Whether or not fighting belongs in the NHL has been an item of discussion for quite some time now, and talks are going to increase with the discovery that Derek Boogaard, who died from a drug and alcohol overdose last May, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a degenerative disease caused by head trauma. It has been found in numerous athletes in boxing, football, and hockey. The difference in the case of Derek Boogaard is that he was still in his 20s, while the rest of the cases were found in athletes in their post-retirement years.
What is really terrifying about this illness is that while the cause is known, there is no cure or treatment, and the disease cannot be diagnosed until an autopsy.
Derek Boogaard was a powerful enforcer in the NHL. He played six seasons in the league (five for the Wild and one for the Rangers). During his years in the NHL, Boogaard had 66 fights, but in his professional career dating back to the '99/00 season, he had dropped the mitts 184 times.
Hockeyfights.com is a website that allows you to view hockey fights and vote on the winners. Unfortunately, we don't have much video footage or vote results of Boogaard before his NHL years.
According to the vote results on Hockeyfights, during his NHL career, Derek won 47 fights, while losing 13 and drawing 6.
It's important to note that unlike his wins, most of his losses were not unanimous. That's a pretty good record if you ask me. Given Derek Boogaard's size (6'7", 265lbs), it would be a safe bet to say that his AHL and WHL fights were of similar results. So what do these numbers mean?
The numbers cause us to wonder if the CTE was a result of any large hits in particular or of just the repeated, less powerful blows to the head. Given his fight record, one must assume that the amount of devastating blows were low, shedding light on the impact of smaller, repetitive hits to the head.
So, back to the fighting from a broader view. Does it belong in hockey? That's a question that has been and will be asked increasingly for years to come. Personally, I think there absolutely is a place for it in the game.
Hockey is a physical, fast-paced, intense game. Players get frustrated and need to channel their anger. If dropping the mitts isn't an option, I believe we will see a significant increase in dirty hits to compensate. So what can be done to lessen the long-term impact this can have on some individuals?
On to the proposal.
What I'm suggesting is to put a cap, or limit, on the amount of fights a player can participate in. The limit could be per week, per month, or per season. It doesn't matter. If a player fights once he has surpassed the number, then he receives an automatic instigator, or possibly even a suspension.
The idea may sound crazy, but this will still allow players to fight when they are angry, and truly want to fight, while limiting the types of players like Derek Boogaard, Zenon Konopka, who fight on a nightly basis for the sake of fighting and not out of anger.
These players who fight without reason are the ones who are making the public question fighting in hockey, while at the same time seriously endangering their own health and safety.
Most fans enjoy fighting; the fights we like to see are the passionate ones. Two players that come to mind are Jarome Iginla, and Kevin Bieksa. Neither player is shy to fighting; but they pick their battles. They fight when they feel that a fight is necessary (usually a couple times each season).
It's these players who give us the most entertaining fights. These players, most likely, have a significantly smaller risk of future repercussions (such as CTE), if any, from the style they play.
The question isn't whether or not fighting takes place in hockey. It's whether or not it's necessary to be displayed at this capacity. Something needs to be done to keep the fighting, but also control the extent of it.