The Decline of Fighting in Hockey

By Collin Murray

“Have you ever been in a fight?” is a question I grew very tired of hearing when I used to tell people I played ice hockey between the ages of 8 and 16; though I may have been somewhat proud to say yes when I started playing high school hockey and fighting became a thing. Although fighting was unheard of in peewee hockey with 12 year old kids, fights are a regular part of hockey at higher levels. But fights have been steadily decreasing in the past 15 years or so, with roughly 17% of games since 2019 having at least one fight compared to almost 42% in 2009.

Dan Carcillo, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003 and bounced around the league his entire career as a fighter and enforcer, led the league in penalty minutes in 2007-08 with 324 minutes in the penalty box. Carcillo  amassed a total of 103 career fights, and is now a leading advocate for player mental health awareness throughout the NHL. Carcillo claims, “I believe this is the new normal… and I think the game is better off without fighting no doubt.” Since the 2005 lockout, the game of hockey has changed dramatically. Rule changes and culture shifts have moved the game into a more offensively-focused era, and away from the less-skilled, more “tough guy” personas who may be more inclined to drop the gloves. Rather than fourth-line goons patrolling the ice for a couple of minutes per game simply to stir up trouble or to give his team a morale boost with a good tilt, they are more often now cost-efficient skill players who play a vital role on their team other than that of an enforcer.