The NHL and its Failed Attempts to Eliminate Fighting in Hockey

Sep 30, 2013

Fighting in hockey has become one of the most hotly debated subjects in all of sports lately. Those that are for it claim it’s too ingrained in the sport and provides entertainment value for the fans, while serving a purpose in the game as well, whether it’s sticking up for bullied teammates or an attempt to try to change the momentum of a game. Those that are against fighting claim it’s dangerous and participants are subject to head and facial injuries. Others that take an anti-fighting stance claim that it’s barbaric and detrimental to the overall growth of the sport.

While nobody will openly admit it, count the NHL brass among those who take the latter stance mentioned above. Part of this, I’m certain, is a fear something similar to the recent football drama (the multi-million dollar concussion settlement, that is), that will come back to bite the league in future years. Ultimately, the league wants its best players on the ice every night and not risking injury by squaring off in a fight, whether they are willing or unwilling participants.

There are a few pieces of evidence that back up the league’s presumed anti-fighting attitude:

  • The instigator rule: This rule was implemented following the 2004-05 lockout year. Specifically, it penalizes a player who picks a fight with another player for an extra two minutes, and suspends that player for the next game if such actions are taken within the last two minutes of a game.
  • The helmet rule: A new rule for the 2013-14 season is that players cannot remove their own helmets before squaring off in a fight. The reasoning behind this is because during the takedowns, players have the potential to strike their head on the hard ice surface, potentially resulting in head injuries and concussions.

So these two new rules have helped and will continue to cut down on fighting, possibly even phasing it out over time, right? No more Gordie Howe hat tricks? No more sticking up for pestered teammates? No more dropping the gloves to change momentum?

Think again.

The 2005 instigator rule hasn’t served as a handicapper in preventing an enforcer from going after someone that took a cheap-shot at one of their teammates. And players have already found a loophole in the 2013 helmet rule – instead of removing their own helmets before a fight, those engaged have politely removed each other’s lids before throwing haymakers at each other.

And for evidence that fighting is still a major part of the game, look no further than last Sunday night’s preseason game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres – a line brawl erupted, handicapping some star players against notable enforcers.

Until the NHL completely outlaws fighting, it will continue to exist in hockey. And with it, you’ll get the good (fan entertainment, momentum swings) and the bad (injuries, poor public perception). Are the days of fighting numbered in the NHL? You might say “yes,” based on the rules the league has implemented over the years. But fighting is here, at least for the foreseeable future. As you can gather from the Leafs/Sabres preseason line brawl, it’s too much a part of the game today.

NHL Fighting