Behind the scenes here at Last Word On Sports, our hockey department gets into some pretty pointed discussions about the latest news in the NHL and around the hockey world. So, we thought we’d pull back the curtain and give you some insight into our thoughts with a regular series called LWOS Hockey Roundtable. Feel free to join in on the conversation in the comments section below or by Tweeting at any of our writers!
Recently, NBC broadcaster and former NHL head coach and general manager Mike Milbury gave the hockey world a bit of a shock when he came out against fighting. Famously known as a fighter during his playing days (he totaled more than 70 fights, some more notorious than others, and 1552 PIMs during his career) and as a strong supporter of fighting’s place in the NHL, this was quite an about-turn for a very vocal voice in the fighting debate.
It got us here in the Last Word On Sports hockey department wondering: what should the league do about fighting?
LWOS Hockey Roundtable: Should the NHL Abolish Fighting?
Shawn Wilken (@): Okay everyone, today’s topic is fighting in the NHL. After Mike Milbury changes his opinion on dropping the gloves in hockey, where do you all stand with this? Does it stay or does it go?
Dom Simonetta (@): I don’t think it’s an easy thing to simply get rid of. Hockey is such an emotion-driven game. Fights, regardless of whether they’re justified or not, help to contain that emotion. It’s tough.
Matt Ricks (@): Fighting is such an iconic part of hockey, especially when you look down the road of hockey’s history. I think over time you will see the amount of fights slowly decline but there is no way it can be abolished completely.
Robbie Jefferson (@): I think fighting should go, at this point there has been so much documented about the “protector” role being nothing more than BS.
Aaron Wrotkowski (@): Let’s start with baby steps. Why do fights not end up in a four on four situation after? Why is it a five minute penalty with no noticeable change to the game? Also, why are fights not treated like a delay of game when they clearly are? Why do we care more about a puck over the glass than two players swinging and stopping the game?
Shawn: In the case of staged fights, I agree. That’s a delay of game.
Matt: For sure tack on a delay of game penalty.
Ken: At the very least, there needs to be harsher penalties, similar to what’s been done in the AHL. Kicking guys out after two fights and perhaps suspending players after they’ve accrued a certain number of fights during a season would help to control the chaos.
Aaron: You can’t control chaos. You can simply make it clear that, now? We throw you out. You now have to re-register to play in the NHL a year later.
Shawn: Are you suggesting an ejection from the league for the rest of the season, Aaron?
Aaron: Personally, I just want ejections after a fight plus a fine to the team. Too many ejections and you’re suspended for the year. You think a guy will take a cheap shot if it means no job?
Matt: I’m with Aaron on a more fierce penalty to lead to harsher suspensions but for a whole season seems extreme. Repeat offenders maybe. I don’t agree of having a probation period in allowing your next suspension being decided because of your recent history and not your whole career, example Matt Cooke. I don’t think it’s a bad thing but I don’t think we’ll ever see the day where the league starts threatening players the loss of their jobs, at least not anytime soon.
Dom: The NHL hasn’t done anything over the past few years that has even remotely acknowledged that they’re willing to make a rule change such as that. This league will never have the heart to take it that far
Aaron: Violence will happen. You can’t prevent violence. You can make sure players know that uncontrolled aggression could mean losing your job.
Robbie: A pulled hamstring isn’t preventable, what happened to George Parros last year is.
Aaron: Yes. Take for example Steve Downie on Dean McAmmond. Do you remember his suspension? No? That’s because it wasn’t harsh enough. And I can’t stand the sympathy for first offenders. That allows a guy to say hey, I can take this guy out. I have a clean record.
Dom: The Parros situation was unique, albeit terrible to witness. As far as threatening players with their jobs for uncontrolled aggression, that would be a dramatic step for the NHL. Will they ever grow that bold, who knows? But without fighting, hits from behind as well as headshots will rise even more. It’s inevitable.
Dom: Banning fighting would result in players releasing aggression in different, more dangerous ways. It would be a massive adjustment period.
Ken Hill (@): Dom, I’d say that’s the major argument against a fighting ban. We’d see a huge uptick in stick-swinging and other dangerous plays. Aggression, frustration, and retribution need an outlet.
Dom: Totally agree.
Aaron: Okay, but stick swinging has been up already. It’s another NHL problem. Not harsh enough penalties for high sticks. Stick swinging went up when wood sticks went out And if you ban fighting, you ban revenge hits. Fighting is basically vigilante justice. Why do we accept that in hockey?
Dom: But it would increase even more, along with bad, dangerous hits to exact some sort of revenge for other plays that occur. How would you control revenge hits in that scenario? That would be their only option.
Ken: You can’t, they go hand in hand. If you want to abolish fighting, you’d have to abolish hitting, which is unimaginable.
Dom: Exactly Ken. That’s my view.
Markus Meyer (@): The big issue for me is, how do you prove a fight was staged? Referee discretion?
Matt: If you have two players chirping before the puck even drops and they drop their gloves when the puck drops and even set themselves up for the fight (positioning, brushing your sleeves up), that’s staged.
Ken: Or anything within, let’s say 5-10 seconds of a faceoff. I think we can all agree that staged fighting has no place in the game.
Fighters Going Extinct
Ken: The stats bear that fighting is naturally going down too. Over the last five years, fighting is down nearly 12% league-wide, and games with more than one fight are down more than 50% during that time. These are not small numbers.
Shawn: That’s fair. Teams are starting to understand that there is a change, but it is STILL existant.
Dom: What signs point to it ever eventually dying out though by itself? If you really want to lessen it, stop giving contracts to enforcers.
Ken: As we’ve already seen from the number of high-profile fighters who couldn’t find a job this summer.
Shawn: Ken, John Scott got a job just fine and he can’t play hockey. Any one of us can play better hockey than Scott.
Matt: Scott isn’t a hockey player, that’s obvious but guys like him leave a nasty stain on the sport.
Ken: Fair enough Shawn, but what about guys like Paul Bissonnette, who can’t get a contract, Tom Sestitio, who can’t get into the lineup, or Colton Orr and Frazer McClaren, who get waived? Even the Philadelphia Flyers are without a legitimate enforcer for the first time since forever. Scott is the exception, not the rule.
Robbie: Look at John Scott, noted giant and fighter, then look at Brian Boyle, fellow 4th-liner who uses his size to actually play hockey, who’s going to run himself out of the league first?
Ken: Agreed Robbie, fighting will take care of itself as the culture changes on and off the ice and as we see more of these guys out of the NHL.
Charlie Clarke (@): Since hockey is such an emotional sport, you need to have an alternative to cheapshotting someone. However, you also need the skill to actually play hockey, because teams are finally realizing they should just ice four lines of actually competent players. Also, I don’t think the NHL will be interested in total abolition just yet. It’s a big sell.
Shawn: Which brings me to my point; emotional fighting needs to stay. Jarome Iginla vs Vincent Lecavalier in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final is a prime example.
Shawn: Emotinal fighting: Stay. Staged fighting: Get rid of it. Rules are the player gets ejected. Next time, suspension and it’s a snowball effect after that. Clean up the sport WITHOUT abolishing anything.
Ken: Well said. Thanks for the chat everyone.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more editions of LWOS Hockey Roundtable throughout the NHL season and don’t forget to get involved in the conversation via Twitter or the comments section below.
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