By Ken Reed
Back in 2006-07, 384 NHL games featured at least one fighting major, which was 31.2% of all games.
During the 2018-19 season, there were fewer than 200 games with a fighting major, the first time in the modern era the total had dropped that low.
There are several reasons for the decline in fighting:
1) Rule changes have pushed the NHL into an offensive era, requiring rosters filled with fast, skilled hockey players. Teams simply can’t afford to carry a couple goons on their rosters anymore whose best skill is bare-knuckle fighting.
2) The crackdown on fighting in junior hockey has created a culture in which fights are just a very small part of the game at that level. A couple years ago, the Ontario Hockey League dropped the number of fights allowed before a player is suspended from 10 to three. As a result, fights dropped by 48% in the OHL in 2016-17, the year following the rule change.
3) There is an increased awareness and understanding of concussions and CTE in hockey. More and more players understand that repetitive blows to the head could result in negative long-term health consequences.
“The NHL can no longer sell hate and violence and get away with it,” says Daniel Carcillo, once one of the league’s most prolific fighters.
“I don’t see this trend reversing, and it’s a good thing that young men don’t have to play hockey with a pre-requirement being that you may have to bare-knuckle box.”
Carcillo is now a leading advocate for player health awareness in the NHL.
Many, including League of Fans, are calling for a complete ban on fighting in the NHL and at all levels of hockey.
“A fighting ban is still an appropriate goal,” says Chris Nowinski of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, “but based on the choices they’ve made, I suspect the NHL would prefer to continue to have the threat of fighting as a way to appeal to a subset of fans.”
If so, let’s hope the NHL’s thinking evolves when it comes to that type of mindset.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
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- Ken Reed's Author Page on Amazon
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
A League of Fans Special Report