The NHL needs to do more to reduce fighting in hockey

Derek Boogaard was known as a fighter in his playing days / The Associated Press

One of the most controversial debates that seems to come up every hockey season is whether or not fighting should be removed from the game. Specifically in the National Hockey League, where it appears that no major initiatives are being taken to limit fighting. However, fighting numbers have steadily decreased over the course of the past few seasons, but it seems to be because players are becoming more aware of the dangers through unfortunate circumstances.

The unfortunate circumstances I’m referring to are situations like in 2011, between May and through end of September, three former NHL players died from complications of fighting. All three players were notable NHL fighters, and the reasoning behind their deaths have been argued by many to be a direct result of repeated head trauma suffered
while fighting.

All three of these players had recently retired. The first, Derek Boogaard, played his final NHL game on December 9, 2010 and passed away on May 15, 2011. Rick Rypien, another notable enforcer, played his final game on November 17, 2010 and passed away on August 15, 2011. Wade Belak, a former Toronto Maple Leaf, played his final game on January 24, 2011 and passed away on August 31, 2011. Each player passed away just months after walking away from the game that they lived for.

Once they walked away, the pain, the trauma, the brutality that the game subjected them to took over their minds and led them down a dark path that they couldn’t find an end to.

So why is fighting considered an important element of hockey? If this element of the game has caused players to lose their lives, why is it still a part of today’s game? Fighting provides a reason for fans to watch. Fighting brings excitement to the game and it gets people to watch on TV or to buy tickets. It is sad that we, the fans, are the reason people are battling with mental illnesses. As a society, we need to realize that fighting cannot be tolerated at the level it is today. It does not need to be removed completely, because I think many can understand that it’s the constant fighting that leads to the serious issues.

So what does the NHL need to do to ensure that their players are safe? If they claim to be taking player safety seriously, what do they need to do to back that up? Look no further than the Ontario Hockey League.

It’s not often that the NHL needs to look to the OHL to lead by example, but the league’s brand new fighting policy is a great start to cleaning up the game and removing many of it’s dangerous elements. Before the current 2016-17 season, the OHL had a fighting policy that saw a player receive a two game suspension once they took part in their 10th fight of the season. But after that, the players were not punished again until they took part in 10 more fights. So if a player fought 20 times in a season, they would be suspended twice.

Fast forward to the current season and the OHL’s new policy on fighting. The player still faces their first suspension upon their tenth fight however, the suspension has been increased to three games as opposed to two. The major difference is that after the three game suspension, the player receives an additional suspension with every fight that they take part in. Players that want to fight are going to be watching their team play a lot of games instead of playing in them.

The new policy on fighting in the OHL was designed to limit the number of fights, and it is already working tremendously. In the 2015-16 season, the Kingston Frontenacs led the OHL with 62 fights. At this point in the season, the Kingston Frontenacs still lead the OHL but with only 19 fights. They’ve played 47 of their 68 games, which means they’re on pace to lead the league with just over 27 fights. That’s a huge difference which means the OHL’s policy is already paying off.

Now it’s time for the fans to call out the NHL. It’s time they do something about fighting, because the terrible situation in 2011 should never be repeated. Losing another player to suicide would cause a public outcry that could not only damage the NHL’s reputation, but hockey as a whole. Fighting is not a vital part of the game, it’s time to take action and ensure the safety of players is taken seriously.

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