The Ontario Hockey League announced a couple of rule changes on Friday morning for the upcoming season, including a big one that could help strike another big blow to fighting in hockey.
The league announced that in an effort to address fighting in the game, players will only be allowed to be involved in three fights per season before facing an automatic suspension.
The previous threshold in the league was 10 fights. Only four players in the league reached that level last season.
Once players reach the the three fight threshold during the season they will be subject to an automatic two-game suspension for each fight after that.
The league also notes that if a player is instigated upon, that fighting major will not be included in that player’s total number of fights.
There were 86 players that had at least three fights, including 56 that went over that number.
This matters at an NHL level because this is how the league is going to ultimately get rid of fighting (or at least continue to greatly reduce it) in the future.
It is not going to be because of any rule change the league itself makes, but because of lower levels that feed them talent doing it for them.
If junior players are getting developed in a league and an environment where fighting does not exist or is not relevant, they are not going to suddenly start doing it when they get to the higher levels.
This is how long-term change starts to get made to the game. It is a long-term thing that happens at the developmental level. And it is happening right now with fighting, and the numbers are showing it. Only 23 percent of NHL games had a fight during the 2015-16 season according to the Hockeyfights.com database, the lowest number since that stat has been tracked starting with the 2000-01 season.
It continued a steady eight year decline.
In 2008-09 more than 40 percent of the league’s games had at least one fight.