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Rick Carpiniello and Sam Borden debate the the hottest topics in sports

Question #169: Should fighting be banned in hockey?


During the recent NHL general managers’ meetings, there was a discussion and modification to some of the NHL’s rules on fighting. The executives did not markedly change the basic concept of hockey fighting, but instituted some minor changes intended to penalize “staged” fights, like those that start immediately after a faceoff. Frankly, I’m not sure what the difference is – now guys that want to go will just wait one lap around the rink before dropping the gloves instead of right when the puck drops. Big deal.

The larger question is more interesting and is one that’s been forever bandied about in hockey circles: Should fighting be outlawed altogether?

Let’s hear your take and I’ll be back later with mine.


A very high level NHL referee said to me, many years ago, “If they take fighting out completely, and then they find out that they need it, how do they put it back in?”

There are so many questions about what hockey will become if fighting is ever completely eliminated. How dirty it will get. How many cheap shots will result. How suddenly-brave players will carry their sticks higher.

Oh, and the underlying fear: Will the fans they still have then go away?

I am totally torn on this topic because I played hockey and I covered hockey for many years, and I appreciate that fights happen, and that sometimes you feel a need to stand up for a teammate (or for a teammate to stand up for you), and after watching the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bully Flyers all those years I understand that teams now regularly employ “heavyweights” for protection. Sort of anti-ballistic missiles, if you will.

I think therein lies the problem. Every team has a thug, and every thug feels it’s necessary to fight the other team’s thug, whether there is rhyme or reason. Those are often the staged fights that parts of the NHL want eliminated, where two guys drop the gloves right off a faceoff. Or where one team trails late in a game and feels the need to “send a message” by starting a fight or a series of fights. That’s where hockey gets its ugly rep.

But I don’t have a problem with an actual spontaneous fight. In fact I rather like seeing players who play with passion—a Jarome Iginla, a Joe Thornton—guys with ability or even superstar ability, take care of business when it’s warranted. There are penalties for such actions, and if one is a clear instigator, then he should be punished more severely. Hockey has eliminated most of the brawling (there are far more bench-clearers in baseball or before college football games).

I just have a tough time with total elimination of fighting. And if anybody’s going to decide this one way or the other, I think it ought to be the players and their union.

2:34 p.m., Sam says:

Sam Borden

I love hockey. Always have, always will. I played it, watched it and covered it and consider the Rangers one of the few teams that I’m actually a fan of. That’s my hockey background.

Given that, I understand how you, Carp, feel, as well as a few of the commenters who wrote some variation on the “it’s a man’s game and men fight” line. I can certainly see that argument. I still don’t think it would be a bad idea to ban fighting.

Truthfully, it’s not even because I think it’s “killing the game” or “too violent.” I just think it’s wrong. Fighting isn’t a positive thing in any walk of life (other than a sport like boxing or wrestling, which is designed for such a thing) and I’m not sure why it’s acceptable in hockey. No other sport allows fighting. No other form of entertainment offers (at least tacit) encouragement for player to engage in it by having such lax penalties. Even football, which is the most brutal of games, ejects players immediately for any punches thrown.

Hockey is a beautiful game and just because it gets vicious at times doesn’t mean players will be left helpless if suddenly fighting isn’t allowed. The argument that guys might start carrying their sticks in a more dangerous way would have been more reasonable back in the old days, but with two referees and constant video review (for after-the-fact suspensions or discipline), I’m not so sure that getting rid of fighting would inspire the uptick in stick fouls that Carp suggests.

The best argument for fighting is that it might cost the NHL some fans to ban it, but the truth is that there are probably a dwindling number of fans who go to hockey games for the fights anymore because, as you mentioned, the number donnybrooks and all-out brawls has decreased. Would doing away with it entirely really send that many fans running for WWE?

Hockey is a great sport that can stand on its own merits. It doesn’t need fighting to be exciting. It just doesn’t.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 9:35 am by Sam Borden. |
Category: 1


16 Responses to “Question #169: Should fighting be banned in hockey?”

  1. GaryRanger

    Without fighting I have no interest in attending anymore games or watching on TV

  2. Mike K

    How about an automatic game-misconduct for fights? I believe the current rules say 3 game-misconducts = a suspension, so keep that in place. Most non-thugs only get into a handful of fights a year, so it shouldn’t affect them too much, but the thugs who fight every other game will rethink their position.

  3. Jimmy

    I think it’s a gross injustice to stereotype fighters as “thugs”. Some of them are thugs and some regular shift players who don’t fight are thugs also. Some of the biggest Gentlemen in the sport have been enforcers (Stu Grimson, Jim McKenzie). Adam Graves fought heaveyweights on occasion but because he was blessed with more skill he was able to avoid the “enforcer” tag. If he was less skilled would he become a “thug”? I’m all for debating the role of fighting in Hockey but stereotyping all the guys who make a living in this role is wrong.

