After the Oilers acquired Steve MacIntyre off the waiver wire on September 23, 2013 the debate on fighting in hockey has heated up again, and as usual both sides are holding steadfast to their arguments. On the one side there is the "fighting is just part of the game" argument and on the other side there is the "fighting doesn't add anything to the game" argument.
Before I continue I will say I am on the anti-fighting side of this argument. I do not see how fighting adds to the game in any facet of hockey and for that matter in any professional team sport. I am not going to talk about the numbers but if you want some background on them Tyler Dellow wrote a great article here and James Mirtle had another good one based on some Tweets Michael Parkatti had sent out here. What I want to highlight in this post is how other sports/leagues handle discipline when it comes to fighting.
I'll start with the NBA. Why? Well basketball is a less physical game and doesn't really have this problem for the most part but every so often a game gets heated and a fight ensues. I'm going to use two of the more prominent examples for this post, the December 16, 2006 game Denver vs NY and the November 19, 2004 game Detroit vs Indiana. I would also like to point out that since the 2007/2008 season there have been 5 major incidents where a fight has occurred in a game in the NBA. As a result of these fights 17 players have received some sort of discipline equalling 10 total games and over $250,000 in fines.
NBA - December 16, 2006 Denver Nuggets vs. New York Nicks
The ensuing discipline was as follows:
The NBA handed down the suspensions for Saturday's Denver-New York fight and, as expected, the penalties were harsh. Carmelo Anthony (Den) was suspended for 15 games (throwing a punch at Collins). J.R. Smith (Den) and Nate Robinson (NY) were suspended for 10 games each (their scuffle ended up in the front row of fans). Mardy Collins (NY) was suspended for 6 games (his the flagrant foul started the whole thing). Jared Jeffries (NY) was suspended for 4 games (he aggressively tried to get at Anthony). Nene (Den) and Jerome James (NY) were suspended for 1 game each for leaving the bench during the incident (automatic suspensions, they did not participate in any altercations). In addition, the league fined the 2 teams $500,000 each.
A tally of the total suspensions from that one game was 47 and a total of $1MM in fines for both teams. Granted this was more a bench brawl but if you look at the penalties handed down to the recent Buffalo Sabres - Toronto Maple Leafs bench brawl it was a total of 13 games, 3 of which are pre-season games that don't count for much, if anything.
NBA - November 19, 2004 - Indiana Pacers vs Detroit Pistons
The ensuing discipline:
The NBA came down hard with the suspensions for Friday's Ind-Det brawl that involved players going into the stands and punches being exchanged between players and fans. Ron Artest (Ind) was suspended for the rest of the season (72 games). Stephen Jackson (Ind) was suspended for 30 games. Jermaine O'Neal (Ind) was suspended for 25 games. Those total suspensions are upped by 1 game as they do not include Saturday's Ind-Orl game. The Players Association has already stated that they will appeal those 3 suspensions and an arbitrator may eventually reduce the length of those suspensions. All 3 threw punches at fans and Artest and Jackson went into the stands. Anthony Johnson (Ind) was suspended 6 games - he was the player in street clothes who punched a fan on the court right after Artest and the fan had a confrontation. His suspension will not start until he is physically able to play. Ben Wallace (Det) was suspended for 6 games for his two handed shove to Artest's face during the game and for throwing a towel at Artest after the players had been separated. Elden Campbell (Det), Chauncey Billups (Det), Derrick Coleman (Det), and Reggie Miller (Ind) were suspended for 1 game for leaving the bench during the on court altercation between Wallace and Artest. Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal will be listed on a suspended list so Indiana will be able to sign players for their spots while the players are suspended (and, thus, exceed the 15 player roster maximum).
The total tally from that single game was 143 games worth of suspensions. Granted there were fans involved but I have to emphasize Rick Rypien only got 6 games for his altercation with a fan.
So as one can clearly see the NBA does not look very kindly on fights and as such don't sign hired goons to protect their top end talent.
Examples of fighting in the NFL have been a little tougher to find as the NFL gets video services to take down a lot of NFL related content. Also the NFL seems to go the route of fines as opposed to suspensions for fights. Thanks to http://www.spotrac.com I was able to get some information on total fines for fighting since 2010. By my count there have been 14 fights since 2010 but this may not be accurate since I am not really a big football fan. Anyway here is the data I pulled together.
|Oher, Michael||RT, T||BAL||$5,000.00||10/01/2010|
|Dunlap, King||LT, T||PHI||$7,875.00||01/04/2013|
|Whitworth, Andrew||LT, T||CIN||$26,250.00||11/30/2012|
|Shaughnessy, Matt||OLB, LB||OAK||$26,250.00||11/30/2012|
|Penn, Donald||LT, T||TB||$7,875.00||11/02/2012|
|Brinkley, Jasper||ILB, LB||MIN||$7,875.00||09/21/2012|
|Ferguson, D'Brickashaw||LT, T||NYJ||$15,750.00||09/18/2013|
The total in fines is $409,000 on 30 players. Again another league that doesn't sign untalented goons that can't play their position to protect their top end talent. The teams use the rules of the game to protect their talent and if those players can't perform their duties they are cut and another player takes their spot in the legal role of enforcer.
The NBA fines and suspensions may be a little extreme and those NFL fines may not seem like a lot but they enforce the rules and hand out punishment appropriately.
When it comes to NHL discipline and handling of fighting within the game the league looks like a joke compared to these other leagues. Since the 2009-2010 season there have been 4410 total regular season NHL games played. According http://hockeyfights.com in that 4410 games there have been 2252 fights and 1255 players that have been assessed major penalties for fighting. The total fines over these same years has been $71,000 and those fines include "leaving the bench to engage in an altercation" or "instigator in the last 5 minutes of a hockey game" not really disciplining the players for the actual fighting infraction. The total number of suspensions in that same time has been 79 (4 more than in the single NBA game) and that is even a stretch as it includes sucker punches, leaving the bench and instigator in a fight. If I only counted the suspensions that were purely due to a fight the total would be 0. Sure a 5 minute penalty was assessed during the game, maybe a 10 minute or game misconduct but nothing to really deter the infraction. None the less in 2252 fights the percentage of suspensions compared to fights handed out by the league is 3.5%. As displayed in the previous sections, if these same infractions occurred in the NBA or NFL it would lead to a suspension or fine and although these fines may be small the zero tolerance rule is still enforced.
In the end
I can guarantee you that if there was a fine or suspension handed out for every fight in the NHL it would stop very quickly. A dedicated fighter making $600K would probably think twice before dropping the gloves knowing that a fine would be dipping into his "measly" earnings. If the dedicated fighter won't drop the gloves then teams will stop picking them up. If teams stop signing these types of players we'd see way less fighting and a lot more hockey.
Another plus to this is we'd never have to watch a staged fight again.
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