Delivering the knockout punch

Time to get rid of fighting in hockey

Photo by Bram Keast

It’s become a hotly debated subject, a talking point for many water cooler conversations: fighting in the NHL. Your typical traditionalist will tell you that it’s always had its place in hockey because it influences the game and pumps the teams up.

This may be true of junior hockey, when these kids are more susceptible to emotional twists and turns. Even then, fighting in junior doesn’t help a kid’s development. At the professional level, how much does a fight “pump up” the average player?

We’re just coming off a very entertaining Stanley Cup final involving two of hockey’s most exciting teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. With Lord Stanley’s mug on the line, not a single fight happened.

When it all matters, does dropping the gloves really affect the outcome of a game?

Another example is the Olympics, the ultimate prize at the international level. The IIHF doesn’t permit fighting at any level; it is a game misconduct if you do decide to drop the gloves.

Once again, is it really worth fighting a guy if you know you’ll have your team down a man for the remainder of the game? Is it worth it with a 3-2 lead against Russia in the gold medal final? Would it provide a boost to your team’s morale if you cleaned some Russian’s clock in a fight?

No. Fighting has no place in the game anymore. Hockey has evolved so much as a sport that it really is unnecessary.

Over the past few years, we’ve started to see the diminishing role of the “enforcer” with fewer of them able to find work on an NHL team’s fourth line.

A “tough guy” has a different meaning these days, with players such as Milan Lucic and Andrew Shaw who play hard-nosed hockey but can contribute in other ways besides fighting.

Fighting also takes a toll on NHLers. A few years ago Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and Derek Boogard all took their own lives, and it shook the hockey world. Those three men were enforcers, put out on the ice simply to fight.

No other professional sport in North America permits fighting. If you do fight, you are ejected or even suspended.

You don’t see linemen in the NFL duking it out after one made a comment to the other; they know they’ll receive an ejection for doing so.

There is no such thing as a line brawl in the NBA; you don’t see coaches putting out their tough guys for the opening tip off just to fight each other. What do you gain from knocking someone out? Not much. The NHL should adopt player ejection for fighting. If the NHL handed out game misconducts for fighting someone, you would see a lot less of it.

The future of the NHL relies on the growth of the game, something that the NHL has been attempting to do for years. Hockey is viewed as a second-rate sport in the U.S. because of the fighting.

With less fighting in the NHL, the marketability of the sport would likely increase. Suddenly, the average American family living in Florida will want to see a Panthers game because they know there won’t be a potential bloodbath breaking out on the ice.

Why should the fastest, most exciting sport on the planet be seen as violent? Fighting simply doesn’t belong in hockey anymore.