From One Fan to Another: Fighting and the NHL

Brashear vs. Orr/ Photo by Kate McGovern,

The yearly debate has started up again: should the NHL outlaw fighting?

Every year after the All-Star break, the debate on whether or not fighting has a place in the game starts. Some pundits think fighting has always had a place in the game and others question whether or not it endangers players. The question, however, shouldn’t be ‘should fighting be outlawed’ but rather, ‘who should be able to fight?’

Hockey and fighting have always gone hand in hand since the beginning. Fighting is just a natural side effect of the physical and emotional game of hockey. The energy, emotion and excitement have to come out some way and fighting is hockey’s natural release.

Perhaps the most important reason as to why fighting shouldn’t be banned is the tradition of it. Fighting is perhaps one of the most gentlemanly and upstanding parts of the game. When was the last time there was a dirty hit in a fight? When was the last cheap shot in a fair fight? Sure there are a few players like Cindy Sidney Crosby who will pick a fight while their opponent isn’t looking, but in general, it is a clear affair. The tradition of showing the hometown crowd who is boss shouldn’t ever leave the game. It is hockey’s unique trait.

If fighting is outlawed it could actually take the game of hockey down a dark and scary path, one filled with bounties and cheap shots. With no way to release aggression, some players will engage in less than fair practices in order to get to the other team’s agitator. Look at the NFL for instance; the game of football is just about as physical as hockey, and there is no fighting allowed. The game is filled with cheap shots, players sticking fingers in helmets, and the worst of all, players encouraging other teams to go out of their way to injure a player. No one involved with the NHL would ever want the game to go to that place.

During the Versus telecast of the Rangers vs. Devils game, the commentators brought up an interesting point: why not just limit who can fight? The NHLPA has said that it should be ruled illegal for players to not take their helmets off during a fight. The commentators went on to agree with the union, saying it was a good idea but players with visors shouldn’t be allowed to fight. It seems like the most logical answer to the question, as many of the league’s fighters don’t wear one anyway.

The concern for safety is obvious here, but there is no reason to go overboard. The NHLPA is just looking out for the player’s well being, but is fighting really the place where most players get hurt? The answer is no, actually; it is most likely what happens before the fight that someone is hurt- Kris Draper’s broken face courtesy of Claude Lemiuex and Chris Drury’s head laceration just to name a few. Fighting is perhaps one of the cleanest parts of hockey and one of the most honored traditions. It would be foolish for the NHL to ban it.

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13 Responses to From One Fan to Another: Fighting and the NHL

  1. Mike Jones says:

    I don’t get it. How does one player paid only to be a thug on the ice beating up the other team’s designated thug keep anyone else in line?
    Did fighting stop Chris Simon or Todd Bertuzzi? Hockey, along with football, has plenty of cheap shots.
    I think there has to be a distinction between types of fights. Spontaneous and planned.
    Personally, I’m all for allowing a few seconds of scuffling after the whistle is two players are angry. But when two goons, whose entire presence in the NHL is based on their fighting ability, circle each other for 30 seconds while the refs stand by and hold other players back, is stupid. It doesn’t accomplish anything and cheapens the game.

  2. pgreene says:

    agreed with mike. goon-on-goon violence in no way deters anything. if briere is going to spear ovechkin in the junk, knowing that means peters or some other goon is going to get wrecked by brashear, who cares? now, if briere spears ovechkin in the junk and ovechkin drops the gloves and beats hell out of him, that fighting to me is ok. it’s probably too fine a line to cut in the flow of a game, but i just don’t see the point of two enforcers fighting each other.

  3. So if I’m reading this right, you are saying that certain NHL players should be signed because of their fighting skills and not their actual athletic ability? You mention that fighting is a natural release of the game, but now you are saying that only a few can actually release this energy? And if these few are only good at fighting than maybe they aren’t releasing natural hockey energy, but they have a natural fighting instinct. If you don’t like the idea of all players fighting then watch Boxing instead.

  4. C. Stone says:

    I agree with the commenters that this seems contradictory. There’s no “natural release” in a staged fight between two pugilists.
    Also, if only guys without visors can fight, guys WITH visors will have free reign to cheap shot the hell out of everyone with no fear of retribution, right?

