The Big Show


Last week I was talking to a friend of mine from the States and he asked me a question about fighting in the NHL. He wanted to know if the fights were ever staged or planned to add excitement to "the Big Show". I was offended that he would even think that was possible.

I took the next fifteen minutes to explain why a fight happens and how I don’t believe they are ever pre-planned to add to the entertainment value. This isn’t like the WWF with the Hulkster and Andre the Giant laying out a game plan the day before a game!

I have been thinking about that conversation a lot the last few days.

Over the last few years fighting has become a hot topic. With players missing time due to concussions, many people have placed the guilt directly on fighting. Guys do get their bells rung from punches, but I would much rather take a punch than a stick or elbow to the face. I always felt the damage by a fist was going to be less then by one of the other two.

"Staged fighting" is something many members of the media are jumping all over. They define a staged fight as one that was pre-planned or not spontaneous. The MacIntire Vs Ivanas fight is always brought up as an example. They love to say this fight was needless and caused great harm to Ivanas. Both statements could be true but where we’re these people when Probert vs Domi or Brown vs Grimson was going on? Can’t tell me those weren’t staged fights?

Everyone knew it was going to happen, tuned in to watch and loved it. Are we just getting so soft that we don’t want to see it anymore or do we not remember those fights? There are many less fighters around the league than there were before the ’04 lockout, but they are much bigger and stronger which can lead to some serious problems when punches land. It can be scary to watch but don’t try and change the way fighting is perceived.

Fighting is the same as it has always been, two guys going at it. Yes there is more danger but give me a break with this Staged Fighting talk. I support fighting in the NHL and will continue to do so. Don’t even get me started on removing the instigator rule!

  • “Staged fighting” is something many members of the media are jumping all over. They define a staged fight as one that was pre-planned or not spontaneous. The MacIntyre Vs Ivanas fight is always brought up as an example. They love to say this fight was needless and caused great harm to Ivanas. Both statements could be true but where we’re these people when Probert vs Domi or Brown vs Grimson was going on? Can’t tell me those weren’t staged fights?”

    “COULD be true?” Is true on both fronts. What part of Ivanans missing an entire season with post-concussion symptoms is up to debate?

    Where were these people when Probert and Domi or Brown and Grimson were knocking each other senseless?

    How long ago was that? Probert retired in 2002, a decade ago. He last fought Domi in 1998. How much medical information (including study of Probert’s brain) has been gathered since then? How much more do we know now about damage to the brain and long-term effects of concussions? Plenty.

    Everybody used to love that stuff — I did — so we should refuse to let go of the “good old days” when men were men in the face of medical evidence people are being damaged and impaired for our entertainment? Ridiculous.

    There was a time when seatbelts weren’t even installed in cars. Now use is mandatory. Teachers used to smoke in their classrooms with students feet away. My doctor smoked in his office. We figured out that wasn’t a good idea. As evidence becomes available that practises that were once perfectly acceptable aren’t good for us, we adjust. We have that evidence about repeated concussions.

    For the Brownlee-you’re-a-pussy crowd: I used to enjoy fighting. I did it a lot as a lacrosse player. On a “base” level I still enjoy watching a good scrap, but I’ve also come to understand in the past 5-7 years that what I’m seeing is causing long-term damage to the guys doing it. At some point, you have to at least re-think what’s OK, no?

    • @Robin Brownlee

      I agree to a point that as there are medical advances there will be chanes in onrder to protect players/people/society more.

      My major concern is that society is becoming soft and bubble wrapped. Pretty much anything that is fun is dangerous. How long will it be before they are all illegal.

      I disagree with the seatbelt law, and in making helmets mandatory for riding bikes. I think people should be allowed to make their own decisions regarding their safety. If seatbelts were for the safety of others in the car then they would be mandatory on busses and trains as well.

