Why Fighting Numbers Are Up During Shortened 2013 NHL Season

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 21: John Scott #32 of the Buffalo Sabres fights with Frazer McLaren #38 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first period at First Niagara Center on March 21, 2013 in Buffalo, United States.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Fighting numbers in the NHL are up this season.

At least compared to last year.

Hockeyfights.com has kept track of fighting in the NHL since the 2000-01 season and it keeps stats on the subject.

There is an average of 0.52 fights per game in the NHL this season. That's up from 0.44 fights per game last year.

However, while that's a fairly sizable increase from last year to this year, it's right in line with fight numbers from the previous four seasons. From 2007-08 through 2010-11, no season had an average of less than the 0.52 fights per game.

The NHL is concerned about concussions and other head injuries. While fighting has long been part and parcel of the NHL product, NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has suspended players with great frequency for any illegal head shots.

Shanahan moved into his position at the start of the 2011-12 season. Prior to the start of the season, former NHL enforcers Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and Derek Boogard all died tragically (source: NBCSports).

The combination of those deaths and Shanahan's elevation may explain why fighting was down in 2011-12. Other than that, the number of NHL fights has been quite steady over the past five years.

But it stands to reason that fights are up this year. The shortened 48-game regular season means that points are at a premium and players are going to contest every shot and every square foot of ice as if their livelihood depends on it.

"Every game is important,” Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader told The Windsor Star. “That would be my guess as to the reason why.”

St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said he thought the lockout had something to do with the increase in fighting after the downturn in 2011-12.

Hitchcock pointed out to The Windsor Star that many players had been away from competition for eight months and they had a lot of pent-up hostilities since they had not been playing during the work stoppage.

Since the start of the 2000-01 season, fights have ranged from a low of 0.38 fights per game in 2005-06 to a high of 0.65 fights per game in 2001-02, according to hockeyfights.com.

The 2005-06 season was the year that hockey returned after losing the full 2004-05 season to a lockout.

That would seem to pour water on Hitchcock's theory since players had missed a full season and had gone approximately 18 months between meaningful games.

The number of fights is up this year, but it is in the same range as they had been in the last dozen years.

It seems likely that there will be years when fighting numbers are up and others that are down. Until the game takes steps to eliminate fighting entirely, those random swings will continue.