  5. pepper says:

    An Ovechkin-Briere tussle would be an incredible sight to behold.
    Bill Daly has said that the BoG will look into and discuss possible changes to the “rules of engagement” for fighting. Which means, I think, some way to curtail the circus-like staged fighting. I hope.
    Don Cherry happens to be a big proponent of a “no fighting for guys that wear visors” rule.

  6. Casey says:

    My dad puts it best: “No one gets up to buy a beer during a fight… ever.”
    Fighting is a unique aspect to the sport of hockey, but, though I feel that it is an integral part of the game, as long as fighting is permitted in the NHL, hockey will continue to be a 2nd tier sport.
    Debate this previous claim as you may, but those who fight in any major sport besides hockey are rewarded with fines and suspensions, not 5 minute majors.
    Let me put it this way, there’s something to be said about the type of hockey that’s played every four years, where fighters are given the gate. Simply, for hockey to take the next step fighting must be dealt with more harshly than it is now- be it more severe penalties or down right ejections.
    Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to have hockey back on espn with gary thorne and clement, clement, hands of cement.
    go caps

  7. Marty says:

    Let me just say this is there 1 person who is complaining about the fighting, be it staged or not ,that doesn’t get out of their seat and cheer for your side? Fighting should always be part of PROFESSIONAL hockey. As in the game last night even the staged fights are a way to get a team fired up and out of their slumps. Just wish there wasn’t any fights last night 🙂 ah well at least Greenie got his . Curious to know if the people who complain about fighting even go to games.
    Anyone else think Bruce should have put Green in 2nd of SO I’d want the guy who scored twice shooting in SO not Federov.

  8. capsrus says:

    I go to the games and sure, I stay in the stands and cheer for the Caps when there is a fight. They are my team. But it cheapens the contest, adds absolutely nothing to the athleticism that is on display, and as Casey says, hockey will be a 2nd tier sport as long as fighting is permitted.
    I consider myself to be the kind of fan the NHL needs to grow: I’ve never skated, I grew up in the South and I’m still trying to figure out line changes (amongst other things). But in the past 9 years I have become a total hockey convert. My sports budget (which used to go to the Wiz/Skins/Nats) goes entirely to the Caps. My daughters are obsessed with Backstrom and Ovechkin. As a family, if we’re not at Verizon, we’re camped out in front of the TV for just about every game (and as anyone out there with a 14 year old daughter knows, that is no small feat). But I roll my eyes every time there is a referee sanctioned brawl. Fighting has no place in professional team sports. And it’s a shame that someone’s career (or life) is going to be cut short because two goons are allowed to beat each other senseless with grown men skating around them letting it happen.
    Put an end to it and play hockey.

  9. bearsfan says:

    Hey Marty – I’ve been going to live hockey games since the age of 5 (I”m 37, just for the record), and have never once cheered a fight, so you can count me as that one. My question to comments like yours is,”are you really a fan of hockey if you would stop going just because they got rid of fights?” I really hate the “fans like it” argument. The fights have absolutely nothing to do with hockey. Personally, I think there an excuse for the rest of the guys to take a rest; they are lame, and a waste of my time.

  10. Cy says:

    I think the notion that fighting provides a release, avoiding cheap shots is wishful thinking at best. Simon, Bertuzzi, McSorley, etc… these players weren’t deterred from cheap shots by the threat of getting beat up in a fight.
    There are plenty of reasons to keep fighting in hockey (for example: it’s popular), but the ‘release’ argument seems spurious to me.

  11. pelle31lives says:

