Why is Fighting Allowed in Hockey – the NHL Fighting Rules?

Why is Fighting Allowed in Hockey

Fighting has always been one of the most talked-about aspects of hockey. Although other sports do not tolerate fighting, it has found a place within NHL. Ice Hockey is an extremely rough sport and one of the few sports that promote fighting outside the standard gameplay.

The first question you might want to ask is; Why do Hockey players fight? There are many reasons for fights during a hockey game.

Some of these reasons are related to game play, such as momentum-building, retaliation, intimidation, protecting star players and attempting to draw “reaction penalties”.

Do you know?… NHL players took place in .19 fights per game, in 2019. This shows how the rate of fighting has drastically reduced as compared to the .60 fights per game ten years ago.

Hence, 238 hockey fights took place during 2019 in total. Read on as we further elaborate the reason NHL players are allowed to fight in games

Reason Why Fighting is Allowed in Hockey:

One of the major reasons why fighting is allowed in hockey game is because of the nature of the NHL game. During hockey games, you’ll see plenty of hard-hitting action between players as they go after the ice puck.

Some of these physical actions with professional hockey players include body checking, tripping, hip checking, and more on each play. Playing rough is part of hockey, but sometimes fights might occur after a hit.

Hockey players usually have a good idea whether or not a battle will happen after a hit, as pure emotion might set-in leading to a fight. Some fights may occur even if there was no hard hit.

Reasons Why Fights May Begin:

The most common reason for an ice hockey fight is retaliation against your opponent. Players could be driven by emotions as they retaliate against another player who strikes their teammate on the ice.

Other retaliations could relate to an incident that occurred earlier in the season but did not receive closure. For example, your star player may have been hurt by a team in a previous match.

So you want to make a statement about the incident via a fight the next time you play against the team. Another reason for brawls is a way to rally your team to play better on the ice.

If your team is losing by a high margin or your star player sustains an injury during a game, you may want to fight. Moreso, winning a fight can improve the morale of the team, and motivate its players to perform better.

Competitive games usually bring the most intense pressure on any hockey game. For example, you can expect plenty of cheap shots when the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are playing each other on the ice.

Due to the rivalry between the two franchises, fans, coaches, and players can be ready for physical altercations.  Finally, intimidation is another reason to fight in hockey.

Any chance to make the other team nervous when crossing the blue line towards a defenseman is an advantage. The fear of getting hit or getting into a fight can be an excellent advantage for any team.

What are the Rules for Fighting in Ice Hockey?

Fighting, formerly known as Fisticuffs in 1922 as Rule 46, was the official name for fighting in the National Hockey League.

Unlike a traditional brawl that you might see in the MLB, hockey fights are an art form since everyone is on skates. However, there are unwritten rules for fighting that NHL players need to remember, which I list below.

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Most fights begin with two players chirping back and forth to each other, agreeing to fight, throwing off the gloves, and getting into a battle. Once the fight begins, the referees pause the game to allow the players to compete.

Generally, both players start the altercation by grabbing on each other for a few moments to gather balance and then begin punching. After throwing a few punches, the refs start breaking up the fight if one person is losing the match.

Why Do Hockey Players Take Their Gloves off to Fight?

Perhaps you are wondering why players take off their gloves right before a fight. Well, the major reason why NHL players take off their gloves before fighting is a sign of respect that a battle is about to take place.

If one player does not drop their gloves, it then signifies that the other side does not want to fight. If you decide to fight with your gloves on during an NHL game, you’ll receive a suspension from the league.

Another note is that players can’t fight with their hockey sticks during a battle on the ice. Fighting with hockey is completely prohibited.

What is an Enforcer in Hockey?

An enforcer in hockey is the tough guy on the team who always gets into fights. Although enforcer is an unofficial role in the league, each team will always have that one person who can respond to dirty plays on the ice.

The enforcer always stands up for their teammates by checking or fighting opponent’s teams after big hits. Most hockey teams don’t carry more than one enforcer on their bench. However, he will be brought in throughout a hockey game in retaliation.