      I enjoy hockey the way it is. We are reducing fighting and there is always talk of removing it. We are trying to remove head shots in hockey. If you are Chara (insert the name of any very tall player) how can you hit St Louis or any other short player without making contact to the head? I am afraid this is another step towards no contact. There will always be injuries in sport and the ones that are easiest to attempt to reduce are the ones that are from fighting or contact.

      I watched an interview between Chael Sonnen and a politician who was trying to get MMA banned. It was hilarious and fairly typical of the loudest advocates of banning fighting or contact. He had never watched a fight. He did not know the rules, and had not studied the injuries or dangers associated with fighting. He simply thought fighting was barbaric. Sonnen came to the interview very well prepared. He had stats on the number of deaths from each sport. (Apparently cheearleading is more dangerous then MMA) Stats on serious injuries from a huge number of sports, and then the part I enjoyed the most was the simple question “How can you lobby against something you know nothing about. If you don’t like the idea; Don’t watch. If you want to lobby against it; Do some friggin research and get out to watch a few fights. Then maybe your opinion might actually mean something”

    • OilClog

      Being punched silly, is only one of 345 different ways to get knocked out on the ice. Taking away fighting does nothing but open a flood gate of other issues, it can’t be done unless the game is changed so there is no contact.

      Out of all the concussions in the league.. what % is caused by fighting? what percentage is caused by dirty, late, illegal, cheap shots? Can’t have one without the other, if anyone is serious about truly cutting down the amount of concussions in the league the instigator rule needs to be thrown out. Allow players to police themselves again, the respect levels on the ice will tilt back to a barbarians game played by gentleman, instead of barbarians playing a gentlemans game.

    • The Soup Fascist

      @ Brownlee

      Probert’s tragic death is an interesting point you raise. Certainly evidence of CTE was found after his brain was examined at Boston University. However, Probert’s death was attributed to heart failure which is believed to be brought on by years of substance abuse and genetic history.

      Probert’s CTE could just have easily been caused or advanced by the significant motorcycle crash, major car accident and several other off-ice incidents he endured.

      While professional sports cannot have their head in the sand about CTE, as it is a real issue, not sure Probert is necessarily the poster boy. His lifestyle away from the rink was more hazardous than the job he did on it.

    • Jason Strudwick

      I think we are talking about two different issues Brownlee. You are discussing the long term effects that can happen from fighting. I am strictly speaking about the fighting. I believe when a professional athelete plays a sport he accepts the risks. Period. He has the choice to not compete and do something else.

      • book¡e

        In academia, we have research ethics that prevent us from offering incentives that would be difficult for an individual to refuse given their circumstances. I would suggest that for a lot of NHL fighters, their other options in the ‘real world’ would probably provide them with something less than 10% of the salary that they make in the NHL. That difference is significant enough that a standard of free will might not fully be met.

        Accepting the risk is part of it, but first there needs to be an honest awareness of the risk. Second, there is really good evidence out there that younger males are not good at assessing risk (evolutionary biology has played into this) and so what about the 16 and 17 year old who are trying to fight their way into the league? Third, we don’t allow bare knuckled boxing, fights to the death, fighting with weapons, etc because society has deemed it unacceptable to condone individuals risking themselves (beyond a certain level) for the entertainment of others.

        In any case, I don’t expect you to change your opinion, but I will bet that you enjoy the 2030 Stanley cup finals as much as you did the 2012 finals regardless of the fact that fighting is no longer part of the game.

  • Ben

    I have no problem with fighting. The only thing that bugs me is when two gorillas who will spend more time in the box then they will on the ice lumber onto the ice with 7 minutes gone in the second period, drop the gloves, swing at each other a few times and that is it? Can anybody really get energized from that? It’s boring and it really has lost it’s effect on the game.

    On the other when you look at a fight that I though was one of the best of the last season; Brad Marchand vs PK Subban where all game they had been at each other, hacking, whacking and beaking until finally it reached it’s blowout point and they went at it. It was two players who have an effect on every game, who don’t like each other finally having enough of each other going for it.

    It was the kind of fight that players and fans draw energy from. Not like when no game goon faces off against the other teams no name goon.

