The feeling is growing in the league that fighting should be put to an end
As the NHL prepares for its first postseason of the new millennium, there's a growing conviction among league power brokers that the time has come to end fighting. "We had a crusade to eliminate it a few years ago, but it pretty much fell on deaf ears," says Bruins general manager Harry Sinden. "Maybe now the ears won't be so deaf."
Thanks partly to the instigator rule, which was implemented in 1992-93 and assesses a game misconduct against a player who starts a brawl, fighting has waned. Through Sunday, there had been an average of 1.0 fighting majors per game in 1999-2000, down from 1.2 last year and 1.6 in 1997-98. This season 63% of the games had been fight-free, the highest percentage on record. "If the NHL were starting today, I doubt that fighting would be allowed," says Sinden.
The hockey traditionalists' arguments in favor of fighting seem flimsier now than ever. Here are some of them, along with the antifighting response.
The traditionalist: Fighting cuts down on stickwork, because players who wield their sticks in a menacing fashion fear they may have to drop their gloves.
The response: Next season all games will be officiated by two referees, greatly diminishing gratuitous stickwork. Also, NHL higher-ups know that Marty McSorley's heinous stick attack on Donald Brashear, which has been a public relations disaster for the league, came about precisely because fighting is allowed. McSorley was avenging a fight he had lost to Brashear earlier in the game.
The traditionalist: Fighting is a spontaneous act that allows players to release the frustration that builds during a game.
The response: Maple Leafs president Ken Dryden, who favors the abolition of fighting, points out that the vast majority of bouts are among a small minority of players. "The rest of the guys have never been frustrated?" Dryden asks. As for spontaneity, Flyers enforcer Gino Odjick says, "Ninety-five percent of fighting is [preordained]."
The traditionalist: Fighting lures fans.
The response: Last year 83 of 86 postseason matches were fightless, yet arenas were nearly filled to capacity. Brawling appeals to a niche of hard-core fans, but banning it would please the queasy masses.