it's not going anywhere right now and if it does leave the NHL, it's likely to go out naturally. This might be a step in that directon.