For safety, hockey needs to reconsider fighting

By Dan Allan

If you have watched any of the first few games of this year’s NHL playoffs, there’s little doubt you’ve noticed some of the most aggressive, and downright violent action in many years–activity that the league has been looking to prevent through recent adjustments to the rulebook. Many of these rule changes were met by opposition, but even for longtime hockey fans such as myself, who long for the ‘good old days’ of bone-crushing hits without an immediate penalty call or potential suspension, the hits given and punches thrown as of late have seemed unnecessarily vicious. In Game Three of the first round series between the in-state rivals Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, there were 148 penalty minutes assessed throughout the 60-minute game for the multiple brawls and cheap hits that took place. Yes, playoff hockey is certainly more intense than the regular season, and the extra grit and determination does provide for an entertaining game, but the time it takes officials to sort out who deserves penalties and game misconducts has been taking away from any flow and finesse that also makes hockey a great spectator sport. What, or rather who, is needed to help keep these games in check are the enforcers of old, whose presence alone was enough to make players think twice before acting out. While it may seem counterintuitive to have additional fighting be the solution that prevents excessive violence, it provides a type of policing that tighter officiating, suspensions, and fines simply cannot. The instillation of penalties for less severe offenses in the post-lockout NHL has adjusted the make-up of teams in both physical stature and skillset. Additional smaller, quicker players, who once needed protection under less strict rules, now have replaced the traditional enforcers that teams once found necessary to hold roster spots for. Because of this, the threat of an intimidatingly large man– clearly not on the team for his skating or puck-handling skills– to seek out and challenge an opposing player for a play considered dirty, no longer exists. Despite the malicious intent associated with fighting, there were (and still are) unwritten codes that enforcers almost always abide by–including finding an equally matched, willing participant, and stopping the fight when an opponent taps out. The trend of late has proven that skilled players, when agitated, and without the threat of an enforcer looming, have neither proper etiquette nor the levelheaded mentality required to make fighting more about firing up teammates with a selfless display than seriously injuring your opponent with cheap shots. If the NHL wants to continue to protect its players’ safety from the major concussions that have recently plagued the league, they should seriously reconsider the steps being implemented to phase fighting out of the game. Fighting has been proven to cause significant head injuries in the past (see: Derek Boogaard), however the relatively consequence-free hits with elbows to the head today as a result of the decrease in fighting, and thus enforcer presence, are affecting a greater amount of players than ever before. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the postseason plays out, and if the NHL will be willing to suspend a star player for a significant amount of playoff time due to altercations that seem to be getting more and more out of hand. While many of the league’s general managers consider fighting to be an outdated practice, it should actually be given another look in order to help retain the faster, cleaner image hockey hopes to build. refresh –>