By Bryanna McDermott | The Duquesne Duke
“Punching your best friend in the face a few times a week will do wonders for your career,” Brandon Prust, the Montreal Canadien left wing, said in his February 2015 Players’ Tribune article “Why We Fight”. A few years ago, this may be true, but until recently, the NHL has seen a decline in fighting that’s pushing enforcers like Prust off the ice and into extinction.
Fighting in hockey has been a hot topic in recent years, especially with the rise of the Concussion Era. The NHL wants to expand the league by creating a family friendly atmosphere to sell tickets and bring in more fans. Banning fighting, a black eye on professional hockey, is a good way to clean up the game. The players are doing Commissioner Gary Bettman’s job for him though, as fighting has decreased 50 percent in the past five seasons, and it may be time to kick the bad habit out of the game now, while its impact is limited.
Only 197 fighting majors have been recorded through 681 games played this season, according to hockeyfights.com. About 356 fights are projected by the end of the season, a significant decrease from the 469 fights the NHL saw just two seasons ago. Six teams had yet to register a fight 136 games into the 2015-16 season. It even took the Toronto Maple Leafs until December 5th to get their first fighting major. Fighting is retreating from the NHL, but it’s time to make its demise official.
Fighting no longer belongs in the NHL. The game has evolved immensely since the stick swinging Canadian Rugby players decided they needed a winter sport in the late 1800s. Unlike the 1980s, when the league recorded an average 1.38 fights per game, today’s rosters include third and fourth line players who have speed and skill, rather than enforcers who get paid to only drop their gloves. High price tag players and a looming salary cap, leave no room for goons who take up money that could be used for talented players.
The NHL needs to put the safety of their players before a glimpse of barbaric thrill. An onslaught of lawsuits continue to plague the NHL, as retired players face health complications as a result from the violence they experienced throughout their careers. The troubling deaths of infamous enforcers, Derek Boogard, Wade Belak, Todd Ewen, and plenty more have also haunted the league for over a decade. Players who choose to fight aren’t just coming out with broken jaws and bloody knuckles. Research from Boston College proves that fighting, along with normal hockey wear and tear, can lead to intense brain trauma causing symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s in victims.
Fighting does nothing to better the NHL. The fans don’t even want it anymore. Fighting results in a drop in attendance and revenue for the league, according to Duane Rockerbie, an economics professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. Through 13 seasons, Rockerbie discovered that revenue and attendance numbers were at their lowest when fighting was at its highest.
The lack of fighting isn’t causing an increase in cheap shots and penalties either. High sticking is at an all-time low, while boarding and game misconducts are also on the decline. Fighting is no longer used to let players ‘police’ the game. Only six of the first 40 fights in the season involved a player defending their teammate, according to CBS Sports. Of the eight incidents that resulted in suspensions and fines leading up to November, not one of the perpetrators were challenged to a fight during the game to pay for their actions.
Players almost never fight in important situations. We don’t see fighting in the Olympics and rarely in the playoffs, but we also never see it in the third period of a close game. Winning a fight can build your team momentum, but coaches are sending their star players out instead. Taking a penalty is no longer worth the risk of losing a game. Of the season’s first 40 fights, 22 have come in the first period of the game, 13 in the second, seven right off the face-off, and five that happened for no reason at all.
The art of fighting in hockey is dying out. It’s time for the NHL to put this debate to rest and enforce stricter penalties against fights. Whether it be an automatic game ejection, fine, or suspension, fighting needs to be dealt with officially once and for all. Fighting will always be a part of hockey culture, but the NHL has the responsibility to keep its players safe and continue the expansion of the league before allowing an act that shows no importance to the game. It’s time to clean up the league.