One of the reasons Darren McCarty became a fan favorite in Detroit was giving a beating to Claude Lemieux in the midst of an incredible rivalry.
During the late-1990s and 2000s the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche were both Stanley Cup-contending powerhouses. This, combined with the physical hatred the teams shared for each other resulted in one of the most easy-to-market matchups ever.
While seeing two powerhouses is an inviting aspect, giving fans something to look forward to is even better.
When teams are angry with each other, they play harder. It results in a more intense and energetic game. That is the type of hockey that will draw and keep fans.
For example, look at the upcoming Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. Aside from the competition between the two clubs in relation to playoff contention, the teams share a legitimate hatred.
After a feisty preseason game highlighted by multiple fights and Sean Avery turtling against Wayne Simmonds, the teams continued in their first regular season meeting.
On November 26th there were two fights in a hit- and scrum-filled game.
It is almost guaranteed that not only will the game be close and exciting, but potentially rough as well. The NHL needs to take advantage of this natural energy and promote the game, fights included.
Once it's there, they need to be wise in letting the physicality go.
Last season after that brawl-filled Penguins-Islanders game, both teams were seemingly given their own set of rules for the next meeting. On April 8, 2011, there were two fights.
The first, between Eric Godard and Trevor Gillies, resulted in not only five-minute majors, but 10-minute misconduct penalties also. The fight started when the Islanders were down 1-0. Gillies was likely looking to fire up his team, so the two squared off and dropped their gloves.
Though neither player did anything beyond what usually happens during a fight, both were given 10-minute misconduct penalties.
After the second fight, Zenon Konopka was given a two-minute instigator penalty and 10-minute misconduct in addition to his five for fighting Arron Asham. Konopka did nothing out of the ordinary (he didn't even deserve an instigator penalty); it was just the NHL attempting to curb the intensity that hockey game had the potential to bring.
Islanders fans had little to look forward to at that point in the season. The team was bad and not going to make the playoffs. The glimmer of integrity the team could save was their "don't try to push us around" mentality.
The rivalry created interest, and fights put fans in the stands. The NHL responded by stopping the fights, a move which would only help to empty the arena.