  4. NorthCountryRanger

    Hockey is a man’s sport. Men settle their differences often with fights. Therefore fighting is an inherent part of hockey, i.e. if you eliminate fighting you might as well call it the icecapades. Keep in mind this is coming from a player on the small side, but I always stood up for myself in every level of hockey by hitting and FIGHTING!

  5. What the HECK

    So basically what Sam is saying is…

    We will start out with the 20 hockey fans in the world in 2003. Now cut it in half because of the lockout (10). Now the economy is going bad so less people can afford the tickets (5). Now lets get rid of fighting and see how many of those 5 leave?!? NO!!

    Is this your way of getting rid of the NHL?

    And how dare you suggest that the fighters here are like the fighters in the WWE?!? Thats f’d up man.

    Fights can totally alter a game, it can get fans into it. Players pick and choose the right time to have a team that will benefit their team. And usually its against a player that they do not like or have a bone to pick with.

    Plus the fights are going to happen. All the players need to do now is wait for one lap around the ice and then drop the gloves. This is just a way to completely ban any physicallity from the game.

    I am a small guy, but I have fought people before at the drop of the puck. I did it because I knew one of their players would be taking runs at my teammates because he just had that look about him.

    And I love Sean Avery on the Rangers. But he is one of those guys that would still be in the league because he has talent. He would egg people on until they are tearing their hair out. Then somebody is most definitely going to hit him in the head with a stick or something. THEN WHAT?!? What do you suggest players do about that? Just let that guy go? And elbow to the head? A dirty hit? Hitting a goaltender? A shot after the whistle? Youre suggesting let them do whatever they want? Im calling BS.

    Gary Bettman is Europeanizing the game and pretty soon there will be no fighting or scrapping or physicality. And if it does become that, then I am done with this game! I will still play, but the sport that gets my blood moving around has those three components (stated above) in it.

  6. MikeA

    Sam and Rick: There have been many times that a fight has changed a game or series; for Carp- remember George McPhee vs. Rick Tochett in the 1986 Playoffs? How about the Detroit/Colo fights from 1996?

    Fighting is violent and the guys are bigger and stronger now than in years past, and it is an absolute tragedy the player in the Juniors/WHL lost his life because of a fight.

    I think fighting is a part of a game but should be modified and penalties more severe, and the beat way to do that is have a summit this summer. Invite guys like Orr, Laraque, Carcillo, etc. but also guys like McPhee, Schoenfeld, Bobby Clarke, and even Gordie Howe; all generations of players who dropped the gloves. And make this summit public, open it up to the press, satellite radio, the public, get some good press for the game of hockey. Ratify something using all generations of fighters and come up with a fair, well-balance, and logical solution.

  7. sunny615

    Hockey with no fighting is like Politics with no lying. Just isn’t done.

  8. BruceB

    Hockey with hard hitting and hard checks is great. Hockey with fighting is a waste of my time. (I’m 52 and I used to watch a lot of hockey until Gary Bettman placed teams in minor league cities. Who cares about Columbus?) I went to Union College in Schenectady when they started their hockey program in the 1970’s. I was amazed at how beautiful a sport hockey is without the fighting. Then in the mid-1990’s I got a pair of free tickets close to the ice to see the Rangers play the Canadians. I took my 5 or 6 year old son (I don’t remember the exact year) and was embarrassed that he had to watch such pummeling and hearing morons cheering. Enjoy your “sport,” they don’t have fighting in football where there’s much more understandable justification for it.

  9. Tanya

    Join my Facebook group My Hockey Includes Fighting.

  10. Blink

    I recently went to a WHL game where fighting is now banned. A guy was knocked to the ice and a player on the team skated up and hit the fallen player with his stick. You’re telling me that after something like that happens there shouldn’t be a fight?

  11. Cristi Numbers

    Great job! Can’t wait to start my own blog.

  12. Teressa Dunnavant

    This was a Fantastic post, I will be sure to bookmark this in my Del.icio.us account. Have a great evening.

  13. chris zaun

    what the heck,you are right dont compare wwe to hockey,even though the outcome in wwe is a setup,they are real athletes who get hurt all the time,and are huge compared to hockey players,the wrestlers would kick there midget asses.

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Rick Carpiniello and Sam Borden debate the hottest topics in sports.


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Sam BordenSam Borden grew up in Larchmont, graduated from Mamaroneck High School and has spent all 29 years of his life following the local sports scene. The drama of sports has always fascinated him, and his columns are designed to take a side or tell a story. The best days are the ones where he gets to do both.
Rick CarpinielloRick Carpiniello grew up in lower Westchester and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002.
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