The American Hockey League dipped its toes into the muddy waters of the fighting debate with a new rule beginning in the 2014-15 season:
“An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.”
This rule was likely inspired by the nasty injury George Parros suffered against Colton Orr in Oct. 2013, getting stretchered off the ice after taking a fall in their second fight of the night.
The notion that there needed to be a second fight is the issue. The first time they scrapped, it was for entertainment purposes: Amplifying the electricity of the Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry in their season opening game. The second fight came after Orr was yapping at P.K. Subban, as Parros played the role of enforcer.
The AHL’s rules changes are usually a harbinger of what might come in the NHL, and this type of change would seem to fit with the senior league’s approach to fighting: Targeting the repeat offenders rather than the random pugilists, and overall attempting to reduce the number of fights.
Since the AHL has a rule in which three game misconducts equals a one-game suspension and a suspension that increases by one game for every game misconduct after that, the new fighting rule gets a little more aggressive in its targeting of repeat offenders.
The only tricky part about this rule is the idea that a fourth-line pest might engage a top line player who already has one fight in the game, hoping to get him kicked out after a second bout. Think about Milan Lucic in the NHL, for example: How many sticks and punches and overall chicanery would he suffer for the next 40 minutes after a first-period fight?
Obviously, the referees’ willingness to whistle an instigator will be key here, to ensure that doesn't play out.
I still don't think there's middle ground in the fighting debate if the argument is about player safety: A punch to the brain is a punch to the brain whether it's a spontaneous or a staged fight. You're either all in or all out.
That said, both sides might agree on common sense reduction in fights that shouldn't necessarily happen. Kudos to the AHL for taking that step.
This AHL rule is just common sense. Even as a fighting advocate, I’m not a fan of “second fights” in a game. It’s usually some goon looking for comeuppance after getting embarrassed in Round 1, or part of some late-game sideshow in a blowout as the resident puncher gets punchy in an act of humiliation. The NHL should see how this plays in the AHL, and then act accordingly.
The NHL doesn’t have the type of fighting problem that minor leagues do. Once again, fighting declined in the League in 2013-14, to 469 fights from 546 fights in the last 82-game season. It’s declined every full season since 2009. Is it a hot-button issue? Sure, when we have incidents like the George Parros injury and John Scott’s menacing of Phil Kessel. But it’s not top of the mind for the NHL in general.
So it’ll be interesting to see if the NHL ever tightens its rules against frequent fighters, whether it’s with something like the AHL rule or something more targeted like the OHL’s rules that cap the number of fights a player can have in a season.