With a recent incident in the National Hockey League, the debate on banning fighting in hockey rises from the ashes once again. Let me first stress here that I am NOT an advocate of banning fighting in the game but all for getting rid of the needless staged fights or the fights that happen after a good, hard, clean hit – which by the way I would deem needless. As fans, we want hitting in the game, but I question why some are all for the fight that comes afterwards – the punishing of the player that threw that hit we want and cherish so much.

I’ll be the first to admit that when the Ontario Hockey League first introduced its new fighting rule for the 2012/2013 season, I did not like it nor did I want to see it implemented. Commissioner David Branch said that his first priority is to protect the players in the OHL. I wasn’t buying it. But then, something changed. Sitting in on his 2013/2014 pre-season press conference, I sensed the sincerity and the caring in his voice. After all, these are just kids – like many of us have at home that we would do anything to protect.

This past weekend, I was sitting there watching a game between the Soo Greyhounds and the Kingston Frontenacs when one of the Fronts defenders through a spectacular hit on one of the Greyhounds players as he crossed into the Fronts zone. In days gone by – and still happens in the NHL – that would have called for a Greyhounds teammate to drop the gloves to “defend” a teammate. But it didn’t happen. Watching the Greyhounds bench, some of the players stood in awe of the hit. It was hockey the way it should be played: hard, clean, physical – without the fear of retribution for something that was clearly within the rules of the game.

Ty Bilcke led the OHL with 37 fighting majors in 2011/2012, the season prior to the implementation of the new rule. “I stand by the league’s decision,” said the Windsor Spitfires’ Bilcke.

Spitfires’ coach Bob Boughner, who’s Spitfires, led the league with 101 fighting majors – 29 more than their closest competitor added: “I don’t think banning fighting is the intent of this rule. I think its intent is to curb it.”

So how exactly has the rule affected fighting in the OHL? We take a look at the three seasons preceding the rule taking effect and last season.

Fighting was actually in decline in the OHL for the three consecutive years prior to last season. In 2009-2010 there was an average of 2.1 fights per game. The following season there were 1.9 fights per game and in 2011-2012 there were 1.8 fights per game. Last season, with the new rule in effect, there were 1.4 fights per game.

There were a total of 1,431 fighting majors in 2009/2010. That dropped to 1,320 in 2010/2011 and 1,249 in 2011/2012. After the rule took effect it dropped dramatically to 951 fights in 2012/2013, a drop of 28.8%. Fans saw a drop of less than half a fight per game over the previous season.

During the 2009/2010 season there were 38 players with 10 or more fighting majors. In 2010/2011 there were 33 and 2011/2012 there were 31 for an average of 34 over those three seasons. Once the rule took place in 2012/2013, that number dropped to 14, a 58.8% decrease.

Only two teams actually saw an increase in their fighting majors in 2012/2013. The Owen Sound Attack had 68 fighting majors under the new rule, up from their 3 year average of 63 prior to its Implementation. The Ottawa 67’s went from a three year average of 56 up to 63.

While these stats suggest that the rule has caused a decline in fighting (although it was already on a downward swing) what does it actually mean? If you take the decline in fighting for the three years prior to the rule and average it to the 2012/2013 season, that would mean there would have been an average of 1.6 fights per game last season. But we were close at 1.4.

I would respectfully submit that the decline in fights is more the staged fights and the “needless” fights then it is the emotional, heat of the battle fights. This may mean that the role of the player that plays 6 minutes a night that is there just for his fisticuffs may go the way of the Dinosaur. And this will bring us a more exciting, skilled and physical game – with fighting still a part of the game.

Mr Branch said during his press conference that the OHL would keep a close eye on the NHL’s rule changes for this season and discuss whether the OHL should adapt any of those rules. The OHL took the lead on fighting, and in my opinion, this is one the NHL should closely keep an eye on.

It’s a controversial topic among fans and it has stirred up a heated debate. But this is just one fans opinion who watches both the OHL and NHL extensively.

The chart below shows a team by team breakdown of fighting majors over the past four seasons.

*Note: The 4 year average is the average number of fights for the 4 seasons shown. The 3 year average is the average number of fights from 2009/10 to 2011/12 (prior to the rule) and the percentage plus/minus is the percentage change from 2012/13 from the 3 prior year’s average. 

As I said earlier, I am all in favor with the NHL adapting the rule with of course, a few minor tweaks. Under my proposed changes a two game suspension would begin with the tenth fight of a player’s season. Fights in minor pro leagues or other pro leagues are carried over to the NHL during the season. Each additional fight after the tenth fight is another two game suspension and teams are not allowed to replace a player under suspension while his cap hit would still count against the team’s daily cap hit.

Sounds a little harsh? I don’t think so. There will still be fighting in the league while reducing, if not eliminating the needless fights like staged fights or those that come after a clean, hard hit.

One needs look no further than 2 professionals both known for their fisticuffs:

 

You chose: the fighter who skates, or the hockey player who fights?