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Is Fighting In Hockey Almost Extinct?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last season, Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves fought four times and was voted the victor in each by the fans. Three regular season scraps and one postseason go-around with Evander Kane was a light schedule for Reaves, who normally averages seven fights per year.

So, is it a sign Reaves is bored of whooping every opponent’s ass? Or is it just a continuation of the steady decline of fighting in the NHL? ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski examined it further.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to boomerang back. I think we’re going to see decline, after decline, after decline, to the point now that we have new historic lows across the board in hockey fighting.”- Greg Wyshynski, ESPN NHL Reporter

Player safety has been a big reason for the drop off but it’s also becoming difficult to carry fists in a salary cap world. Love him or hate him, Reaves is unique. He has stood the test of time and is preparing for his tenth NHL season.

He’s arguably the toughest guy in the league, but the fact he can play the game and contribute that’s what makes him valuable. That’s where the game is nowadays. There were a lot of players that were pushed out, he was not one of them. Rightfully so. He can contribute to the game and not just for what we’re known for doing. -Shawn Thornton, Former NHL Player

Thornton spoke with me in late February, after the Golden Knights hosted the Florida Panthers. Overall, the retired NHL heavyweight was glad to see the decline in fighting.

In my opinion, intimidation is a part of life. When you’re in an arena that’s two hundred by eighty-five with no out of bounds, it’s amplified. I think there will always be a space in hockey. Sometimes it’s a pressure cooker and a fight will be the thing that pops the top off… but there’s no more room in the league for a one-dimensional guy, and I’m actually very okay with that. -Thornton

While Reaves isn’t the only Golden Knight to drop gloves, he’s the only one fans are hoping to see fight. Fans winced when Deryk Engelland fought Kyle Clifford in a meaningless preseason game. The same reaction came when Alex Tuch had his first career dust-up.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Sure it’s a hoot watching someone get knocked around, but in reality fans are in the arenas to watch hockey. Not to watch Reaves chase guys around the ice.

“There’s definitely a school of thought that the product had its mass appeal in a way that the current product doesn’t. That said, there’s also a competing thought, that product limited hockey’s appeal in some ways that current product doesn’t.”-Wyshynski

That’s the real reason behind the decline. General Managers and coaches are constantly concerned with keeping their jobs, so risking several million to a lower skilled player with intangibles might not be the wisest decision. The more conservative approach is to go spend that money on a guy with speed that can’t finish. Team’s always think they can correct that.

“Do I miss it? Of course I miss it, it’s what I grew up with it. There’s a nostalgic aspect to it that I can’t deny. I also can’t deny that the league is better for not having guys that skate six minutes a night and can’t really play going out there beating up the other guy who’s the same.”-Wyshynski

Wyshynski nails it. Like him, it was the style of hockey I grew up watching. But that’s in the past and the game has progressed. Player safety, better use of cap space, and putting the puck in the net are the main reasons for the decline in fighting, and the inevitable extinction.

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

But don’t worry Greg, we’ll always have vintage VHS tapes of Don Cherry’s Rock’em Sock’em Hockey and the original NES 64-bit Blades of Steel video game.


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1 Comment

  1. DOC

    I was born in 1950 and living near Chicago became a Blackhawk fan around age 10. So, I grew up watching Keith Magnusson for the Hawks and then the Broad St bullies, etc…. I loved the fighting and still do, when it serves a purpose. Even though I am now a diehard Knights fan, I actually “love” watching Tom Wilson play. He’s a throw back, but a fighter who also is a pretty damn good hockey player. I enjoy Wilson’s and Reevo’s shenanigans when we play the caps. Fighting just keeps that certain tension in games. It’s a good thing!!!!! :) DOC

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