    As usual, the NHL is looking for odd or absurd cosmetic solutions rather than examining the bigger problems. For instance:
    1) What can officials do to break up fights before one or the other combatant decides to end it with a pile driver instead of just getting tired and unclinching? How about an extra roughing minor?
    2) How to impress upon the players that a courtesy before dropping the gloves might be to automatically have to remove your helmet – visor or not?
    3) Removing the reactionary stuff around fighting, like the tie-down rules or the “no fighting in the last 5 minutes of a game” thing.
    4) How about removing the ridiculous instigator penalty, which was the original source of the discussions about fighting and serious injury in the first place?
    I don’t agree at all that fighting is hockey’s natural release. If that were so, every skater at one time would have enough of a beef to fight an opposing skater and there would be a ton more disruptions to individual games. Checking and big hits have always seemed to serve the purpose of a catharsis.
    I also don’t agree that fighting is one of the cleanest parts of hockey. Even the great fighters of the past and present have done some crazy and harmful things in the clinch to gain the upper hand – hair-pulling, eye-gouging, biting and more.
    I’m also not sure I agree that it is a gentlemanly part of the game, due to my own reservations about how the traditional “Code” is interpreted these days.
    I think fighting serves three purposes: For equal retaliation between the tough guys of two clubs when a questionable action is taken against a star player (unstaged); to clear out bad blood between two players or two clubs (staged); for a young player of questionable skill to establish himself in the league (could be both).
    What I would like to see less of in respect to fights, is when two guys agree to go but end up skating in circles with hands raised, afraid to commit – or just holding on to a jersey to prevent the other guy from breaking his hand loose. THAT looks comical and clownish and wrong.
    Also, this notion of starting a fight when your team is behind and needs a wake-up call has got to go. It was a relic of the 70’s and somehow made its way back in vogue over the last 5-6 years.

  12. jdelator says:

    Frankly, the reason fighting has gotten so much more vicious is because of the instigator penalty. If there was no instigator penalty, men would be men and settle their differences as such.
    Instead, guys are afraid of hurting their team so we get the cheap crap like the two-handed stick across the wrist or the extra roughing that could hurt a player. When they finally do drop gloves, the combatants have all this pent up frustration, it just gets ugly and someone could get hurt.
    Get rid of the intigator rule, the players police themselves and its better for the game.
    Fighting is part of hockey – taking it away will take away one of the attractions to the sport in the the non-traditional markets. We all love the game – the beauty, the skill, the speed, and the brutality are all part of it.

  13. Lucas P says:

    It’s not so much the injuries in my opinion, but the stereotypes. In comic strips, tv shows, whatever, hockey gets crap from people who think that pretty much no one cares about it. Not only in D.C. now, but also all around America hockey is bigger than ever. I know so many fans who are legitimate hockey fans who started off as fair-weathered caps fans less than a year ago. That is strong evidence about the greatness of the game.
    That link above is to an article that I agree with. Hockey players are probably, overall, the best pro athletes in the big 4 North American leagues.
    The problem is that people who don’t watch hockey think this: they skate around, throw punches, score a goal, throw punches,…ooh! let’s take a break and say that all there is to hockey is fighting!…, skate around, great save, oh look, a fight!
    They should go to their local rink on some night to watch an adult league game and see the fun people have. Then they should go with someone who knows hockey to a capitals game. Ask questions. Voila, new hockey fan.
    Basically, I hate it when people refer to hockey as “boxing on ice.” It couldn’t be further from the truth.
    Hockey is my favorite team sport. When I first started watching, it took me less than a year to become a true fan, and actually become a player myself. I’ve had so much fun. And my gloves only come off in the locker room or on the bench when I’m getting water.
    I pretty much hate the way that a game with a fight, no matter how good it was, has the fight as the thing that would stick out to someone who is unfamiliar with hockey. (Capitals vs. Lighting on 1/1/09. Great game. Great score, had a penalty shot, it was awesome. But a newcomer would be thinking, “why were they fighting?”
    I know that there is the issue of cheap shots. I described a house league at my local arena, and I know the NHL is much different. If it weren’t for the bashing from presumptuous non-fans, I wouldn’t mind the current state (maybe a bit fewer fights). It isn’t like old times when it was all about who has more goons. Donald Brashear is a beast, but he isn’t a goon. He can legitimately play hockey at the NHL level. He actually skates well and stick handles and everything.
    I love to play and watch hockey and the NHL, but I feel like I need to include this side of the story (I guess it’s a third side, after injuries and tradition).
    P.S. I also hate the “fight straps.” Fighting is not a part of the sport of hockey, no matter how much it goes on in the NHL. I don’t think that fighting should be supported by equipment changes. The equipment is for hockey, not fisticuffs on ice.
    P.P.S. It doesn’t support the NHL. Attractive players maybe, because then some otherwise-uninterested girls will watch (and hopefully become real fans quickly). However, fights don’t happen every game. And they are just a small piece. People watching hockey should watch it for the hockey (I’m calling out puck-bunnies too). People who want to see fighting should watch mixed martial arts. (Even boxing is better; it’s more of a sport, less of a raw fight that is boring to watch, yet brutal.) People don’t watch hockey only for the fights.

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