Buffalo Sabres v Florida Panthers

The idea isn’t a revolutionary concept or anything, so don’t get your hopes too high, but it seems to me there’s a way to tamp back fighting that would bump up scoring: punt the idea of “coincidentals” after fisticuffs and actually make the penalties cause a loss of a player, as in, go to four-on-four.

I’m not the type who even wants to see less fighting in hockey, but the voice from the minority who do is getting louder (and there’s the whole “wow that’s really dangerous” common sense thing, but shh it’s fun), so I figure this could be a nice little compromise. And hey, given that the league is constantly clamoring to find a way to get more pucks in the nets, here’s why I think this works.

First off, knocking it down to four-on-four is a pretty clear way to generate more chances and thereby goals (the numbers bear this out, via @ngreenberg). At the very least, the league thinks it does, because overtime is currently four-on-four in hopes of finding a winner (and quick) before we have to go to a shootout. If there’s a melee and multiple fights, we pare it down to three-on-three, and you’ll see some great end-to-end action that allows skill players to maintain possession longer and get creative (for more on why three-on-three is super neato, read this post by some Justin Bourne dude).

As for bringing fighting numbers down, there will be teams that realize they aren’t cut out to succeed at 4-on-4 (especially when playing higher-powered offenses), and will discourage their players from fighting unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, and it takes two to tango (you can’t really fight the completely unwilling). Also, any team with a lead will be less eager to fight and up the likelihood of swapping more chances, and again: two, tango, etc. And just in general, I think coaches like to think defense-first and avoid run-and-gun hockey, so not many will encourage their players to get out there and shed them mitts.

As long as there are any reasons that one side will be less interested in fighting, aside from “don’t give them a reason to wake up” (which is really all we currently have), you’re going to have less fights. In fact, you may have more guys on losing teams trying to bait guys into fighting, which results in taking penalties, which results in more offense too. Maybe you’d have to call a few more instigators on the team on the down side, but that’s not much of a problem.

The point is, the last thing you’d want to do as the team in the lead is fight, the trailing team would probably take more penalties looking to open up the game (both of which create more offense, whether the fight happens or a penalty is taken), so it seems to me you’d have fighting down, and scoring up.

Basically, it’s an idea I was kicking around in my head this morning that I’d like your help on. Would this work (increase offense, decrease face-punching), or am I missing something glaringly obvious? Can you tweak it to make it better?

And finally, if your suggestion is “leave the game alone,” please take a hike down Beat It St., and feel free to comment on the next post instead of this one. We’re just spit-balling here, this isn’t a board of governors meeting.

Comments (23)

  1. The only downside I see: this would cut back on the kind of fights people actually like. Colton Orr and Zenon Konopka are still going to drop ‘em, because they’d never see the ice in a 4-on-4 situation.

    Would we see Lecavalier vs. Iginla in the playoffs if it meant their teams would have to sweat out a 4-on-4 without their top guys? We definitely wouldn’t see Crosby/Niskanen, for example, because it makes the trade off even worse for Pittsburgh.

  2. Wouldn’t a team that could excel 4v4 (high end offensive talent- Pitt, Chi, Det, etc) instigate more fights in order to get into the advantageous situation? I suppose your “it takes two to tango” thought would make this moot, but I think we often see guys on teams drop the mitts when it wouldn’t benefit their team.

    I’ve always thought the key to eliminating single skill goons is to cut rosters down to 16, with maybe an injury replacement on standby. That would completely eliminate the John Scotts of the world (sadly probably the Shawn Thorntons too) although the NHLPA would (correctly) never put up with that.

    • 20 rather than 16 surely? 4×3 forwards, 3×2 D, 2×1 goalies.
      And I think it would just lead to marginally more skilled goons rather than eliminate them altogether, and would prevent valid uses of healthy scratches, eg saving a vet’s legs for the playoffs by giving him a game off every so often in the regular season.

    • Right, but if you’re playing a team who’d be good 4×4 who’s happy to get it to that situation, your team is the one declining the fights. It’s trying to get it to a situation where just one side doesn’t find the option appealing.

      • I am a bit wary of this idea as a means to lowering fighting (I think it would definitely get scoring up). But, the way this is set up, for certain teams, getting into a fight is actually rewarded.

        This has been addressed above–teams that want a more open game carry goons that go out and start fights so they can play sustained minutes at 4-on-4 (this would be great for the leafs). And sure, “it takes two to tango,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. There is a whole culture that would still be ingrained in hockey players about standing up for your team, not being a wussy, etc. And maybe this gets treated a bit like line matching, in that during the regular season, it isn’t that big of a deal if someone slips up, etc. etc.

        The other issue, I guess, goes like this–if the numbers show that, statistically, teams score more goals at 4-on-4, why wouldn’t EVERY team be happy to play 4-on-4? Every single third and fourth line grinder is going to be glad to “do his part” to get top-line guys some extra space. What about those games where both teams both WANT to play 4-on-4? That’s even worse than staged fights…we just wait for the inevitable fight every 5 minutes and oh, good, back to 4-on-4.

        Personally, any attempt to try to get fighting down is fine by me. I just think it will be difficult without either a) more policing (as in more instigators) or b) changes in the rulebook (you can only fight so many times in a number of games? like yellow cards? or just a ban).

