The NHL has just taken a minor step that could eventually reduce the number of brutal fights in a major way.
A new rule this season gives players an additional two-minute penalty if they remove their helmets before starting a fight (via Puck Daddy). Instead of just receiving a five-minute penalty for fighting, a player will spend seven minutes (more than one-third of a period) in the penalty box.
Clearly this is a move to reduce the number of concussions in the NHL and there are two likely outcomes: 1) players will not want to punch helmets and face shields and will decide not to fight; or 2) players will just ignore the rule and accept the longer penalties.
In fact, Darren Dreger of TSN.ca called the new rule “a bit toothless,” noting that if one player removes his helmet, the other player will also and the penalties will be “a wash.”
This may turn out to be the case, but the important point for the NHL is that the rule is now in place. If the penalty is not stiff enough to stop players, now all they have to do is find the right level of deterrence. That could be more minutes in the box or maybe fines for repeat offenders.
The biggest obstacle for the NHL is the players’ association. Dreger adds that some players “still want to protect the role of the fighter.”
But now it seems inevitable. At some point, in the possibly near future, frequent fighting in the NHL is going to become a memory and it will be because of concussions.
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