Point/Counterpoint: Should fighting be allowed in the NHL?

‘The Journal’ Sports editors trade takes on ice-based fisticuffs



In most sports, violence is distasteful. In soccer or baseball, the outbreak of a fight would result in a hefty suspension.

There’s a reason why fighting in the National Hockey League (NHL) isn’t seen in this light.

Since the league’s inception a century ago, fighting hasn’t been banned—and it should remain in the game today.

In the NHL, fights between players are an objective violation of the NHL rulebook because it results in a five-minute major to the instigator. But deeply entrenched in the game of hockey’s tradition is another rulebook—an unwritten and universal code of conduct for fighting that serves to sanction and control the tilly.

Dropping the gloves keeps dirty plays and cheap shots in check, especially since the referees can’t catch everything in such a continuous and fast-paced game. Fights are carried out under an honor system: players don’t sucker-punch each other, and it’s frowned upon to throw a blow to a defenceless opponent.

Fighting also plays a role in shifting the momentum of the game. When a player takes exception for a cheap shot to one of their teammates, their gesture can fire up the bench, bring the team out of a slump, and transform the game’s outcome.

The NHL is a different brand of hockey than Olympic or IIHF tournaments—it’s dirty and aggressive with or without the fists.

It’s a spectacle that needs some form of policing by the players.

It would be ignorant to neglect player safety in this debate, especially when it comes
to progressive brain diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). But banning hockey fights won’t solve this injury problem—it would be a mere blip across all pro contact sports, such as football and boxing, that collectively require systemic revision.

Regardless, fighting in the NHL has naturally evolved over the years to become safer and less ostentatious. Enforcers—players whose sole duty is to fight—were no doubt subject to major health hazards. But after the 2005 NHL lockout, this role become obsolete. Today, it is in a team’s best interest to fill the bottom six of the roster with skill, not goons.

In the 2008-09 season, 41.4 per cent of NHL games had a fight, whereas in 2018-19, that number reduced to 15.3 per cent.

If this trajectory continues, I can see a future where safety is taken into greater account without impacting the integrity of the sport.

NHL hockey is constantly changing and its current state is benefitting from the fighting culture. It isn’t Gladiator out there—most hockey players are morally good and use fighting as a respectable means to stand up for teammates and keep players accountable for their actions.

For now, the Gordie Howe hattrick—collecting a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game—should stay alive.

—Natara Ng, Assistant Sports Editor


As a proud Canadian—an identity that’s practically synonymous with loving hockey—it’d be a little strange if I didn’t get a little giddy whenever I see two guys drop the gloves, right?

Unfortunately, a fundamental part of that game has always been, and likely always will be, fighting.

Although I’m often complicit in cheering on two players to run up each other’s dental bills, I know I’m actively contributing to a problem endemic to the NHL. After all, it’s the only North American pro sports league to not actively disavow physical altercations, and we all know there’s a reason why.

Condoning violence as a means of conflict resolution in sports is unconscionable. Full stop.

For most fans, fighting in the NHL is nothing out of the ordinary. It’s as much a part of the game as the sticks, skates, and helmets that players wear when they take the ice. But, with such an established

tradition comes conditioning, and a normalization of a custom that probably wouldn’t change the NHL all that drastically if it were to be removed—if at all.

Case in point: many hockey leagues worldwide prohibit fighting, and they function perfectly fine. What gives the NHL more reason than others to keep it apart from purely profiting from its entertainment value? Tradition? Player accountability?

I don’t think so.

Because everyone views it as nothing more than a part of the ‘good old hockey game,’ fans and players can be forgetful of the rather obvious consequence that accompanies ‘legal’ fistfights: a higher likelihood of developing entirely avoidable head injuries which, in the case of former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard, caused a CTE-related death at the age of 28.

In a 2012 poll taken amongstplayers, 98 per cent of participants were in favour of keeping the status quo. Clearly, few players see an issue with the way things are and considering they’re the ones putting their own health at risk, one has to respect that consensus a little bit.

Yet, the NHL isn’t a ‘players only’ club that exists in a vacuum. It has a massive fanbase which carries enormous influence over its viewers. As such, the question must be asked:

What do fans—and young fans especially—actually gain from this? Some strange sadistic joy coupled with blissful ignorance that somebody’s son, husband, or father just got their front teeth knocked out on TV for a largely avoidable reason.

Violence, albeit consensual, is still violence, and nowhere else in society or pro sports is it permitted, much less encouraged, for good reason: there’s simply no real need for it.

As much as we don’t want to believe it, letting players beat the hell out of each other without consequence is more wrong than it is right. Plain and simple.

—Angus Merry, Senior Sports Editor

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