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 --

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: 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.

Since: Dec 2, 2011
Posted on: December 15, 2011 6:18 pm
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Since: Oct 7, 2011
Posted on: October 19, 2011 10:17 am

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

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Since: Mar 30, 2007
Posted on: August 16, 2011 5:03 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

no true hockey fan would want to do away with fighting the problem is the rules make it so players can not police their team. So you have dirty teams winning cups and taking runs at players. vigilante justice is better then ref can see retard justice we get all the time in hokey now

Since: Mar 30, 2011
Posted on: August 16, 2011 3:06 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Great posts Primetime and the opposite for someone who needs to stick to the Jets and its not Winnipeg like that last post. Fighting is an integral part of the game and without it would be even more catastrophic than the league has already become. Ive read all these posts and the verdict from 98% is that it not only should be in the game that it actually enhances and helps it. If it turns you of that it takes place then wait until the Olympics start and watch figure skating which the way the game is played now we aren't too far from that. It is an aggressive game and anyone who says the fighting should be taken out either never plaed it or are too big of a wuss to try. The league doesn't need these type of fans that they have bent backwards over to appease and that sickens me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Since: May 13, 2008
Posted on: August 16, 2011 1:57 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Fighting in the NHL takes away from pure hockey.  Fast paced, high skilled action gets replaced by goons punching each other in the face.  If a player punched somebody in any other major sport, there are significant consequences to pay.  In the NFL, Goodell would hand out major fines and suspensions.  Same thing in the NBA and MLB.  In hockey you get a pat on the back and five minutes in the box.  Just as the articles states, there are numerous players in the NHL whose sole job is to be a goon.  That being said, you can't take it out because it would kill interest in an already dying sport.  The remaining fans want blood, they get blood.  Just cheapens the sport.

Since: Aug 28, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 1:56 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game


I take it you have never played the game of hockey because if you had you would know it is a lot different fighting on a pair of skates than it is in a ring. If you had ever played the game of hockey you would also know that fighting is part of the game.
As for your other stement they are  two completely different types of fighting. It would be like putting a wrestler against a boxer. So your statement makes no sense at all

Since: Oct 11, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 1:53 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

The only thing wrong with hockey today can be summed up in 2 words:  Gary Bettman

Since: Aug 28, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 1:43 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Spiralarchitech I agree with you 100%... This game was so much better before Gary Bettman got his stinking hands on it.
Back then the players policed themselves and you didnt have the cheap shots you do now a days. Why because if you went after Wayne Gretzky then you had Marty McSorley coming after you and your superstar. You didnt have players taking runs at Stevie Y because you would have had Probert,Kocur, or McCarty coming after you. This is why I agree they need to get rid of the intergator penalty so the players can police themselves again and I will guarantee that you will see a lot less cheaps shots. WE WANT OLD TIME HOCKEY!!!!!!

Since: Dec 3, 2006
Posted on: August 16, 2011 12:43 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

This is a stupid article. No one wants it out other than the fairweather pansy fans that show up only when their team does well. If teams were never put in a lot of these cities you may not get so much of that.
I know if I was an owner the best way to protect my multi-million dollar investments would be to have an established enforcer on my team. Checks and balances people, its the only sport left that really has it.Laughing
The worst thing about fighting is the NBA channel errr ESPN beats any shady play or hit to death and tries everything to make the NHL seem like that is all hockey is about, goons and thugs. Sour grapes from a channel that no longer broadcasts games so they do as much as they can to minimize the great things about the sport and villianize everything else. SealedESPN sucks almost as bad as the question of whether or not hockey should have fightingYell

Since: Apr 22, 2008
Posted on: August 16, 2011 12:09 pm

Examining fighting in today's NHL game

Terrible article! Take a stance...fighting injuring players? Article names 2 instances...unreal, and fighting is down.
Yeah, go ahead, make this game like the NFL...can't touch anyone.

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