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New Rules Credited, NHL Fighting at Lowest Level in Seven Years

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USA TODAY
October 31, 2013 Thursday
FA CHASE EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 1C
482 words
NHL players dropping gloves less
Kevin Allen, @ByKevinAllen, USA TODAY Sports

While the NHL has handed out a steady stream of suspensions this season to curb dangerous checks, fighting has fallen 20.5% without major intervention.

"There are fewer heavyweights now and fewer guys willing to fight, and it just seems like fighting isn't used as a deterrent the same way it was in the past," retired NHL tough guy Darren McCarty said.

A rule was introduced this season mandating visor use for all new players entering the NHL. Plus, players receive an additional penalty if they take their helmets off to fight. That rule was designed to protect players' heads if they fell during a fight.

"It's more inconvenient now, and I wonder if that has had an effect on it," said former NHL player Keith Jones, now an NBC analyst. "Now a little more thought process has to go into it, rather than the quick reaction."

This season, roughly 65% of games have not had a fighting major. That's the highest total of fight-free games in seven years. Twenty-five years ago, about 40% of NHL games were fight free. This season, about 17% of players have had at least one fighting penalty. Last season, roughly 29% players had at least one. In the 1980s, about half of all players had a fighting major each season. That dropped to about 39% of players during the 1990s.

"A lot depends on how GMs want to build teams," said Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHL Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr. "(Calgary Flames president of hockey operations) Brian Burke builds a team differently than (the Detroit Red Wings') Ken Holland, and Holland builds a team differently than (the Carolina Hurricanes') Jim Rutherford."

When popular Montreal Canadiens tough guy George Parros suffered a concussion this season after he was pulled roughly to the ice during a fight with the Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr, it prompted a Twitter debate about whether the NHL should re-examine fighting's role in the game. Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was quoted as saying it might be time to punish fights with game misconducts.

There's no expectation fighting will be on the agenda for the general managers meetings in Toronto next month. There could be no change without player support, and an NHLPA/Hockey Night in Canada player poll in 2011-12 showed 98% favored keeping fighting in the game.

The NHLPA is in the midst of its fall tour of teams, and Schneider said players would be asked how they feel about a variety of issues, including fighting. Players long were opposed to mandatory face shields and hybrid icing but changed their minds last season to allow those rules to be implemented.

"It is hard to say right now where we are," said Schneider, a former player. "I would say there's certainly a fear that there won't be a level of accountability if fighting is not around. I think that's safe to say. But honestly, we are just starting to have the hard conversation this year."

October 31, 2013

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