The debate about fighting in hockey has always been overly loud for what was actually being debated, if debate ever even took place. One side of it always tended to be pretty shrill. The natural evolution of the game to a speed and skill one has lessened fighting to a rarer and rarer occurrence on its own. Teams are simply unable to carry a knuckle-dragging drooler on the fourth line to skate four minutes a night until it’s time to beat up the other team’s drooler for no discernible purpose other than to entertain some shaved apes in the stands, who are dying off anyway.
But fighting has gotten a nudge, if not an outright spear to the chest, with the news today that the QMJHL, one of the three junior leagues in Canada, will ban fighting starting next season. When the WHL and the OHL, the other two leagues that constitute juniors are unknown, but it probably won’t be too long. The quirk of this push from the Q is that it was spearheaded by Enrico Ciccone, a former NHL goon who is now a member of Quebec’s assembly. Ciccone has been open about the toll being an enforcer has taken on him and many players he played with, the impetus to introduce a bill in the Quebec legislature to ban fighting.
There was always something barbaric and truly sick about a culture and society that not only allowed children to fight each other in any forum, but actively reveled in it. While the WHL still likes to think of itself as harkening back to the wild west somehow, and middle Canada is still filled with Don Cherry devotees, the Q going this route starts the clock on when they will. It’s quite a look to still allow children in your league to pummel each other when others elsewhere aren’t and everyone can see the benefits that will ensue from not allowing them to do so.
Is the NHL next?
Which means before too long, the NHL will be staffed with players who were not allowed to fight at all throughout their journey through the hockey world. At some point soon, all of junior hockey will join college hockey in not allowing it, so players will have never fought at any point in their development. Which makes it less and less likely that they will fight when they get to the pros. It won’t really be natural to them. Though the AHL might still be the O.K. Corral on some nights, given that coaches and scouts can still be wowed by a plug’s willingness to fight and use that as a basis to promote that player to the NHL. But that will eventually wane as well as more coaches and scouts see the game in a more modern way. I know, it’s hockey, but it could happen!
Fights have been declining
But as stated, fighting has been declining for years. So far this season, there have been 271 fights. And as Sean Gentille and Michael Russo of The Athletic documented today, a quarter of those are the completely stupid and pointless scraps that follow a clean hit. Which GMs are looking to eradicate as is, with an emphasis on stronger use of the instigator penalty for those types of fights. Should those fights go away or even be greatly reduced, there will be hardly any fighting at all.
It’s been clear to teams for a while that fights, despite the lore and mystique, didn’t actually help anyone win. It’s been proven that it doesn’t, whatever cliche some seventh-grade educated doofus spouts about energy or momentum or protection or whatever. It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t dissuade from the more egregious acts that it supposedly deters (hi Brad Marchand!). It doesn’t help a team win. Fighting has basically been preserved to keep a certain section of the fanbase happy, the one that the NHL has always been terrified of pissing off no matter how much they hold the sport and culture back. And pretty soon, there just won’t be any players around that have any experience doing it, and will be less and less likely to engage in it at all.