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Fighting down in NHL this season, but why?

Getty ImagesUSA Today has an interesting package on hockey fighting on Thursday that includes pro-fighting (by Brian Burke, no less) and anti-fighting columns as well as this interesting bit of information: Fighting is down this season, in certain areas.

It might not seem that way, with the attention given to fisticuffs after George Parros’s injury and the continued existence of John Scott. The debate has raged hotter than ever, yet according to Kevin Allen of USA Today, the actual fighting has cooled:

This season, roughly 65% of NHL games have not had a fighting major. That's the highest total of fight-free games in seven years. Twenty-five years ago, about 40% of NHL games were fight free.

This season, about 17% of NHL players have had at least one fighting penalty. Last season, roughly 29% players had at least one. In the 1980s, about half of all players had a fighting major each season. That dropped to about 39% of players during the 1990s.

So why is fighting down?

Fewer Dance Partners Than Ever. As former Detroit Red Wings fighter (remember when they had them?) Darren McCarty told USA Today, “There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight.” This has been the case for several seasons, and has directly resulted in the decline of “goon vs. goon” staged fights that used to happen nightly.

More Obstacles To Fights. The “mandatory helmet” rule adds yet another obstacle to fighters, who must now figure out ways to doff their helmets during a fight; and if they do, linesmen have been tasked with trying to defuse a fight before it gets going. Factor in the mandatory visor rule and the lingering restriction of the instigator, and it’s not as simple as just dropping the mitts and throwing punches as it was in the 1980s.

Concussions. Not many current players have shared if the new science on head injuries has affected the way they play, but one wonders if CTE and injuries like those to Parros create some hesitancy in the fighters in the NHL? And if not, whether it’s affected how their families treat their fighting.

Finally … Face It, Fighting Is Organically Leaving Hockey. I could go on with other reasons, like faster faceoffs and the changing role of the fighter, but instead you could just read this post from 2012 that deals with the decline of hockey fighting. Because it’s trending down and will continue to, as new generations of players enter the NHL without having come from the same fighting dogma and culture that the veterans have.

Here are the HockeyFights.com numbers for this season (projected) and previous ones:

So it’s basically flat-lined over the last two seasons, based on the projections for this year and the numbers from the truncated season; up slightly from the previous seasons.

The number that really sticks out? The number of games with multiple fights.

If there’s middle ground to be had in this fighting debate – in which I’m squarely on the “pro” side – it’s that the number of players who have multiple fights in the same game should decrease. Not saying that is what’s fueling the projected 125 games with multiple fights this season, but there’s no reason the NHL and NHLPA shouldn’t look into a one-and-done fighting rule for players.

After all, Parros’s injury occurred in Round 2 against Orr.

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