Should Fighting Remain In The NHL?

NHL Fighting

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Dropping the gloves and throwing a few punches at the face of an opponent is as old as the game itself. It’s hard to imagine the NHL without it’s violent ritual, fan favourite event. However, things evolve. Fighting may be a little outdated and unnecessary, or at least some will suggest so. Then again, for a game with so much intensity displayed by men dressed in armour, wearing razor sharp blades on their feet, and carrying sticks in their hands, maybe violence is inevitable. The argument against fighting in hockey at the NHL level has its valid points, don’t get me wrong, but there is a culture at play here that can’t be ignored. One of the unfortunate downsides of fighting, of course, is that serious injuries may occur. That being said, fighting is not the only cause of injuries in the NHL. Should fighting remain in the NHL? That’s a really tough question for many. So, let’s look at some rules, facts, and opinions.

The National Hockey League Rulebook has a lot to say about fighting. In fact, there are 22 rules, definitions and stipulations pertaining to fighting, which can all be found at NHL.com. The Rulebook goes into thorough detail defining fighting and its repercussions. Upon reading its clear that fighting already isn’t allowed in hockey. There is a penalty awarded to fighters because the act is deemed illegal. Yet, although a penalty is handed down, or possibly a suspension if necessary, fighting still happens. I guess you could say it’s illegal already, but the penalty isn’t very stiff if two scrappers go toe-to-toe without the use of weapons or act of cheap shots.

How about some facts on fighting?

According to Hockey Fights dot com, 245 different players combined to participate in 347 fights throughout the 48 game NHL schedule one year ago. They elaborate, stating 36.67% of NHL games featured at least one fight – translating to 264 NHL games featuring a scrap. In 66 of those games there occurred more than one fight. Hockey Fights does a great job breaking down the numbers in comparison to previous years. Over the last decade, the number of games with fights has fluctuated a little, however, it hasn’t really changed too much. In 2002-03, 37.72% of NHL games contained fights. When compared to the 2013 percentile, there is not much movement.

The one thing that jumped out as surprising from HockeyFights.com’s excellent statistical breakdown, was that 245 players fought at least once last season. There are approximately 690 players in the NHL, and 1/3 dropped the gloves to partake in hockey’s most controversial ritual in 2012-13.

In a well written article by the National Post from October of 2011, author Scott Stinson discusses the findings of a study conducted by Dr. David Milzman – Washington Hospital Center. Milzman and his team examined over 700 hockey fights from preseason and regularly scheduled action. In the 700+ violent altercations only 17 players were hurt, generating a 1.12% rate of fighting related injuries in the NHL. Defining what constitutes “hurt” may be difficult, making this study subject to inaccuracy. However, the Doctor and his team of researchers considered players lack of admitting injury as a factor. The article states, “Dr. Milzman and colleagues acknowledge that their numbers are not completely reliable, since hockey players are not all forthcoming about the extent of the injuries they might have suffered. But they found that team lineups reflected what they observed on video: in only 17 instances did players miss games after a fight.” – Scott Stinson, National Post.

Read the full article here – http://sports.nationalpost.com/2011/10/21/expert-fighting-isnt-causing-the-concussions/

An October 2012 article by U.S. News, also about Dr. Milzman’s study, explained that, “the risk of concussion in a fight was much lower for brawling hockey players (0.39 percent) compared to the per-game risk for those who checked one another (nearly 4.5 percent).” – Randy Dotinga, HealthDay Reporter.

You can view the U.S. News/Health Day article here – http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/bones-joints-and-muscles/articles/2011/10/21/hockey-fistfights-rarely-cause-injuries-study-claims

It’s apparent the National Hockey League is trying to prevent injuries and the practice of staged fighting, made evident by a new rule introduced to the league this season. Effective beginning the already ongoing 2013-14 NHL training camp, a player will be awarded a 2 minute minor penalty if he removes his helmet for a fight. The rule should protect players from injury, assuming they follow it. However, throughout the preseason, it has become very apparent, NHL tough guys aren’t too scared of the 2 minute penalty – the helmets are not staying on.

There are so many arguments supporting either side of the stance on fighting. Some will suggest Olympic hockey is the best quality the sport can boast and no one ever drops the gloves at the Winter games. Take out fighting, and all will be fine.

Others will argue the other side, claiming fighting is needed to regulate even more dangerous incidents involving agitators, cheap shot artists, and villains – a very engrained hockey culture belief.

It’s easy to see the culture is changing, as new rules promoting player safety while deterring violence continue to be implemented, albeit, slower than some would like, and to the dismay of others. This is one issue that will always have its two competing sides. And it’s unclear who is right or wrong.

As outsiders to the game, we can’t truly understand the culture and code, nor should we try to trick ourselves into thinking we know what it’s like to suit up for a game in the NHL and go to battle. Some people risk their lives every day to go to work, and in some professions, while working. Hockey players, making the big dollars, must surely be subject to a little bit of risk in order to do their job, which is – entertaining us enough to spend our hard earned money on them.

The only thing is, you don’t want to see anyone get hurt, and these days, too many hockey players are getting badly injured. Fighting is not the sole cause of injury, and probably not the main one, but it’s part of the problem and arguable one of the more easy to rid from the game. Fights happen when play is dead. They affect the outcomes of games, I agree. Intimidation is important in hockey and there’s no better way to intimidate than to lay a beating on an opponent’s bodyguard.

Fighting can influence a game, seen regularly throughout the NHL regular season. Yet, once the playoffs begin, when wins really start to mean something, fighting becomes almost non existent. The Chicago Blackhawks fought once in the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, en route to a Cup victory. Throughout the 2012-13 NHL regular season, the Hawks finished 25th in NHL fighting majors, which in no way hindered them from winning the President’s Trophy.

Of the top 10 fighting major leading teams last season, only four made the playoffs, and only two saw 2nd round action. Conversely, seven of the league’s bottom ten teams in fighting majors made the playoffs, with five of them playing beyond the 1st round. On the whole, a lot of fighting was clearly not necessary for success in 2013. Whereas, you could argue, a fight here and there under the right circumstances, is needed to win games and show team toughness.  – Fighting statistics courtesy of hockeyfights.com

Stricter equipment rules and stiffer penalties will continue to sneak into the game and eventually fighting will be gone, it’s only a matter of time. Until then, we can only speculate whether no-fighting will make the game better or worse.