  • book¡e

    Perhaps you’re too close to the game to have an objective opinion. You are part of the inside culture of the game which offers you one perspective, but its not the only perspective that matters.

    It’s getting to where the academic research on the damage caused by fighting is starting to outweigh the entertainment value it provides. Its not simply a matter of how enjoyable the Probert fights were, its a question of whether the public was simply paying money to watch someone destroy their brain. This is a question for which there needs to be more research, but that research needs to be carried out by scientists, not by those ‘inside’ the game.

    We have a moral code in society that seeks to limit the harm caused to performers, particularly permanent harm. As a result our sporting entertainment is changing.

    Hockey is unlike other sports, such as boxing or MMA, where the key skill of contestants is fighting. Fighting is secondary entertainment to the main spectacle, kind of like ring girls in boxing. The game is won by the score on the scoreboard which is, at best, minimally affected by the ability of an individual on the team to fight. A lot of great hockey has been played without fighting. Olympic hockey is great to watch with nary a fight, as is a lot of European hockey.

    Staged fights between guys put on the team simply for that purpose are silly and add nothing of value to the game.

    I would bet that in 15 years, fighting is no longer the norm in the game, and I think the game will be better for it.

    • The fact that you think fighting is only in the game for the entertainment value means you don’t understand the purpose of fighting in hockey.

      With the nuber of players on the ice, the speed the game is played at, and the number of blindspots on the ice it is impossible for the refs to catch everything. The easiest way to slow down a player like Crosby is to frustrate him. To hook him, slash him, spear and butt end him, take runs at him and elbow him. Sure the ref will catch some of these infractions but he will miss more then he catches. There are lots of coaches that understand they would be better off serving a penalty and even losing a marginal player like Avery to disrupt, hurt, or just annoy a player like crosby.

      There will always be injuries in hockey, but look who has been on the shelf the last few years. After the instigator rule came into effect there have been a hell of a lot more of the games stars out for long periods with injuries. Some of those would absolutely be avoided if those teams had enforcers and they were allowed to do their jobs. If every time someone takes a run at Eberle or does something cheap to him he gets run or gets pounded on it sets a standard as what is acceptable when playing against us. It also makes it clear what the repercussions are of taking a run at our stars.

      I will admit I even enjoy watching one team’s enforcer fight the other team’s enforcer but it is rare that these fights solve anything. In my opinion there has to be a place for enforcers, but they should be going after whoever is going after that team’s stars. If it happens to be the other team’s enforcer then so be it.

      • book¡e

        Yes, back when there was lots of fighting in the game, everyone was on their best behaviour and nobody ever sought to hurt anybody in the NHL. The fact that this is not the least bit true should not dissuade you from believing it. Try watching a replay from the 1970s and tell me that the game has more stickwork now than it did then. If there are more games lost to injury, it has more to do with the fact that injured players no longer ‘shake off’ the concussion and go back out on the ice. Did you gather the stats that show that hockey stars have been injured at a greater relative rate compared to other player with the instigation of the enforcer rule than before or are you just assuming this?

        If fighting is such an effective instrument for protecting your stars, why would the instigator rule prevent fighting. Wouldn’t it be worth a coach sending out a goon to pound Avery into the ground anyway – its one two minute penalty which would seem worthwhile if it actually protected your player. The reality is that Avery plays the same way whether there is a goon on the other team or not.

        Intent to injure infractions can be dealt with in many ways that do not involve fighting. If the ref does not catch it, than the NHL can do so (we have this great thing called video now).

        I grew up fighting and I ‘get’ the mentality of fighting both in and out of hockey. However, I also understand that society is probably a better place now that there are not 10 fights a night at every bar and in every school hallway. I also think hockey is just as good of a game without it as it is with it – perhaps better.

  • I would assume his thoughts around the instigator rule are similar to mine and most people’s that support fighting in the game.

