Rodney Dangerfield once quipped “I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out,” and while those brawls have evolved a bit since he uttered those words, they still remain a fairly integral part of the NHL.
There is evidence that suggests fighting doesn’t actually do much to discourage players from crossing the line over the course of a game, but that doesn’t stop plenty of guys from routinely dropping their gloves and handing out some frontier justices following a question hit or dirty play.
I think the vast majority of fans(and players) would agree fighting serves a valuable purpose (in addition to creating some wildly entertaining moments), but there are also plenty of critics who question why the NHL has allowed the somewhat barbaric pastime to remain a fairly integral aspect of the sport.
The “enforcers” that were once employed by basically every single team in the league have become an increasingly rare breed thanks in no small part to the evidence that’s surfaced concerning the long-term repercussions of getting punched in the face on a regular basis on top of playing a pretty brutal contact sport.
NPR’s A Martinez raised that particular topic with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during an interview that was conducted at the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The man who’s helmed the league since 1993 doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about the downsides based on what he had to say while essentially confirming there are no plans to assuage the critics who’d like to see fighting eliminated from hockey during a somewhat contentious exchange where he stated:
“Roughly 80% of our games do not have fights. That’s probably a record low.
The types of fights we have compared to years ago are spontaneous emotional reactions to what takes place on the ice. We don’t have players who are designated fighters like we used to in the old game.
The role of fighting in the game has evolved and really acts as the thermostat, because remember, we have a very fast, physical, emotional game where players are encouraged to have body contact.”
This isn’t necessarily a shocking development, but I think most hockey fans are probably glad to hear Bettman is sticking with what’s worked for more than a century.