Has the Modern NHL Game Evolved Past Fighting?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

Fighting is a detriment to NHL hockey.
Fighting is a detriment to NHL hockey.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Who hasn't stood up and screamed when attending an NHL game and watching two grown men drop their gloves, circle each other with menace and then start throwing punches?

It is reminiscent of what used to go on in elementary school playgrounds a generation or two ago. Kids would put up their dukes and fight to settle a dispute. It was a passage into junior high school or perhaps high school. But at some point it would come to an end.

Might may have made right back in the day when two prepubescents went at it, but it has nothing to do with adulthood in any walk of life—except the National Hockey League.

It's often exciting to watch a one-on-one fight when both men are evenly matched and they fight fairly. But that doesn't make it right.

There's a lot more hitting in football and you don't see guys squaring off regularly in the NFL or college football. There are a lot of nasty elbows thrown in the NBA, but it doesn't usually lead to a fight.

There's no fighting in international hockey or college hockey, but it still goes on in the NHL and it's not helping the game.

In fact, it's holding the game back. In the eyes of the rest of the civilized world, fighting makes the NHL a barbaric sports league. It gives the rest of their sporting world a chance to look down their collective noses and sneer at the neanderthals.

Many teams employ players whose primary job is to fight in support of superstars who are skilled in the art of shooting, passing and carrying the puck but not in fistic arts. These players are largely goons who provide little else but the "character" to drop the gloves.

It does take courage to square off with an opponent that you know can cause damage by landing a punch or a series of them to your head. It also takes a lot of caveman stupidity.

The thrill that fans get from watching a dust up is temporary. Street justice—or in this case ice justice—is not really justice at all. It's just a part of life that has been put to bed by all levels of society but somehow gets a pass in the NHL.

Guys drop the gloves in the NHL and it's a momentary thrill for the fans that disappears as soon as its over. But it doesn't disappear for the combatants, who put themselves at risk for injury every time they engage a willing opponent.

A player like Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins may engage in 15 fights or more per season. He's usually successful because he's got some decent boxing skills, and he works hard at them in the gym.

However, when he went up against 6'8" behemoth John Scott of the Buffalo Sabres earlier this season, he suffered a concussion and had to be rested for several games before he could return to action.

Thornton is a decent player for an enforcer; Scott is an old-school goon who can do little else but fight.

However, if there was no more fighting allowed in the NHL, it seems likely that neither player would draw an NHL paycheck.

The game has plenty of things going for it including speed, skill and remarkable athleticism. The NHL should not have to depend on its players settling disputes by dropping the gloves and throwing punches.

It may provide a momentary rush when your guy beats up the other guy, but it gives you nothing positive over the long run.

No need to cater to the meatheads and the thrill-seekers. The game needs some forward thinkers to remove the carnival aspects of the game and focus on the skills.

Get rid of fighting in hockey because the game has moved past it.