The NHL Watches Closely As OHL Enacts New Punishments On Excessive Fighting

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 25: Krys Barch #13 of the Dallas Stars pushes Patrick Bordeleau #58 of the Colorado Avalanche into the bench as they fight in the second period at the Pepsi Center on September 25, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Ontario Hockey League of the CHL is cracking down on one dimensional players in the coming season, enacting a new rule change that punishes players who engage in what they've deemed to be excessive fisticuffs and suspending those who cross newly defined thresholds - A move the NHL is monitoring closely.

"If a player is assessed a fighting major for the 11th to 15th time during the regular season, such player is assessed an automatic two game suspension for each additional fighting major in addition to any other penalties assessed."

The OHL and NHL have been known to work together closely before on previous rule changes, prompting many in the sport to wonder if this crackdown is a sign of things to come for the big league, shoulder it ever get up and running again.

"We've discussed the aspect of fighting over the years," NHL Senior VP and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell told ESPN.com recently. "We had a couple of initial discussions about this last spring. They were thinking about implementing some sort of quota. I mentioned to him we had debated that internally in hockey operations at the NHL level."

They won't have to test this one out in development camp next August or the AHL next season. The OHL will provide a direct comparison and a reference point from which to discuss similar changes in the NHL. "We'll be watching closely," said Campbell to ESPN.com. "It will be interesting to see how it works."

Is such a rule necessary in the NHL, with fighting on the decline for four straight seasons? How do the Stars stand to benefit or lose from such a proposition?

We explore after the jump...

What role does the "fighter" have in the league today? For decades teams have often employed a rugged individual as the 13th or 14th forward on a squad for the purposes of mixing it up when a division game or a tough, physical opponent came calling, but recent developments in the game have made that sort of one dimensional player a dying breed.

Stars fans had an up close and personal look at the phenomenon in last year's preseason with Eric Godard. Or maybe you didn't because you were caught blinking. Godard skated with Dallas in the preseason after having been signed to a two-year deal by Joe Nieuwendyk, only to never see regular season action. He played just 46 games for the Texas Stars and is not expected to be in the league this season after being bought out by Dallas.

The reason was simple to the eyes of the media and fans in attendance alike. He couldn't skate well enough to keep up the pace of today's game.

The Stars experienced a sharp decline in fighting majors last year, Godards absence not withstanding...

Stars Season League Rank # Fighting Majors
2011-2012 21 28
2010-2011 9 51
2009-2010 13 50
2008-2009 19 45

League ranks aside, the Stars had a consistent thing going through a year as one of the worst teams in the league and two under Marc Crawford until Glen Gulutzan arrived on the scene. Krys Barch, Jake Dowell, Brenden Morrow, Sheldon Souray, Adam Burish, Steve Ott, Jamie Benn even...the Stars had willing participants but found themselves abstaining through most of the year.

For the coming season, the departures of Steve Ott, Krys Barch and Jake Dowell take 37 of the Stars 79 fighting majors the last two years (about 47%) off the roster and leave virtually no one as the clear cut pugilist on the squad. Garbutt and Nystrom each fought twice last year. Brenden Morrow is the reigning champ with three bouts last season. Sheldon Souray fought once. Adam Burish didn't fight at all.

A stubborn propensity for "meat-headedness" aside in Anaheim (10th last year in fighting majors, top five in each of the five seasons prior to that), the Pacific had teams checked in at 15th (SJS), 18th (LAK), 21st (DAL) and 25th (PHX), making it a far cry from the rule of the Rangers and Bruins (1st and 2nd in the league) who took their respective divisions with a mix of bruising brutality and skill.

The need for the tough guy act this season, should there be one, could be mitigated even further by a shortened season, producing playoff like conditions from day one as teams claw for points.

Barch's comments are founded in, what you'd only assume, is a very personally affected context given his journey to the National Hockey League and his role in it - Predominantly that of a "tough guy". There's a bias there, but many in and outside the game feel the same way: Would an implementation of a similar rule in the NHL become a first step in eliminating fighting from the game entirely?

It's doubtful. Extremely.

Fighting is too ingrained in the soul of the game. Fans like it too much. It's useful, when enacted in the right circumstances, and it allows players to "police themselves" when appropriate.

That doesn't mean that a similar rule in the NHL wouldn't have a potential upside. The staged fights starting periods that the league loathes would all but disappear under such legislation, and one of the biggest nuisances in the game today, the fight after a perfectly clean hit, would see a large reduction as well.

The question is whether or not it's a needed step at all, with fighting on the decline and the speed of the game predisposing of so called "goons" before they can even step foot on the ice (See: Godard, Eric).
Observance of the rule's effect on OHL play and player development might prove concurrent to further decline in fighting at the NHL level as a natural evolution of the game - Rendering the whole conversation moot. In that case teams wanting to dedicate roster spots to fighters will suffer over time. In the mean time, the ability to monitor such a change without having to implement it can be a plus for the league.

Do the Stars have enough pugilism as currently constructed for your liking?

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