    The instigator rule prevents an enforcer from doing his job. It gives the extra penalty to the person that is often going in to right a wrong. Because of this rule many teams have decided that they can’t afford the extra penalty and have either gotten rid of their enforcer or have handcuffed him so he needs permission before going after someone that has taken a run at someone on his team.

    If the instsigator rule is removed from the game there would be more enforcers, they would have the greenlight to fight when ever someone takes a run or a cheapshot on the elite stars of the league. This would likely result in more fights and less people taking liberties on stars.

  • I always find it funny/weird that the people screaming the loudest about how dangerous fighting in hockey is and how it’s ruining the sport and it needs to be taken out and blah blah blah are the people who have never done it (at the NHL level at least).

    Nice to hear from someone who’s actually been there, done that.

    And I agree, I’d rather take a punch to the face than an elbow to the grill from a guy skating like 30KM an hour. Which one has more force, I wonder?

  • 2004Z06

    I agree with Ben. I cant stand seeing two guys who wont play again for a month start a scrap off the opening face off.

    The fights that effect the balance of the game are the passionate ones, where an impact player is fed up with something or someone and decides to let out some frustration on another guy’s face. Give me a Gagner or Petrell fight any day over a Hordichuk fight. When one of them drops the gloves, you know it’s because they care.

    • Jason Strudwick

      Are you suggesting that when two guys that can really fight they don’t care for their team mates? Wow. I can tell you that it is those guys who care the most because they are willing to do whatever it takes to support their team mated.

      • GVBlackhawk

        I don’t think he is suggesting that at all. From a fan’s POV, the staged fight seems to have very little effect on the overall momentum or outcome of a hockey game. This is not the same as a spontaneous fight that occurs between players who also contribute to the outcome of a game with hockey skills. Nobody is questioning the passion of a goon for his teammates.

        The staged fight is not as exciting as it once was. Mostly just two guys punching each other in the forehead and helmet and breaking their hands. If people want to watch two men fight, they are better off watching MMA.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I played jr B (aka jungle B) and I got into a few exhibition games when I tried out with the Bears in the early 80s. Jr B featured clowns that could barely skate but they thought the scouts were in the stands. Lots of fights. CIAU hockey did not allow fighting whatsoever. It was replaced by spearing behind the play. I was in 1 fight in jr and got snot-bubbled. At Clare Drake I had the bars of my cage bent in by a Sherwood to the chops. Give me fighting everyday over the alternative.

    From a fan’s perspective, fighting in hockey serves to right a perceived wrong. That is also the basis of pro rasslin, like a modern day morality play. This is why many Americans confuse the two.

    If only Semenko had squared off with Bad News Allen…

  • paul wodehouse

    “…And I agree, I’d rather take a punch to the face than an elbow to the grill from a guy skating like 30KM an hour. Which one has more force, I wonder?…”

    @jeanshorts…ask Vladimir Kovin

    Mess wasn’t going 30k / hr but…gotta love this old video…it warms the heart

    edit…best elbow EVER

  • Pro-fight all the way.

    Until the gentiles ban contact completely from hockey the fighting part will continue to account for so few injuries and concussions that I dont see any reason to take it out.

    If brain injury is that big of a concern then maybe impact sports arent for you. And there isnt anything wrong with that. I just dont see any way to reconcile a concern for the well being of an athlete with being able to enjoy sports like Hockey and Football. Every single collision could be chipping away at the brain health of an athlete, and hitting certainly happens more often than fighting.

    At some point you will either have to accept that the games put stress on the noggins of those who play it and continue to watch them regardless, or stop watching all together and never condone participation in them.

    Coosing anything else will only result in trying to change the game. And if you can only handle the game if you change it then are you really a fan of the game?

    • book¡e

      I agree, goalies wearing masks will destroy the game as we know it.

      Well, at least that was the argument back in the day.

      Games evolve, get used to it. If you think that hockey is not good without fighting, then you really need to ask yourself if you are really a fan of the game.

      • Me and 98% of the players arent fans of Hockey I guess.