  3. It a pretty good idea. Something that would at least be deserves a try-out basis to see how it might work in a real (exhibition) game setting

  4. Only fighting I can do without is the staged fighting which really has no meaning in the game other than to keep some players employed that would otherwise be buried deep in the lower leagues or the KHL and quickly forgotten about.

    I can potentially see an unintended consequence with this around the instigator penalty. I have not quite given it full thought yet but the spidey sense is tingling.

    It could also cut down on why fighting SHOULD still be in the NHL to hold players accountable for their actions. Yes yes, Shanaban’s should do that but we all know how well that is working out in reality. So if the Shawn Thornton’s of the world (who can play some and should be playing) feel the need to get after someone because of a perceived issue it could penalize Boston and not the other team whose player possibly needs to be held accountable or held in a head lock and face punched repeatedly.

    Interesting idea for discussion though.

  5. I think it’s a brilliant idea actually. One question is what happens if there’s a fight in a 4on4 situation (it would be rare, I know). Do they go down to 3on3?

    Also, do you think it would encourage teams to keep at least one goon on the roster, in case they want to try and create a 4on4 when needed?

  6. Hi mom and they should get rid of it

  7. Start suspending the first guy to drop the gloves after a big hit (clean hit). I hate those fights the most, especially when its the puck carriers own actions that put him at risk.

  8. This is the “Oilers Rule” that only came into place after the Oilers did exactly what someone above suggested – they’d goon it up to provoke a fight, and then they’d throw out Gretzky / Kurri / Messier / Coffey and destroy people for five minutes. So this was put in specifically to limit the Oilers.

    There’s no reason not to go back to the old method. I’m surprised they haven’t seriously broached repealing it in the years since. And all you have to do to deflect objections is simply point out that THIS IS HOW IT USED TO BE ANYWAY!

    • (Yes, I know that Messier didn’t actually play with Gretz much. It was an example, people.)

      • How about we do nothing to ‘tamp back fighting’ and stop trying to change the game? Accept it for what it is or just move on to another sport. Basketball seems right for you.

    • The problem is that if I’m the 80′s Oilers, gooning it up so I can get a 4 v 4 rolling, and you are the opposing team who’s desparately trying not to get drawn into the fight, then that gives my players to do any dirty cheap kind of crap to your players they can think of that doesn’t draw a direct penalty. It means that as soon as the ref is looking the other way they are slashing, stabbing, grabbing, nut punching, badmouthing, snow spraying, anything they can to make your life as miserable as possible.

      It’s probably not a good situation where one team is in the situation where they can rough up the other, and the other team has nothing they can do back. That’s when humans can be REAL big jerks.

  9. If you want to bump up scoring, how about we reduce the size of goalie equipment? Some of these goalies look like the stay-puft marshmallow man in net. Actual goaltending technique today revolves around just getting in front of a shot and get big as opposed to making an actual save.

  10. The one thing I had mentioned in the past, that I think might be workable, is for the league to mandate minimum TOI per player on the bench, or some sort of PIM:TOI ratio. Essentially, by finding a way to force players on the bench to skate, you’re going to force teams to build a 4th line of guys who can at least contribute in ways that involve skating. In regards to minimum TOI, you could even deal in averages over the coarse of a game, or several games to give teams the flexibility to play their 4th line more when doing well vs. needing to roll their top players more when they’re down.

  11. I wanted to share an idea of a similar nature I’ve been kicking around. I’m not a basketball fan but it would be interesting to use the system the NBA has for technical fouls. If a player gets a specific number of fighting penalties, he’s automatically suspended for a game. If he comes back and fights again he’s suspended for 2 games. So on and so forth. I think the magic number is 8 but it can be adjusted. It would allow players to fight 7 times per year with absolutely no problem but would make goons think twice about fighting “just to fight”. It would allow 95% of the league to do exactly what their doing and goons would only drop the gloves when they really have to.

  12. How about tossing two players in the box after every scrum. How often does this happen: a whistle blows, one player shoves another, he shoves back, everyone joins in. Refs break it up, everyone goes back to their bench. What a waste of time. Toss the first two players in the box, 2 minutes each. Will probably end up with more 4×4 time in the game than a couple of fights. If not, at least it speeds up the game a bit.

    More 4×4 time will further reduce the need for a fourth line. The NHLPA may not be happy with that.

  13. I could see this working if the 4×4 was only for 2 minutes not the entire 5.

  14. People need to quit messing with the game. It’s good the way it is.

  15. If one team is essentially neutered by the coach because his team sucks 4-on-4 then the opposing team gets more opportunities to take liberties with the scoring talent, decreasing their ability to score.

    In hockey, you can still intentionally injure a guy within the rules. If the liberties being taken become a risk for injury (or just are leading to a loss) then the team will need to fight back. (If your teammates don’t have your back, who will?)
    It would usually still be easy to to force the other team into tangoing and going 4-on-4. The only other response would be playing dirty leading to more injuries.

    And besides… fighting is not a problem in the NHL. Not for the players, not for the ratings…. just for a minority of people who see themselves as hockey purists while also ignoring the fact that fighting has always been a part of hockey so a purist should like it.

    I’d agree most staged fights don’t actually serve the intended purpose but who cares?
    They’re between two willing combatants. When a fight happens, go take a wizz or refresh your drink or something. You don’t have to watch.

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