It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight...
In the wake of Rick Rypien’s tragic passing, and the possible link to chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a degenerative disease prevalent among people with multiple brain injuries, otherwise known as CTE - there’s been a call to restrict, or even ban fighting in the NHL. There has of course been pushback from those who would hate to see fighting taken out of the game for any reason, but there may yet be a way to filter "good" fights from "bad."
It’s gotten to the point where there are two types of fighting in the league: the "staged" enforcer-on-enforcer fights, and the "real" fights. And honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would want to keep the enforcer-on-enforcer fights in the league. Orr-King, Parros-Orr, or Bissonette-Janssen... they’re predictable, often turn defensive, and now we know, killing the players that participate.
On the other hand, the Aulie-Hartnell fight (pictured above) is everything great about fighting in the NHL. Aulie, a rookie, feels the cross check to the face was unnecessary. The referees aren’t going to call it, so Aulie calls gives Hartnell fair warning, and the two deal with the disagreement on their own. Aulie doesn’t wait a shift and line up a dirty hit, doesn’t wait a game to get even, he doesn’t jump Hartnell. It’s spontaneous and genuine.
If we’d like to weed out the enforcers’ dance routine, but without losing the "real" hockey fights, we could implement a cap on how often players are allowed to fight. ESPN.com provides a list of fighting majors per game, and from DJ King’s 6 fights over 16 games played (.38) to Mike Rupp’s 12 fights in 81 games (.15), most of the players on the first two pages of that list have a reputation for throwing fisticuffs, especially with other enforcers.
The NHL would be improved if it implemented a new rule, which penalizes any player who had a rate of Fighting Majors per Game higher than or equal to .15 during or after an NHL season, with the exception of just the first 7 games of the player’s season. If a player goes over this limit, the player could be fined or suspended. In order to make the team responsible for repeatedly playing an individual who has shown careless recklessness with his mental health, teams could also be eligible for fine or loss of draft picks. This will allow for up to a maximum of 12 fights per year – still high, but less than 20 players’ total last year. With SkinnyFish’s comment from yesterday in mind, similar fines and/or suspensions could be implemented against the player or team if a player fights more than once in a given number of days. It means that you can still watch Crosby fight Niskanen and Marleau fight Bieksa, but that Bissonnette’s 48 games of "I-play-if-I-fight" will become a rarity. And hopefully, so will players' risk of irreparable brain damage.