Fighting in the NHL – An Opinion


Let’s talk about fighting.

In the NHL? Well, not quite yet. Let’s take a walkthrough of fighting in the streets and on the ice.

What is fighting?

Well, it’s when two people swing their fists at each other because one of them ‘deserved it’.

That sounds about right, and its mostly the same in the NHL, too! So far so good.

Uh oh, it looks like somebody is the winner, and somebody is the loser! That’s the same in the NHL too, usually. Give or take a draw sometimes.

Here’s where things steer away from one another.

All of a sudden, one fighter looks towards his bench, in an effort to ‘fire up the boys’ and win this game!

That doesn’t sound like street fighting…

Wait a minute, it looks like the other guy is hurt pretty bad…

Unfortunately, that does sound like street fighting.

Fighting in the NHL has been around as long as most of us can remember. What with guys like Ron Hextall swinging there sticks in a Phil Kessel-esque fashion, or bench clearing brawls between the Flyers and (insert most team names) here. It’s become part of the sport. But with concussions and other various injuries being highlighted as dangerous, as it should, we start to question our love for fighting.

This comes to light after Montreal Canadiens forward George Parros was swung to the ice by a falling Colton Orr. The two were in a fight, and Parros smoked his jaw off of the ice, was carried off in a stretcher, to the hospital, and later diagnosed with a concussion.

Debated sparked immediately. “It’s barbaric!”, “Dinosaurs only like that stuff”. Or the opposing side, “When did we get so soft?”.

Fighting is part of the game, and players get injured from fights pretty frequently. In a weird coincidence, Colton Orr happened to receive a concussion following a fight with George Parros a couple years earlier.

The game is changing. This year introduces smaller pads, and a shallower net. Also rules about taking your helmet off before fighting if you have a visor have also been implemented, for the safety of both players. It’s weird, isn’t it? That we are trying to take the act of fighting, the dangerous, intense, and sometimes consequential act of fighting, and covering it with pillows. Underneath all of those pillows, it’s still a very heavy, sturdy, piece of mud.

I say mud because fights sometimes it just falls through, both guys get a little dirty, and nothing really happens. I say mud also because sometimes, you find a rock in the mud, or you slip in the mud and end up with a nasty injury or two. That is not cool. But, it is part of the game. We have come to understand that fighting, as of right now, is not going anywhere. And that may be for the better. It may not.

We can look at fighting at a couple angles. The NHL could see it as an entertainment component of their game, and they would not be wrong. When was the last time you saw a fight and basically every single fan in the arena didn’t stand up? Probably never. When was the last time you saw a fight, and a fan just looked away with a snobby look on their face, and in a thick, disturbed, and disappointed accent uttered “this is so barbaric, who could enjoy such an act?” Again, probably never.

But hey, they love it. The fans love it. The players love it too. In a survey done last year, it showed that 98% of players would want to keep fighting in the game. You might find that slightly shocking, but it really isn’t at all.

Think about it; does any player think fighting shouldn’t be allowed because of the players safety? I sound rude and inconsiderate, but here’s the point: these are the guys that lie down in front of Zdeno Chara’s slapshot (but, that’s part of the game!!). There are guys that fly at jet-speed into their opponent, clashing in a Lion King battle of brothers dramatic fashion, with the crows roaring with excitement (but, that’s part of the game!!). There are guys that are specifically meant to go out their, take off some of their equipment, and attempt to spark a passion in their respective teams, by throwing their arms at each other in an effort to win and bring some motivation to their benches (but… but…).

It’s kind of the same thing. Kind of.

You see, lying down in front of a slap shot, or preparing yourself for a check, that is part of the game. There’s no penalty for that. If fighting is part of the game, why is there a penalty for that? I guess we could say tripping is a penalty, elbowing, charging, you name it. And those are ‘part of the game’ too. But why do those players, who sometimes share the exact nature in their own two-minute-deserving efforts, only get two minutes. Any why do the players who fight, get five whole minutes.

It may be part of the game, but these parts of the game are different. It’s different when you accidentally trip a guy, then when you and another player agree mutually to fight each other, stopping the game and putting both of you at risk of serious injury. That’s dangerous, and thus uncool, so they might deserve an extra few minutes in the box.

We are trying to make this game safer, and that’s why we’ve introduced the new grandfathered visor rules, where all players under 25-game experience have to wear a visor. Good rule, I think most would say.

Let’s say we try to make it even safer. Let’s remove fighting.

Wait, we can’t do that. We can’t remove an act. We can heavily penalize it. Yeah, let’s do that. From now on, if a player fights, they get a game misconduct. Oh yeah, that’ll show em!

It probably won’t. Does anyone think that George Parros, or Colton Orr, won’t stick up for their player, or drop the gloves, simply because they’ll get thrown out? I hate to say it, but their job sometimes is to purely spark up the team, nothing else. That sounds cold, but it’s the job. In today’s NHL, Orr might drop the gloves, go to the box, back to the bench, and if there’s no need for a fight, might play a few more minutes in the game. I hardly think they would miss him if he was removed from the game.

That sounds bad, I know, but sometimes, it’s true.

What about other fights? You know, the fights where guys are not enforcers, and are simply acting in a fit of passion and rage. The outcomes are the same: sparking up the team, get a 5 minute penalty, and maybe even an injury. I fear that if fighting is severely penalized, passion is being removed from the game. If fighting is so heavily punished, you won’t see those scrums in front of the net anymore. You won’t see those guys lining up at centre ice.

You won’t see anything like this fight, ever again.

Maybe I’m wrong. Heck, I probably am. The point is that if the NHL starts to heavily penalize fighting, the enforcer role will diminish into a black hole with what other people would call ‘good old fashioned hockey’. That’s a stretch, but you get what I mean.

Perhaps you can’t get rid of fighting, because it’s part of the game. Perhaps you can’t get rid of boarding,

or elbowing, or charging, or roughing, because it’s part of the game. Perhaps you can’t get rid of injuries. Because, you guessed it, it’s part of the game. Players are going to get injured one way or another and that’s hockey, and that’s part of the game.

But there is some merit to the other side of the argument. Safety is important, and role models are plentiful in the NHL. Youth need to see that fighting is not always necessary, and that it’s only for players who can handle themselves, and are at an age that is deemed appropriate. Maybe the NHL should launch a campaign, illustrating the circumstances of fighting and the do’s and don’ts and why it can be seriously dangerous.

So, you probably can’t really get rid of fighting. You can add more penalty minutes, suspend guys, you name it. But it may never truly disappear.

The act of fighting can be twisted and polished and covered with sparkly safety pillows. But under it all, under all the NHL’s somewhat empty attempts to get make fighting safer, lies the rough, bloody, harsh reality of fist to cuffs.

And guess what, it’s part of the game.

What do you think? Should the NHL consider a ban of fighting, should they hand out suspensions for fighting, perhaps game misconducts? Let me know in the comment section or tweet me @JLKirlik. I’d love to hear some opinions!