Los Angeles Kings and Other Teams Grapple With Fighting Debate

Jan 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Micheal Haley (38) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford (13) fight in the second period during a NHL hockey game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Micheal Haley (38) and Los Angeles Kings left wing Kyle Clifford (13) fight in the second period during a NHL hockey game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the perennial debates in the hockey world seems to be the role of fighting in the game. Like all NHL teams, the Los Angeles Kings must judiciously utilize a tactic that has become very divisive amongst fans.

ESPN has an interesting article where they interview multiple players and got their opinions on the place fighting has in the NHL.

Although the perspectives were varied, all the players interviewed seemed to acknowledge the merits of fighting.

I grew up watching the game when penalty minute totals were more outrageous than they are now, and every team seemed to have that token enforcer who might not have been the most skilled player, but whose job it was to lay down the law when one of his teammates was targeted.

As the game has gotten more athletic, teams don’t feel as confident in reserving a roster spot for a player who doesn’t bring as much speed or generally well-rounded game.

Natural progression has phased much of fighting out of the game, but I still maintain that there’s an important role for it.

There’s the self-policing factor, as well as the emotional jolt it can provide teammates when a guy drops the gloves and amps the energy up.

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Hockey is supposed to be fun and entertaining, and nobody can deny how invigorating it is to watch a fight break out.

However, I don’t discount the counter arguments against fighting. Many former players are suffering from the ramifications that fighting undoubtedly contributed to.

Severe brain damage is leading to debilitating bouts of depression as well as suicide in especially tragic cases.

When connecting the dots and realizing that many of these players were brute enforcers who consistently put their bodies through the trauma of fighting another huge human being, it sounds extremely disingenuous to deny the link between long-term fighting and brain damage.

There’s definitely the safety issue, but the entertainment argument can be twisted around to downplay the necessity of fighting in hockey.

Olympic-style hockey is especially to watch, and noticeably devoid of fighting. Although this could largely be due to the fact that only the very best players compete in this setting, the basic concept is pretty convincing.

The elimination of fighting opens the game up for more athletic players to showcase a quicker-paced game.

You can argue that the entertainment value of hockey isn’t sufficiently tied to fighting to justify the necessity of keeping it despite the health risks.

I understand the seriousness of this issue, and my condolences go out to the families of former players who have suffered immensely from fighting.

However, I don’t feel as though abolishment is the right answer. Fighting helps to serve as a counter against other physical harm that can befall players on the ice.

Guys protect one another, and there’s a sense of accountability that if a player does something shady, he’ll most likely have to answer for it.

Kyle Clifford is tied for 10th in the NHL with 7 total fights. Considering that 5 of his fights have come at home, the Staples Center crowd is well aware of how a Clifford fight can swing the momentum of a game.

Clifford is actually tied for 3rd in the NHL in home fights, and so much of his value comes from his willingness to drop the gloves.

Also keep in mind that it’s completely voluntary to engage in fights. If a player doesn’t want to tax themselves through a violent bout, they don’t have to.

There’s always the concern that a league needs to protect players from themselves, but I’m not sure that legislating fighting out of the game is the best route to take.

It’s a device that players can use to both protect their teammates and entertain fans. It just seems overly rash to seriously consider eliminating such an integral part of the game.

Hockey has naturally undergone changes over time, and there’s really not as much of a place for one-dimensional goons anymore, simply due to the speed of the game.

Hockey is certainly dangerous, and it’s the league’s responsibility to provide proper precautions regarding player safety.

To take fighting away from players strips them of an important tool to keep themselves safe, as odd as that might seem.

The risk of a fight breaking out keeps guys in line, so a player won’t recklessly exhibit behavior that can lead to injuries to others out on the ice.

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The self-policing that fighting provides combined with the pure entertainment value justifies its place in the game.