NHL Fighting: 5 Rules of Engagement To Make It Better
Who has not heard the joke, "I was at a fight last night and a hockey game broke out"?
Many fans of other sports view the NHL as brutish because of the fights and miss out on the beauty of the sport because of it. They watch Olympic hockey without fighting and maybe the playoffs when it is rare, but the fights keep them from supporting during the regular season, and the NHL loses potential support.
But fighting is so ingrained in the culture of hockey in North America that trying to get rid of it is useless. Even though the fans who like it will not turn from the sport just because it goes away does not mean losing it would not hurt the game.
Many of us like the fact that if someone crosses a line, this one sport gives its competitors the ability to do something about it. It gives it a charm and old-school feel.
But as the fourth sport in North America, the NHL needs to explore ways to reduce fighting to the fights that matter. Here are five rules that I suggest are worth examining and discussing...
Change in Instigator Rule
Right now, players cannot be the first to throw gloves down in certain situations or they will get penalties for instigating fights, leading to additional minor to major and match penalties.
This comes from a desire to eliminate the goon-like fights from taking place. But what it has actually done is allow the real instigators—players who take cheap shots and other despicable acts—to perform their acts without fear of reprisal.
If Sean Avery got clocked a couple of times for his abhorrent behaviour, he might be more reticent to pull it out.
But why give up on the plan to eliminate the unnecessary fights? Why not put the real instigator in the box?
If a camera review of the interaction prior to the fight showed there was a slash to the legs that was not caught, throw the penalty the other way. It will stop a lot of fights from happening in the first place, and make the ones that stay behind do so for a reason.
Discipline of Illegal Hits Needs To Improve
It is not even that the NHL is always wrong on this. In fact, I view the smaller disciplinary matters to be almost always right.
But the big suspensions are less accurate. Sometimes they are big enough, and sometimes they are not.
They are not big enough for targeting the head. People are actually dying as a result of the concussions they endured before retiring. Careers are being put in jeopardy.
Enough. If you hit up towards someone's head, you sit for a very long time.
Double-digit games, the whole playoffs or even whole regular seasons if you are an habitual offender.
Likewise, Richard Zednik almost died on the ice because of a skate. It was not being used as a weapon at the time, but players must respect their fatal and debilitating potential.
Anyone who stomps or kicks a person with their skate faces the same punishment as someone who targets the head.
Some boarding and other penalties currently meet the standard of justification for fighting. These and repeat offenders must get a little more consistent discipline. Because right now, discipline is influenced by your star level.
Chris Pronger and Chris Simon both had the same number of suspensions (seven) when they committed the exact same act in the same season: Simon, a goon on skates, sits for 30 games; Chris Pronger, a stud on the blue line, sits eight.
In fact, had the league been doing its job in the first place these guys would not have even been out there. No one gets to eight suspensions—three strikes and you are out is too strict, but seven is more than enough. If someone endangers others that often, they should not be allowed back into the league.
Make Players Stand Up for Themselves
None of the above changes anything unless the player himself has to defend his honour.
Corey Perry took a whack at the face of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who had the audacity to fall in Perry's way of the puck after being checked to the ice, a couple years back. Because he knew no one was going to fight him in the last five minutes.
More than that, he knew his goon big brother from another mother, George Parros, had his back.
Growing up, I knew I could say anything to kids older than me because my big brother was going to drop the proverbial gloves and get my back. Even if Perry wants to stick up for himself, he cannot because he is too much of an asset on the ice to be unavailable for five minutes.
The league already allows goalies to have their time served and stay on the ice. What if players could do the same for matching fighting penalties, where the teams remain five on five anyway?
This would enable players who cannot be lost for five minutes to fight for themselves. Since plenty of skilled players are capable of fighting their own battles, the guy dishing out punishment to an instigator need not be an enforcer.
Thus, the game is improved in two ways—this removes the protection cowards hide behind and allows teams to use the 18th skater position for a player who adds something to the game instead of what are often unskilled enforcers.
A lot of potential fans see the endless posturing in front of the net as like a pushing match between children. Either fight or do not, because riding the middle ground just slows down the game.
Let the non-contact sports like baseball have bench-clearings where no one is man enough to back up their childish threats. Hockey needs to protect goalies from the endless confrontations in their workspace.
The potential of goalie injuries only contributes to the tension when these scrums take place. Thus, not only are these bad for the game's image and flow, they are bad for the game's top players and help escalate tension that leads to bad penalties and fights down the road.
The league already has third-man-in rules for fights and other confrontations. Just count that in front of the net and require players who want to push someone to do it away from the crease. If the goalie is in real danger by reckless rather than aggressive play, someone can step in to protect him. If it is not worth a fight, it is not worth a scrum.
Warn the Benches
The other fights the game does not need are the "We are tired of you beating us badly, so we are going to beat you badly," ones.
If you are losing 7-1 and your opponent scores again, tough. Grow up or play better—do not send out your goon to do the fighting with his fists you could did not do in competition.
I am not talking about being down 3-0 and your team needs a spark. I am talking about once the game is lost.
In a blowout, refs could warn the benches that putting their goons on the ice to go toe to toe will result in the same thing it does if you do it when there is under five minutes left. Fights are all but over in the final minutes of a game, so it obviously works there—why wouldn't it a little earlier in a blowout?