NHL – Why is fighting down to historic lows? – Wyshynski weekly …

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The NHL Weekly Reader publishes every Friday. Read on for the Jersey Foul of the Week, dancing Russians, All-Star snubs and much more. Seen something worth highlighting here? Hit me at greg.wyshynski@espn.com.

He was known as “The Grim Reaper.”

For 12 season, Stu Grimson lived up to the moniker as one of the most feared fighters in the NHL. He played 729 games and amassed 2,113 penalty minutes, most of them earned after pounding the face of an opponent.

A typical season for him: In 2000-01, Grimson had 235 penalty minutes with 19 fights. That he only played six minutes per game and contributed just five points in 72 of them was immaterial, because one did not sign The Grim Reaper for his offensive acumen. His role was seen as a necessity because fighting in the NHL was prevalent: More than 38 percent of all NHL games had a fight (469 games) and there were 0.56 fights per game — the kind of thing that used to inspire “I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out” jokes.

Almost two decades later, hockey fighting hasn’t just declined — it’s cratered. According to HockeyFights.com, the industry leader in tracking puck pugilism, the number of games with a fight in the NHL is projected to dip to less than 20 percent for the first time since it began tracking the stats in 2000. The number of fights per game (0.22) and the number of games with a fight (220) are also projected to hit new lows. This comes after a brief uptick in fighting last season — 306 games with a fight, compared to 288 in 2015-16.

“We’re moving into a place where there are games that feel like they call for a fight, but there’s nothing there,” said David Singer, who runs HockeyFights.com.

That’s because a fourth-line enforcer like Grimson is all but extinct. Fights are no longer the norm in NHL games, but rarities that are quickly shared by fans through social media for their sheer oddity. “We don’t see people running around for message-sending, or getting into a fight at the end of the game for giggles,” Grimson told ESPN this week.

Why has fighting fallen off a cliff?

The easiest answer is that it’s been headed for that cliff since 2005, when the NHL changed its rules during its locked-out season to create a faster, more offensive game. The downward trend for fighting didn’t happen immediately, but by 2009 it was apparent that the culture had shifted. “We saw some pretty stark changes, and it’s taken a while for those changes to completely permeate. The game’s gotten faster. At the end of the day, there’s a little less room for a player that’s predominately a physical player. Roster space is precious. You need guys that bring three, four tools,” said Grimson.

Hence, the twilight of the “enforcer.” There’s only one player in double-digits in fights this season: Micheal Haley of the Florida Panthers, with 11. In 1997-98, there were 56 players with at least 10 fights.

But there’s also something about scoring rates this season — at 2.95 goals per game, offense is at its highest peak since 2006-07 (also 2.95) — that Grimson correlates with the fighting decline. There isn’t just parity in the standings, but parity in games. There’s so much scoring, and the teams are so closely matched, that players are more engaged, knowing that they’re usually not out of games.

“One of the primary justifications for a fight is to pick up your team when it gets down or starts flat. It can change momentum in the game. But now that teams are more closely matched, we just don’t have as much as that as we used to. So, from one season to the next, it’s evolved,” said Grimson.

Could health also be a factor? After all, NHL players know more about concussions and CTE now than they did back when Grimson was playing. Could it be that new generations of players are avoiding fights?

“I don’t know if I subscribe to that. If you took the total universe of concussions, less than 10 percent of them are caused by a fighting altercation. For the person who that’s concerned about their cognitive well being, they’re probably going to stay away from the game altogether,” he said.

All this snub talk got me thinking about the real-world implications for being left off the All-Star teams. You see, as a voting member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, we’re cognizant that our votes carry some financial weight. Awards such as the Hart Trophy carry a $250,000 windfall for winning them, to go along with whatever ancillary prestige accompanies being an MVP. Plus, players are eligible to win money for simply being nominated for awards: Let’s say Anze Kopitar finishes second for the Hart and wins the Selke and is named a first-team postseason all-star: That’s $550,000 right there. Not too shabby.

The All-Star Game is a little different. Players receive a small stipend from the NHL for being selected to play. Each winner of the skills competitions gets $25,000, and the winning team in the All-Star Game splits $1 million among them. (Remember John Scott with that giant check?) That money comes from the league.