        You’re talking about equipment change like it’s the same as major changes to the rules and conduct within the game.

        This isnt tweaking the clutching and grabbing penalties or composite sticks, you’re talking about removing the physical elements of the game.

        In an earlier post you bring up Olympic hockey as an example of excellent hockey. It’s good because of the high drama that is a single elimination tournament coupled with the fact that we’re talking about All-Star teams. Hitting has nothing to do with it. At the Olympics we can be sucked in to watching women’s soccer and it can be the most thrilling experience we’ve seen in sports. It has NOTHING to do with a lack of fighting.

        Games do evolve, not always for the better. If we are going to make major revisions to a sport then there better be a good reason why.

  • If the game is going to have enforcers on the roster, than the “instigator rule” has to change, so that the enforcers can take care of the many rats that are running around taking cheap shots at quality and star players of the game.Fans are not going to pay $200 for game to watch ” my goon vs your goon” [yes it is a staged fight, Mr Strudwick] ” You wanna go”, ya lets go”!I dont mind hockey fights if its a spontaneous kind of thing.[Hall taking on Doresett].
    If say, Clutterbuck takes a run at RNH, Hordichuk fighting Basionnet, dose not take care of Clutterbuck for his aflection. All that happens is two goons got to the box for five, and that is all you see of them for the game in most cases.. didnt prove or solve anything.!

  • vetinari

    While I support retaining fighting in hockey, I lean towards keeping the instigator rule, otherwise, you’re going to see guys like Hall and Ebs jumped by the opposing team’s enforcers when they crash the net and we’ll be back to the rock ’em, sock ’em 80s. It has cut down on fights over the years, and by extension, the resulting injuries that follow.


    I dont mind fighting in the NHL.The only thing that REALLY bothers me is when a player gives a CLEAN huge hit and then has a player from the other team race over and jump on him.If its a dirty hit,then i’m ok with it.

    I was a huge fan of Ronnie lott(NFL safety)He would lay someone out every second game and I cant remember him having to fight anyone.

    If your going to play a contact sport,keep in mind you’ll get laidout time to time.

    • Ben

      I agree to an extent. When Doughty railroaded Hall, you want a response. You can’t have your best players being laid out like that clean or not. You need to respond to that. But when that happens to 4th liner let him fight his own battle. If he didn’t like then he has to take care of himself.

  • Ben

    Brownlee… I thought that due to the massive amounts of cocaine and a lifetime of chemical abuse the results of the probert / concussion tests were a little skewed. It has been identified that a lot of the issues with Proberts head are common amongst serious drug and alcohol users.

    If you use those tests as an argument please point these facts out as well.

    Actually a lot of tests being done on the long term effects of concussions are being done on addicts and alcoholics. There is a line of thought in the scientific community that veers away from using these test results due to this fact.

    In no way am I saying concussions are not dangerous, just that like so many other Scientific “facts” there may be more to the story than what is being told.

  • I guess I’m still a little old school.

    When you have a player’s like Matt Cooke or Sean Avery (just as examples) running around doing whatever they want to your players how do you stop that?

    How do you police the players that don’t care about the rules of the game?

    I could argue that Injuries could specifically head injuries become more prevalent with the absent of fighting or an enforcer.

    The game needs fighting to stay safer, I know that’s a weird statement, but I would really like to know the correlation between serious injuries and the instigator rule?

    I don’t ever recall players being this seriously injured growing up.

    I get the bigger, faster, stronger and better the players have become, but I also know the players don’t respect the opposing players as much or just don’t respect the rules set forth by the NHL, ether way something has to give here or we need players to police players.

    Maybe without the instigator rule, the game might slow down to a respectable game again?

    I still think the game needs it.

    • Reg Dunlop

      I have to agree with much of what you said but I’m not so sure about players of yore having all that much respect for each other(Dale Hunter/Pierre Turgeon or Dave Schultz/Dale Rolf). I think not being able to hold up forcheckers thus allowing them to paste defencemen, often before they have time to turn up-ice, into the end boards causes much more noodle-damage than fighting.

