04 March 2016
Putting Up a Fight...
Since the 2001-02 NHL season, the percentage of games with fights has dropped nearly 20%. What was once a significant part of the National Hockey League is slowly withering away but why?
Hockey is best known for its physicality. Body checking and other similar physical aspects of the game we’re actually written into the original rules. However, it wasn’t until 1922 when fighting was considered a five-minute penalty rather than an automatic ejection like most other sports. From the 1930’s through the 1940’s we saw an emergence of using fighting as a tactic for players to show that they weren’t going to be intimidated. It also began to be seen as a challenge to other players to see if they were committed or courageous enough to drop the gloves. Moving forward to the 1970’s we started to see the development of a new role on some teams, the enforcer. The enforcer was pretty much there for one reason, and that reason was to get into fights. They would score a handful of goals each year but there main focus was to motivate their teams through focusing on the physical part of the game by checking and getting into fights. But what happened to the enforcer(s) of today? The saying goes “Numbers Never Lie” and looking at the shear numbers, the number of players receiving fighting penalties is down 20% from the 2001-02 season. I believe that this change is due to a couple of social factors.
In recent years we have seen a tremendous amount of pushback regarding bullying and violence, significantly more so than in the 70’s and 80’s. So it’s no longer the “thing” to be the tough guy while others are expected to have thick skin. Instead everyone is expected to treat others kindly and with respect, and rightfully so
Additionally, we live in a world that is moving faster than ever. We have instant access to just about any piece of information in the palm of our hands. The game of hockey is changing from a game of physical prowess to a game filled with speed and finesse. If you look at some of the younger stars in the NHL like Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin, Detroit Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, or Ottawa Senators Defensemen Erik Karlsson, they all two things in common; speed and good hand skills.
Sports tend to follow the trends of society and I believe we can see evidence of the changing of the game in these two examples. So we are left with the question: Are the speedsters replacing the enforcers? It sure seems like we are headed that way.