Late last week, the American Hockey League announced a few new rules for the 2014-15 season, and overall they were met with generally positive feelings.
The first was an easy one: A seven-minute overtime, slightly less than half of which is played at 3-on-3 rather than 4-on-4 is designed to reduce the occurrence of shootouts. Pretty much everyone can get behind that.
The second was a little more controversial, as the AHL will now levy a one-game ban to anyone who fights twice, or picks up three major penalties of any kind. This might seem a little draconian, but you have to keep in mind — and many failed to keep this in mind, so it bears repeating — that this is for guys who fight twice or pick up three different majors in a single game.
Because we know that the AHL is often a testing ground for the NHL's new rules a year or two in advance, we can safely assume that if this new fighting rule goes well — and it will — that we're going to see multiple donnybrooks by one player prevented in the bigs by 2016-17 at the absolute latest. But if that's the case, it 100 percent won't matter.
How many guys got in two fights on the same night last year? There were only 78 games with multiple fights from any participants last season. Of that number, only 12 featured the same guy fighting twice, though two of those involved the same two combatants.
That's a list so short that the individual offenders can be listed here: Matt Carkner (April 1, vs. Florida), Chris Neil (March 22, vs. Dallas), Andrew Desjardins (March 11, vs. Toronto), David Clarkson (March 10, vs. Anaheim), Krys Barch (March 4, vs. Boston), Tim Jackman and Tom Sestito (Jan. 15 Anaheim vs. Vancouver), Keith Ballard (Dev. 19 vs. Pittsburgh), Troy Bodie (Dec. 16 vs. Pittsburgh), Chris Neil (Nov. 5 vs. Columbus), Eric Gudbranson (Oct. 25 vs. Buffalo), George Parros and Colton Orr (Oct. 1, Toronto vs. Montreal).
So out of the 1,230 NHL games played every year, only 78 even featured more than one fight (6.3 percent). Of those games, 12 would have resulted in at least one guy getting a one-game suspension for fighting twice (15.4 percent). We are talking, then, about less than 1 percent of all NHL games needing this kind of policing.
The AHL is a league that needs it badly, though. It's the Wild West. Talentless thugs make up an alarming portion of just about every team's roster and fighting is far more frequent than it is in the NHL. In the major league last season, there were just 469 fights in those 1,230 games, or a little more than one every three games. In the AHL, there were 969 in 1,140, meaning that on average, 85 percent of AHL games featured a fight.
And look at the offenders who would have been hit with this in the NHL last season. Matt Carkner, Chris Neil (twice!), Krys Barch, Tim Jackman, Tom Sestito, George Parros, Colton Orr, Troy Bodie. These guys are players who exist in the league for the sole purpose of fighting. Another common thread is that these incidents took place in games involving at least one terrible team, which tells you what terrible teams resort to when winning isn't in the cards. They're guys who aren't likely to be deterred by the threat of a one-game suspension in the first place, and even if they do, they mostly have plenty of teammates who will fight instead.
And the fact of the matter is that guys like this aren't long for the league. Go check out a list of unsigned free agents. Look how many have huge penalty minute totals and fit comfortably into the “enforcer” category. That's not a coincidence either. When even the Boston Bruins have no interest in using a guy of that description in their season plans, that says a lot.
Germane to the Bruins' role in this, though, was something Greg Wyshynski wondered about over the weekend. Specifically, whether Milan Lucic, himself no stranger to fighting, would be subject to slashes and spears (the irony is not lost here) if he were to engage in a fight in the first period. Other teams would know that he couldn't fight after that, and they might take liberties.
What's interesting about this is that Lucic, a multiple-time 30-goal scorer, and a pretty good forward when he's not trying to neuter his opponents, shouldn't be fighting at all. It's “part of his game” but a more important part of his game, it seems to rational observers. is scoring a lot. If Lucic is stupid enough to get into a fight at any point in the game, then he'd deserve what he got, and not just because he's already a cheapshot artist extraordinaire. Over the course of his career, the Bruins are worse when Lucic isn't on the ice, so he shouldn't be fighting once, let alone twice. Neither should Zdeno Chara.
As pointed out in the article about the Bruins' plans, though, they still have about six guys who aren't afraid to throw 'em if need be. But they're the kinds of guys who don't fight multiple times per game because they are, for the most part, too concerned with playing hockey. That's as it should be.
Of course, misguided teams will always chase “grit” as doggedly as possible but shockingly not get anywhere doing it. It should really come as no surprise at this point that the two teams which seem to define “being hard to play against” as “having fighters on the roster” (Calgary and Toronto) are two of the worst-run in the league, and seem destined to be doormats once again this year.
So while any attempt to get fighting out of hockey at this point is a good one, even baby steps like this, it's difficult to imagine that the rule in question here is going to affect the product. And if it means the Leafs get to dress a Colton Orr type for one fewer game, then everyone's better off anyway.