Brandon Prust (left) fought 20 times last season, tying him for most in the NHL.
Credits: ERROL McGIHON/QMI Agency file photo
First off, unlike many of my media colleagues, I enjoy a good fight in the NHL.
Two guys throwing down in the heat of the moment? No problem.
Call me a troglodyte -- I've been called worse, even just today -- but fighting still has a role at the NHL level.
There's a place for guys who stand up for themselves or teammates, though jumping an opponent after he's made a clean hit on a teammate has gotten way out of hand.
There are understandable arguments from those who would like to see the NHL adopt rules similar to the other major sports and have anybody who fights ejected from a game, though that doesn't look like it would be much of a deterrent.
For the guys who consider fighting their job, they'd still fight, go to the dressing room and figure their job is done for the night. How many goons spend the rest of the night as the grocery stick on the bench after a scrap? A lot.
The fact is, you're never going to get rid of it completely.
You shouldn't have pitchers throwing at batters' heads in baseball, either, because it's dangerous and people can be seriously hurt, but it still happens on a pretty regular basis. It's a tactic considered part of the sport's culture.
You put rules in to control it and hopefully deter the behaviour, but it still happens and sometimes it gets out of hand.
Those who don't like fighting in hockey because of the ridiculousness of the staged bouts between two guys who can't play or the futility of other guys who jump on the ice and run around looking for a fight have a legitimate point.
Let's get rid of those type of fights.
That's why the Ontario Hockey League's initiative announced Wednesday to try and put on a brake on fighting is going to be interesting to watch (also Wednesday, the United States Hockey League, the U.S.'s premier junior league, also announced safety initiatives, including more closely monitoring fighting and what it deems "dangerous" minor penalties like elbowing or head contact.)
The OHL needed to be proactive on this issue. It needed to show the parents of kids who are being handed over to the OHL for key years of their lives that the league is doing something to elevate the safety level of the game, especially when the OHL is battling the NCAA option.
The OHL decision wasn't made in a vacuum. There's consultation between the junior leagues and the NHL before any kind of rule change is made.
The NHL will be watching what happens in the OHL this season -- the NHL hockey ops guys might have lots of time on their hands -- and there's a good chance they'll realize the time has come for the NHL to follow suit.
In a nutshell, the OHL's new rule will allow players 10 freebies (fights that were instigated by the opponent don't count against the total) before its supplementary discipline kicks in. For each fight from number 11 to 15, the player will be suspended two games and, for each fight after 16, the player gets two games and his club gets fined $1,000.
Looking at the NHL's fighting numbers from last season and it's most frequent fighters on nhlfights.com, there were 18 players who crossed the 10-fight threshold. Another six crossed the 15-fight threshold.
Applying the OHL's rules to the NHL numbers on fighting from last season, individual players logged 84 fights over the 10-game threshold and a resulting 168 games in suspensions would have been handed out last year.
Brandon Prust of the New York Rangers and Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins led the NHL with 20 fights apiece last season.
You would think they would have to pick their spots much more carefully with a 10-game threshold.
Looking at it another way, if all players respected the 10-game threshold, that's a lot of fights -- and probably most of them of the staged variety -- that we would have been spared last year.
The NHL could even lower the threshold for supplementary discipline to, say, eight fights (five, even?) and put a further crunch on the fringe fighters.
That said, the OHL can unilaterally drop rule changes on its players.
As we've seen the last few weeks, the NHL and its players can't agree on anything.
But it would be interesting to see where they stood on the OHL fighting rule.
NHL FIGHTING LEADERS IN 2011-12
In light of the Ontario Hockey League's new, tougher rules on frequent fighters, here's a look at the National Hockey League's 2011-12 busiest scrappers, according to hockeyfights.com. Under the OHL's new crackdown, players will be suspended for two games for the 11th through 15th fights of the season and for fights 16-20, they will be suspended two games and their teams fined $1,000.
Based on last year's stats, here are the NHL players that had more than 10 fights in the NHL:
Player | Team | Fighting Majors
• Brandon Prust, NYR, 20
• Shawn Thornton, BOS, 20
• Derek Dorsett, CBJ, 19
• Jared Boll, CBJ, 18
• Zenon Konopka, OTT, 18
• Cody McLeod, COL, 17
• Matt Martin, NYI, 15
• Zac Rinaldo, PHI, 15
• Brad Staubitz, MTL, 15
• Tim Jackman, CAL, 14
• Ryan Reaves, STL, 13
• Mike Rupp, NYR, 13
• Krys Barch, NJD, 12
• Stu Bickel, NYR, 12
• Matt Hendricks, WAS, 11
• Jamal Mayers, CHI, 11
• George Parros, ANA, 11
• Chris Thorburn, WIN, 11