Fighting in the NHL is on the decline, but industry experts aren't certain that's a good thing. The majority that we surveyed believes the threat of a non-staged fight helps keep players honest and minimizes cheap shots.
I attended a game recently between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs that was about a 6.9 on the entertainment/intensity scale. It wasn’t a snorefest, but it wasn’t the most riveting contest I’d ever witnessed and the typically reserved Air Canada Centre crowd was, typically, reserved. Fleetingly, I wondered if we’d see a fight – something that would energize the building in a low-scoring affair. I quickly realized the odds of that happening were slim and none, and slim had just slipped out the side door for a butt. This was the Red Wings, owners of one lonely fighting major on the season, versus the kinder, gentler Maple Leafs, who’d tussled four times in 20 games. Was that absence of a fight threat a good or bad thing? Depends on your perspective. The industry experts we polled, as a group, expressed some concern over the declining trend.
For the Dec. 8 edition of THN, we asked NHL executives, coaches, scouts and player agents a host of questions surrounding the most controversial issue in hockey. And the majority of them believes fewer fisticuffs will make the Show a more dangerous workplace. Just less than 60 per cent of the 24 respondents said if the NHL took steps to virtually eradicate fighting, players would be less safe.
At the same time, a third say the elimination of fighting would make it less popular with the fan base. Just more than 41 per cent don’t envision it would make any difference, while just eight per cent think it would increase the NHL’s appeal.
That the days of frequent brawls are over is not in contention. Ninety-six per cent of those polled said in 10 years time there would be fewer fights per game than there are now or it would be all but extinct.
And the vast majority is also in favor of eliminating the so-called staged fight.
For the experts, fighting’s primary upside is about self-policing. They see it as a way to keep cheap shots and high sticks in check. Nearly 80 per cent said they agree that it keeps players honest. By contrast, more than 70 per cent said they don’t believe it’s a good tactic to help gain a strategic advantage in a game and the same percentage don’t view fighting’s primary purpose is to provide entertainment to fans. For the record, in the game between the Wings and Leafs, there were no cheap shots to speak of. There were seven minor penalties called, one for boarding, one for an accidental/careless high stick and the other five for restraining-type fouls. One game doesn’t make for a case study, but it does give pause for thought.