But players who aren’t 35-plus or on their entry-level contracts aren’t eligible to have “All-Star bonuses” built into their contracts with teams, a change that was made during the 2005 lockout.

Players that are on their first contracts, however, are. Which brings us to Noah Hanifin.

There are four players on first-year contracts on the 2018 All-Star Game: Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Brock Boeser and Hanifin, who is in the last year of his rookie deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Provided it’s in their contracts — and as highly drafted players, it should be — each of them will receive $212,500 for making the All-Star teams, and they are all eligible to win $212,500 more if they earn MVP honors.

The NHL had a few options with the Hurricanes. They could have gone to the default pick on defense, Justin Faulk. Or they could have gone for either Hanifin or Jaccob Slavin, both of whom were eligible for that $212,500 bonus as rookie-contract holders. So they went with Hanifin, and he gets himself a nice chunk of beer money.

Just a reminder that a snub isn’t just losing out on a trip to Tampa in January. In some cases, there’s more at stake.

Listen to ESPN on ice!

Emily Kaplan and I went deep on our recent NHL realignment story, chatted with Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes and talked Pittsburgh Penguins with Jason Mackey of the Post-Gazette. I think you’ll dig this one. Stream it here or iTunes it here. Also, my old podcasting buddy Jeff Marek has fired up his new podcast with Elliotte Friedman, “31 Thoughts,” and as you’d expect, it’s great, and you should listen to it, too.

Dancing Russians

The KHL all-star weekend features many different events, and that included the second annual Women’s Hockey League all-star game. Where this happened:

In the second intermission of the game, the West and East competed in a dance-off. The West danced in the locker room. As seen above, the Eastern Conference All-Stars got down at center ice. Said the KHL: “After much debate, there was still no clear consensus over the winner.” Obviously.

Puck headlines

Why we should give the host city their own NHL All-Star team. An interesting concept. [Faceoff Circle]

David Staples sticks up for Peter Chiarelli after I put him on the hot seat. “He’s a Devils fan, and that Devils-Oilers relationship is red-hot and jealous ever since the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade.” Yeah, it’s all you hear everywhere you go in Jersey, that red-hot rivalry with the Oilers or whatever. [Cult Of Hockey]

Incredible story about a Spartans fan: “An abscessed tooth sent the young hockey fan on a nightmarish spiral toward death. The tooth infection spread to her heart and then throughout her body. Doctors amputated both legs and her right arm to spare her life.” But Brittany Van Hoogen fought and is attending games again. [Lansing State Journal]

Great news: The Carolina Hurricanes sale has closed. [News Observer]

Here are 14 things to know about Hilary Knight. Including that “she uses a voice alternator on her phone to prank call” teammates. Wait, what? [Cosmopolitan]

Coastal Hospitality is suing the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association (AMHA), coach James Young and 60 unidentified players and parents for an alleged Feb. 6, 2016, incident in which they caused more than $200,000 in damage by destroying an ice machine. “Coastal says the players were unsupervised when one or more of them damaged the ice machine and, in turn, ruptured the water line, which leaked water into the hallway and down elevator shafts. The water damaged the structure and contents of the hotel, its elevators and cost the hotel lost business, Coastal claims.” [Mission City Record]

Interesting story here, as Edina High School, “in a novel effort for regular season prep sports in Minnesota, is charging a $100-per-game fee on media outlets live-streaming its boys’ hockey games played at Braemar Arena.” It’s a way to battle declining attendance. [Star Tribune]

Katie Strang’s piece on Alyonka Larionov is well worth your time. [The Athletic]

Finally, Josh Pray’s “Five Reasons The Hockey World Might Have A New Fan” bit. “Go to a hockey game where they have oven mitts, a Jason mask and sticks like Casey Jones from the Ninja Turtles…”

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

SB Nation examines its early season picks at the midpoint. [SB Nation]

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Katie Barnes on Jessica Platt, the CWHL’s first transgender player.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/22047613/nhl-why-fighting-historic-lows-wyshynski-weekly-reader

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