      To quickly reduce or even eliminate concussions all we have to do is return to the old system of hockey parlance: ‘He got his bell rung’. Just like that, one less concussion.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Also, since we are talking hockey fighting, the best fight I saw in person was Semenko-Ron Delorme when Sammy blasted Delorme’s helmet straight up 10 feet in the air. Like rockem sockem robots Sammy knocked his block off.

  • GVBlackhawk

    Thank you for indirectly shedding light on a suppressed but critical NHL safety issue which has been the catalyst of more career ending injuries than any on e other factor in the game.

    This is an issue that has been caught in a hard spot between the NHL and the Players Union for so many years that it almost and may have cost us Sidney Crosby if he doesnt fully recover which he hasnt yet.

    The issue is bullet-proof elbow pads.

    I will start off saying that player safety is always a priority but we cannot refuse to aknowledge trending injury curves in the NHL,that would be irresponsible and remiss to do.

    I am a 40 plus year hockey fan,who has viewed thousands of NHL games and only one issue makes me want to stop watching the game—the politics of it all.

    How many players have we lost to head injuries in the last 40 years??How many careers were ended prematurely by elbow inuries in the last 40 years??


    We overdid it with the kevlar brick elbow pads that make a flyweight a heavyweight because he can knock out Georges laraque with a quick clip to the skull, this has begun to destroy our game from within,we are ending each others careers in the name of what??ELBOW SAFETY???

    Those pads are designed in form and function to be deterrant weapons and thats that.Guys are run into the end boards at high speed with high elbows,because no one is afraid to throw their money makers out there when they are covered in kevlar.Guys throw an elbow to the head and its instant concussion,I mean these guys are out before they hit the ice for gods sakes this is disgusting.Tall guys inadvertantly clip little guys and they are knocked out,doesnt anyone question this,seriously???

    Listen,someone sue someone already and make the NHL and the Union work together nothing else will do it,these pads need to be reviewed and we need to remove some of the lethality surrounding them and put more accountability for injury to their elbows back into the hands of the players.

    This is a real and dangerous dynamic that both the NHL and Union are guilty of keeping alive.

    Fights usually happen after a headshot taken by someone who doesnt care what they do with their elbows,if you might lose money because you break your elbow throwing a viscious hit then you dont throw it,if you only anger the lion instead of knocking him out you act your size out on the ice and stay in your own weight class,if there is a size disparity of up to 80 lbs between players the big fellas cant wear boxcars on their elbows for goodness sakes.And if we choose to ignore this we can spend the rest of our lives watching replays of sidney Crosby being nicked by a kevlar weapon and dropping like a bomb.

  • GVBlackhawk

    I see comments on here attacking those who never played at the NHL level or suggesting that they don’t know anything about hockey, yet call for a ban on fighting. I’ll challenge you to do your research. I’ve posted lots of data and analysis from various sources on my blog – Fights don’t reduce cheap shots and they don’t change momentum. Based on data from the past 12 seasons, when fights per game go down, non-fighting PIMs are also reduced. Fights lead to more cheap shots and penalties, not the other way around. Study the facts and you’ll find all the supporting arguments for dropping the gloves are myth and perception. All you’re left with is enjoying two goons punching each other in the head.

    And regarding the instigator rule, according to Kerry Fraser it’s called less than 15% of the time and only serves as a deterrent. I watched hockey in the 70’s and 80’s and the games were full of cheap shots and brawls, at a time when enforcers and fights were at their peak. More enforcers meant more violence, not less. If you want a peek at what the NHL was like at that time then listen to the experienced viewers who covered the game –

    The sport of hockey doesn’t need a group players breaking the rules (rule #46) in order to exact revenge for someone else breaking the rules. Fix the on-ice officiating and disciplinary process. Hockey is a hard-hitting, fast-paced game that should be popularized because of the artistry of the players. But today hockey’s image is low-skilled players whose only role is to punch each other for the delight of the fans.