The NHL has changed in many ways in its century-old history, but one part of the game that’s started to fade in recent years has been fighting. Dropping the gloves is synonymous with hockey and a particularly favorite aspect among fans. However, players just aren’t engaging in as many on-ice scuffles as they used to.
According to HockeyFights.com, the NHL is on pace for 297 fights this season. From 2000-01 to 2013-14, the league only once finished a full campaign with fewer than 400. It topped out as high as 803 in 2001-02 and finished eight seasons averaging at least one fight every two games.
NBC Sports Washington’s studio analyst Alan May, who played in the NHL from 1987-95, talked on Monday during Capitals Postgame Live after Washington’s 6-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes about how small a role fighting plays in the 2022 version of the NHL.
“The fighting, the fist-to-cuffs, are almost done,” May said. “I don’t know why they just haven’t ended it versus letting it be allowed still because the way they’ve done it, the referees are trying to keep guys from actually getting after each other while it’s still in the rules.
“Being more physical now is when the puck is in play, finishing your hits, taking hits, blocking shots, winning puck battles. It’s not like when I played and when [color commentator Craig Laughlin] played where guys had to constantly be prepared and ready to drop the gloves to swing momentum for physical payback and retribution, intimidation. Those are no longer parts of the game.”
May’s comments came on the heels of Capitals forward Tom Wilson engaging in a fight with the Hurricanes’ Brendan Smith. Wilson made quick work of the defenseman, but he was Washington’s lone goal scorer in the game and spent seven total minutes in the penalty box during the third period.
Wilson is far from a true enforcer who only contributes on the physical side of the game. His 21 goals during the 2021-22 campaign rank third on the Capitals’ roster; the NHL named him an All-Star for the first time this season as well.
For May, he doesn’t think it’s worth the Capitals allowing players like Wilson and forward Garnet Hathaway to fight “one-dimensional” players and cost themselves chances to impact the game in other ways.
“That is such a small part of the game now,” May said. “I really feel like if you have one-dimensional players…they’re gonna get you in trouble. If you want guys to fight, I wouldn’t let Hathaway fight a one-dimensional player or Wilson fight a one-dimensional player and get them off the ice. I’d just laugh at them, try to make the minuses.”