Over the past few years, there has been a vast amount of ink spilt over the place that fighting has in the modern game of hockey. This never-ending debate is heating up again, after top prospect Connor McDavid broke his hand during a fight. He’s expected to miss five to six weeks, and his participation in the annual World Junior Championships is now in doubt.
As a kid growing up watching hockey, I used to love fights. I would get all excited when a player like Brad May would square off against the opposing tough guy. But now, it seems wrong to root for a guy to eat punches after all we’ve learned about concussions and head trauma.
The demons it creates for these types of players is no secret as well. In the summer of 2011, noted enforcers Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, and Rick Rypien all tragically took their own lives.
Even ‘old school’ media personalities and ex-players such as Mike Milbury — who according to hockeyfights.com has participated in 76 NHL-level fights himself — have come out and stated their displeasure over fighting.
The biggest reason that fighting is still around is the mythical ‘code,’ an ambiguous set of rules that is supposed to take the ‘rats’ out of the game. This is what the enforcer’s job is — to police the game, because apparently the referees on the ice can’t do that.
But more often than not, these enforcers end up fighting amongst each other, not really doing any ‘policing.’ I wouldn’t call Shawn Thornton sucker-punching Brooks Orpik policing, I would call it disgusting. Fighting has lost its significance in the game.
Thankfully, the NHL won’t have to go to any drastic measure and ban fighting, because it’s already on the decline. According to hockeyfights.com, in 2011-12 there were a total of 423 games which featured a fight. Last season, that number dropped to 366, a decrease of nearly five per cent.
With the exception of the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, fights have been steadily decreasing since 2008-09, with the percentage of fights per game dropping from 41.38 per cent in 2008-09 to 29.86 per cent last year.
Noted enforcer Shawn Thornton was let go by the Boston Bruins and signed with the Florida Panthers, and tough guy Colton Orr has been buried in the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate and has yet to play a single game in the NHL this year. Teams would much rather use a roster spot on a guy who can score goals than on a guy whose only skill is brawn and whose sole purpose is to skate around for eight minutes.
I understand the NHL is in the business of entertainment, and I do get that a lot of people enjoy watching fighting. But fighting has simply lost its importance in the game; it no longer serves a purpose and the cost is too high. It’s time to focus on the skill and speed — the hockey — and not slow it down with knuckle-dragging enforcers.