I Love Fighting in Hockey, but the NHL Needs to Ban It

I’m an old-school hockey purist. I love hard fought battles along the boards. I love tough players who lay thunderous body checks and sell out to block shots. I even love to see a spirited bout between two willing combatants, going blow for blow. However, fighting needs to be taken out of the NHL.

Stifling the Game’s Growth

(John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
(John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

While there are a number of reasons against fighting — including player safety concerns, the game evolving beyond it and it simply being viewed as barbaric — the reason why it needs to be eradicated is because it’s stifling the growth of the game, specifically the development of the NHL. The NHL has and will continue to have its devout niche following, which for the most part, absolutely adores seeing supercharged fisticuffs. This same admiration for violence doesn’t carry over to the general public though, or even the casual fan (outside of a few individuals on the fringe). Fighting doesn’t only hinder the growth of hockey, it goes as far as alienating individuals from the game.

The fighting-in-hockey debate has once again resurfaced due to the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs brawl that recently took place.  Unfortunately, moments such as this one are the only time the NHL gets showcased on a national level in the United States. This certainly doesn’t help the image of the game, and actually reduces it to a laughable sideshow at best. While what went on at the Air Canada Center was entertaining for some, it makes the NHL look bush league to many others, reducing all of its credibility to ash.

How many times have your non-hockey friends referred to hockey players as “animals” or “barbarians”? Some of you have probably even seen the frightened turn away and cover there face in horror. How do you sell a protective mother on the game of hockey to the point where she’d feel comfortable enough to let her young children watch the game as a weekend family outing, never mind convincing her to allow her kids to participate?

A Sport Misunderstood

Showcasing world-class, highly skilled athletes, hockey is one of the most difficult sports to play on the face of the earth. Too bad a number of consumers will never be able to look past the violence to see the true essence of the game. There’s no other sport that demands such a unique blend of toughness, endurance, speed and quickness, hand-eye coordination and mental fortitude all the while requiring its athletes to perform on a quarter-inch thick razor blade. Despite these intricacies, these uber-talented individuals will never be considered anything more than stick-swinging, fist-throwing neanderthals, if the NHL refuses to clean up its game.

(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Outside of North America, fighting is all but nonexistent in the professional ranks of hockey, and hardly missed. European hockey fans are actually someone of the most passionate and exuberant followers you will find. Dare I say, they would even rival most North American fans. The games are just as exciting and hard fought as NHL games, all the while being played without the most talented players. If fighting was removed from the NHL, it would only accentuate the caliber and skill of the league and its athletes.

Again, I love seeing a spirited tilt as much as anyone, but what I love even more is seeing the game of hockey grow. If the NHL continues to permit fighting, it’ll continue to turn away potential hockey fans and delegitimize itself. The hardcore fanbase — rain or shine — will always be there, as the last two lockouts have proved. The NHL needs to focus on other consumer segments to nurture its brand, and ultimately continue the development and reach of hockey. It can take a giant step in the right direction by prohibiting fighting.

8 thoughts on “I Love Fighting in Hockey, but the NHL Needs to Ban It”

  1. Hi again Joe

    Re fighting; the fans want it brother. The majority of hockey fans want fighting in the game. I know I do. And yes the leagues in Europe have fighting but more disturbing are the cheapshots. PJAxelson, a Swede with Boston a dozen years ago said the NHL was a far better league with fighting to control some of the BS. If you’re on FB I encourage you to check out what I wrote on the Leaf-Sabre brawl just google Uultimate Hockey Network. Starting this weekend I will be writing a multipart series on fighting in hockey. Bottom line, the majority of every single element associated with the NHL want fighting in the game. I pointed out the three things needed to be done to all but eliminate the staged fights and help curtail the cheap shots. One thing for sure Joe, its a game played with controlled violence. Yes there’s a lot of nice, skillful plays but with contact, collisions, sticks, the compete level of these men and bad intentions you are going to have violence. And that violence is best served with a fight.

