Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Should the NHL Ban Fighting Entirely?

So far this summer the hockey community has seen Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak pass away, Boogaard from an overdose of painkillers, Rypien by suicide, and Belak (unconfirmed at this point) also from an overdose of painkillers.  All three have one thing in common:
  • Belak - 136 fights since 1996-1997 (9 per year includes AHL, Juniors); 549gp, 8g, 25a career (NHL only)
  • Rypien - 97 fights since 2002-2003 (11 per year includes AHL, Juniors); 119gp 9g, 7a career (NHL only)
  • Boogaard - 184 fights since 1999-2000 (15 per year includes AHL, Juniors); 277gp, 3g, 13a career (NHL only)
Let's make one thing clear though, the deaths of these players cannot directly be related to fighting.  Rypien had a history of mental illness, I have no idea if Boogaard was taking painkillers for fight induced injuries or just the immense wear and tear hockey puts on ones body, and Belak's cause of death isn't even confirmed at this point.

But there's another thing that should be clear.  These guys were on the ice for one reason and one reason only, to drop the gloves and get hit in the head while hitting someone else in the head.  Regardless of whether or not that played a part in the deaths of the three enforcers, science has shown that such things take a devastating toll on the brain.

With those effects (rightly or not) so clearly laid out for us with the deaths of Boogaard, Rypien, and Belak, the call to ban fighting is once again gaining strength.  After all, this isn't guys that suffered illegal hits, it's guys that engaged in a penalized, but widely accepted activity.  The problem with attempting to ban fighting is that hockey is a physical, emotional sport.  There are going to be scrums and fights regardless of how steep the penalty is.  And that problem is magnified by the fact that the NHL's disciplnary system is so severely broken.  Because let's be honest, this was 100% justified.  Someone needed to make Matt Cooke answer for his consistently dirty actions because the NHL refused to:

So the question becomes where to draw the line?  In a perfect world, the NHL would suspend for dirty hits, and fighting would be largely unnecessary because dirty play would be meted out.  The instigator rule would (presumably) actually do what it's supposed to and take away a lot of the obnoxious staged fights that occur.  But we're so far from that hockey utopia it isn't even funny.

My goal would be to eliminate the enforcer role through other measures, and I would do that by instituting a "maximum fights per year" rule.  After five fights in a season (including pre- and post-season), a player is suspended until the beginning of the next season.  And because that opens the doors to guys gooning up on each other towards the end of the season, I would also institute a rule that says if a player fights in his team's last game of the season (again be it regular season or playoffs), then he's missing the first five games of the following season.  We'll call that one the Milan Lucic Rule.

It won't take the enforcer role completely out of hockey, but it will force them to focus more on the actual hockey than the fisticuffs which I think is the issue at hand.  And more importantly it will help save their heads.


  1. As good an idea as it is, the "last game" rule for fighting could be problematic. Should an enforcer be penalised games during the next season if he's standing up for a teammate? That doesn't seem like a fair punishment if someone made a legitimate cheap shot on said teammate. Especially if it's someone who would likely get away with it.

  2. Yeah I get that. I can be okay with 3 games, 1 game or a monetary fine. I think you have to have something in place though.