I love the game of ice hockey. I think the players are the most underestimated athletes in all of sports. Speed, hand eye coordination, fitness, and determination to mention just a few. But I have to ask myself why hockey remains 4th in all the stick and ball sports in the US.
Is fighting one of the reasons more people don't appreciate and hence tune in to hockey? As soon as a fight hits the media, many people just think "goons" and write off hockey.
Recent history shows that the number of goons and fights are down in the NHL (https://www.hockeyfights.com/stats). But it still persists and I think it persists to the detriment of growing new fans. I get it that fights can "motivate" a team and it's a way to get back at a team who takes cheap shots at the opposing team's stud players.
But is fighting really necessary? A good clean hard hit sends the same message without turning off potential new fans. It may actually grow new fans when people see the action. Think NFL linebacker hits on an unsuspecting QB type of action. That's excitement and within the rules of the game.
So how could the NHL "fix" fighting. Severe penalties and I mean SEVERE. Something like first fighting penalty in a season, 5 game suspension. Second fighting penalty, 15 game suspension. Third fighting penalty out for the season. I know that there are collective bargaining issues, but those could be addressed at the bargaining table.
I recognize that some fans really like fighting and that some may actually be lost at the implementation of rules like the above. But I think they would more than make up for that loss with new fans and better press.
And is fighting what we want our kids to see as a means to solve a problem? Whenever I see video of 8 year olds fighting on the rink I shudder.
With disincentives like the above, would teams invest in goons or just go for talent?