  2. This was added to the conversation via Twitter

    @Liams_Hockey added this:

    @TheHockeyWriter. There were so many factual errors in the post re fighting let me address a few of them. Are you suggesting a lifetime suspension for fighting? That’s the only way to ban it. There is significant fighting in the KHL. Jagr was in a game 2 years ago that didn’t finish due to brawling. The growth of hockey in NA is unprecedented. Attendance & ancillary $ being spent, TV numbers, all going up. The half dozen line brawls a year are unfortunately over shadowed by dozens of cheap shots and dirty plays. Fighting is responsible for maybe 5% of all injuries. Wrong approach my friend. Factually incorrect and way off base. What you want gone should be the staged fights. Reduce the roster by one, remove the instigator rule and throw the book at the Matt Cooke’s. Very easy. But leave fighting alone.

    • Hi Liam,

      Thank you very much for your comments. You make some really excellent points, which is great because it’s all about creating a platform for discussion. I can also see by the way you’ve written your response that you’re very passionate about this topic and the game of hockey, and it’s always nice to talk to like-minded individuals.

      I wasn’t suggesting a lifetime ban for fighting nor do I think it would take something so drastic to curtail fighting. I’d suggest a match penalty for fighting, which would of course also come with it an automatice suspension (maybe for a few games). However, I am aware this likely wouldn’t completely eradicate fighting; it certainly would reduce it significantly. I think we can at least both agree that fighting in the NHL does need to change from its current incarnation.

      As far as your allusion to the KHL, I believe this is in regards to my comment about the lack of a presence fighting has in European hockey. I was making a reference to the more established European leagues i.e. SM-liiga, DEL, SHL; the KHL is in a separate class. Do you think instances such as the “Jagr brawl” are helping the fledgling league legitimize itself?

      Now lets talk about the cheap shots. It all needs to begin with stricter sanctions coming from the NHL. We can both agree than Shanahan and the boys can do a far better job. The disciplinary board needs to both be more consistent and more severe when handing out punishment. The bureaucracy that exists here needs to stop. Then when incidents do happen, players won’t feel that they need to “police themselves.” I’m sure you are familiar with the term “violence begets violence.” Using fighting to eliminate other cheap shots certainly isn’t a logical means of action. Look no further than the Sabres-Leafs brawl. The entire incident was sparked by the Tropp-Devane fight that occurred beforehand.

      You are also spot on about the NHL making strides financially. However, there is a lot of room to grow further. One of the major problems with the NHL is that the majority of revenue is being generated by a few franchises/markets. Forbes is a great resource for information in this respect. According to them, the Maple Leafs, Rangers and Canadiens had an operating profit of $171 million combined during the 2010-11 season. The other 27 NHL teams lost a collective $44 million. This report was published around this time last year, so I’m hopeful that they’ll have updated figures published very soon. These numbers signify the importance of focusing on other markets and consumer segments beyond the “hardcore” fan.

      If you’d like, I invite you to discuss this matter further. My email address is josephvdeluca@gmail.com. If you’d prefer a different platform for discourse, let me know.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. The GM’s don’t want to ban fighting from hockey and either do the players. If you take fighting out of hockey, there are a certain type of player that will run wild, the “so called” agitators like Matt Cooke.

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks a lot for the feedback!

      You make a very good point. As I mentioned to Cedric (see below), it all needs to begin with stricter sanctions coming from the NHL for “Matt-Cooke-like infractions” as well as fighting. In just about all of the major European professional leagues, fighting leads to an automatic ejection and in many cases is followed by a suspension. These leagues don’t have issues with agitators “running wild.”

  4. Hey, I’m Cedric, I’m french, living in toronto,
    I’d like to know if you think that it’s possible to ban fighting during the hockey game. I interviewed lots of fans and they told me that “It’s part of the game”. And they don’t seem to think that it’s a bad example for fans.

    • Hi Cedric,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I suppose it’d be rather difficult to completely eliminate fighting. However, the NHL can certainly take steps to all but vanquish it. First off, the league would have to hand out far more severe repercussions for being involved in a fight such as an automatic match penalty (which would also mean an immediate suspension). Secondly, the league’s disciplinary team needs to be both more consistent and less forgiving. Then when incidents do happen, players won’t feel that they need to “police themselves.”

      In regards to fans considering fighting to be a part of the game, I completely agree with your comment. However — as I pointed out — the problem doesn’t lie with current NHL fans. The issue is more casual sports watchers and other potential fans are turned off by the violence associated with fighting in hockey, which is actually hindering the growth of the game.

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