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Is fighting on its way out of the NHL?


Is fighting on its way out of the NHL?

Tuesday's game against the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers had all the makings of a rivalry matchup. The Caps squared off against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in their last three appearances. While the Caps and Blueshirts traded goals, one thing they did not trade was punches.

“Our team, it’s not something we’ve been doing the last couple years," said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. "Fighting is always going to happen if you’re playing a rival team if there’s a cheap shot and stuff like that. It’s gonna happen."

Is it?

In the first period of Tuesday's game, Alex Ovechkin took a stick jab to the groin from Rangers' defenseman Marc Staal.

Rivalry game? Check.

Cheap shot? Ovechkin thought so.

And yet, no fight. In fact, the Caps have not had a fight in any game this season and they're not alone.

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The Caps are one of four teams without a fight this season in what has become a growing trend for NHL teams. According to, through 180 NHL games this season there have been only 40 fights. The league is on pace for only 273 fights this season at a rate of one fight for every five games. That would be the lowest total since the site began tracking fights in the 2000-01 season.

Teams are just not dropping the gloves like they used to.

"I think if you look up and down the lineup there’s not many guys who are strictly fighters anymore," Brooks Orpik said. "The lineups are different that way. It’s just the way the game is played."

Seemingly gone are the days of the Donald Brashears, enforcers who could fight and contribute little else. The NHL is becoming faster and more skilled and that's forcing teams and general managers to change the way they construct their rosters.

“Really, it’s a question for general managers on how they want to build their teams and what they foresee their identity being," Brooks Laich said. "I think the guys that are still around that can throw the fists can also play very well and have some sort of role. It doesn’t mean other guys are scared to drop the mitts. There just aren’t guys who leave their stick in the locker room and go out there."

Tom Wilson has proven that he's not afraid to mix things up, but was told by Barry Trotz heading into the offseason that he needed to "elevate his game." He has to be able to do more than just fight. As a result, the scrappy winger who racked up 172 penalty minutes last season has only eight thus far.

If fighting is truly on its way out of the NHL, what sort of impact will that have on the sport's popularity? Fighting has undeniably been one of hockey's major draws. Can a league already struggling to keep pace with the NFL and NBA really afford for teams to abandon fighting?

"I don’t see too many fans turning away from the game because there’s not as much fighting," Orpik said. "I know some people argue that will be the case but I don’t think the game has been any better than it is right now."

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby shoulders blame for loss to Rangers

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 


What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.


When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.


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Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup


Where Michael Kempny fits in the Caps' lineup

If there was one thing the Caps needed to address at the trade deadline, it was defense.

Washington ranks only 20th in the NHL in defense with 2.98 goals against per game. Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos have played well in their rookie seasons, but their play has also been marked with rookie mistakes. To have both in the lineup in the playoffs would present an obvious weakness and matchup opportunities for opposing coaches to exploit.

On Monday, the Caps attempted to address their need for defensive depth by trading for defenseman Michal Kempny, a 27-year-old blue liner with good skating ability and offensive upside.


So what does this mean for the lineup?

Given the immediate need the Caps have on defense, it would not make sense to make a trade for a No. 7 defenseman who won't play. Having Kempny sitting in the press box does not address any of the team's issues on the blue line. Unless Brian MacLellan is planning on making another move, Kempny was brought in to play.

As a left-shot defenseman, he will most likely play on the left. Barry Trotz may ultimately need someone to play someone on their off-side, but asking a player who has played in only 31 games this season to step into a new team and play on the right is a lot to ask.

Let's get this out of the way: Kempny was not brought in to replace Brooks Orpik. His addition will not push Orpik to No. 7 in the lineup. Moving Orpik into the top four, however, certainly does not make this team better. If Orpik is staying put on the third pair, it seems most likely that Kempny will ultimately play to the left of John Carlson.

Here's a possible lineup:

Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Christian Djoos-Brooks Orpik

Extras: Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey

If this is the route the Caps choose to go, this would most likely mean moving Bowey to Hershey for the rest of the regular season as he is still waiver exempt. Placing Chorney on waivers to move him to Hershey, however, would not be out of the question.


The Orpik-Bowey pairing has looked slow in recent weeks and moving Djoos to that pair provides a lot more mobility. Trotz will ultimately need to shelter the third pair, but it is easier to shelter one defensive pair than shelter two rookies playing on two different pairs which was the situation facing Washington before the trade for Kempny.

Kempny may start on the third pair and have to work his way up, but, barrig any further moves or glaring chemistry issues, the most likely scenario is that we will ultimately see Kempny in the top-four.

A third-round draft pick may seem like a steep price for a defenseman who played only 31 games this season, but he played well whenever he was in the lineup. If he is able to step into Washington's top-four, that third-round pick ultimately will not look like such a high price tag.