Why is fighting disappearing from the NHL?

The number of fights in the National Hockey League has declined drastically since the 2008-09 season. BOBBY BADER/SNAPPER.

Bobby Bader
Photo Editor

The National Hockey League has gained a reputation for being rough at times since its establishment over 100 years ago.

However, in recent years, hockey has shifted to being a more skill-based game.

With the upbringing of players like Connor McDavid and Patrik Laine, two of the league’s youngest stars, the NHL is focusing more on protecting the future of the league and cutting back on the brutality.

Despite this, the game keeps getting faster, and there is no one to protect those superstar players who might be targeted.

By almost completely eliminating fighting and being more strict on player safety, the NHL has started putting valuable players, like veteran enforcers, out of a job. The role of being an enforcer in the NHL is not something just any hockey player could do, but they are not much different from everyone else in the league.

“Enforcer highlights are generally just the fights, even if the player has another role on the team. It’s an easy stereotype to make that the player who’s fighting can’t really play or is mean in some way and that’s why he’s fighting, or isn’t as smart as some of the other players. But many are college-educated, choosing that role, and are some of the nicest people off the ice. Some aren’t. In the end, they’re not different from the super-stars outside of their stat lines,” said David Singer, founder of Hockeyfights.com, a leading expert on the NHL and fighting since the website started in 2001.

Learning Services
Blood Drive

Hockeyfights.com has tracked and analyzed every single fight from the NHL, and other professional hockey leagues, over the past 18 years. The data collected shows the NHL has experienced a steady decline in fighting over the past few seasons, which is not within the typical character of the league. Since the 2012-2013 season, fighting in the NHL has fallen by an astonishing 40 percent, and is expected to continue declining.

Some believe fighting in hockey is an almost essential part of the game, but others do not think it is necessary. With a game as physical as hockey, sometimes it just happens in the blink of an eye.

“I think the game of hockey, when played physically, like it always is, lends itself to having outlets like fighting. I still think it is a part of the game, and I still think it’s not the most violent part of it either,” said Singer.

He believes fighting belongs in hockey but knows the future for it isn’t bright. As an expert in hockey fighting, Singer understands the repercussions of fighting, but also the benefits. Singer has openly admitted that fighting will continue to decrease over the next few years, but hopes it won’t disappear completely.

“I’m not rooting for it, but I’m not blind. I think the game will continue to phase out fighting at all levels little by little. There’s no need for harsher penalties directly related to fighting when they can chip away at it like they have,” he said.

It is hard to tell when fighting will completely disappear from the NHL, and with the current trend, it seems it will be sooner than later. It is unfortunate to see such a huge part of the game of hockey going away, but it could potentially be for the better of the league at the end of the day.