Is there a Penalty for Fighting in the NHL?

Yes, there is a penalty for both players who enter into a fight during the game. After the fight is over, both players involved in the fight are sent to the penalty box for five minutes.

There is no special consideration whatsoever for the victor of the fight. Whether a player wins or loses, he will still go to the penalty box and spend five minutes.

Players are usually penalised to spend 5 minutes in the penalty box if they willingly enter into the fight. On the contrary, when two players are exchanging blows with their gloves on, it may result in a 2-minute penalty for roughing.

This is because fighting with gloves on is not defined under the fisticuffs part of Rule 56.

Do Goalies Ever Get into Fights?

Yes, Goalies can get into a fight during an NHL game, although its occurrence is rare. Most goalie fights happen when the rest of the NHL players are fighting each other.

Goalies don’t get sent to the penalty box for fighting, but instead, have a player on their team take their place. The only way for a goalie to leave a game outside of an injury is by receiving an ejection.

Is Fighting Allowed in the NHL Playoffs?

Unlike the regular season, the postseason has a strict rule concerning how to deal with fighting between players. Hence, players are given a harsher penalty after a fight.

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Do you know?… Any form of combat that occurs for the second time is subject to a player suspension for the next playoff game.

Thanks to this rule, many teams are scared to risk a chance of having one of their players suspended during a playoff game or Stanley Cup final. In a nutshell, fighting is not allowed in the NHL Playoffs as it attracts harsher consequences.

Why Do the Refs in NHL Not Stop Players When they Start Punching Each Other?

Since fighting is part of hockey, refs act as the coordinators, just like you would see during a boxing match. As both players are choosing to fight each other, the ref is will be the ones to moderate the fight.

Until the fight gets out of hand, refs will only stand by and watch without interfering in the fight. Another reason why refs don’t break up fights is for hockey fans.

Fighting in hockey makes hockey fans go crazy, so refs don’t want to ruin the fun between teams and fans. Refs usually let the players work out their differences via a fight except during a Stanley Cup match or playoff game.

Has Anyone Died From a Hockey Fight?

Back in 1968, Bill Masterton sadly passed away from a hockey fight. The head injuries and concussions sustained from a fight might be a good enough reason for players to lose their lives after a battle.

Today, NHL teams and the NHL commissioner have set strict guidelines on addressing possible concussions to prevent anything fatal, like the incident of Bill Masterton.

Is the NHL Trying to Stop Fights?

It seems as though the NHL is working towards stopping fights during the game. This is perhaps a reason for the drop in the fight average per game over the last couple of years.

The NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, has updated the rule book with new penalties for starting fights. The two new punishments via NHL fights include the Instigator and Aggressor penalties.

An Instigator is a team member who starts the fight on the ice. He is the first to drop his gloves early and skate over to the opposing player to fight them.

The instigator’s penalty includes being down one man for two minutes, a ten-minute misconduct penalty, and a five-minute major, depending on the severity of the issue.

Aggressor penalty is given to someone who is trying to fight another hockey player who has zero interest to fight. Simply put, an Aggressor is someone who won a fist fight but continues to throw punches as the ref breaks up the fight.

Including the standard five-minute penalty in the penalty box, Aggressors can serve suspensions after the game. Moreso, an aggressor’s penalty is reviewable by the league, so the severity of getting this penalty helps reduce the amount of fighting in the league.

Should NHL Players Be Ejected for Fighting?

Since the beginning of the NHL league back in 1917, fighting continues to be part of the DNA of the sport. While the association and commission Gary Bettman are lowering the number of fights per game, they are not ejecting players.

Unlike the NBA, MLB, and NFL, where fighting gets an immediate ejection, the NHL gives minor penalties. Since combat is part of the DNA and culture of the league, players won’t be getting an ejection for getting into a fight.

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When Hockey Players Fight And Why It Isn’t Considered An Assault?

While no official law protects NHL players from filing an assault claim for fighting, there is a code in playing the game. Since battle happens when both sides agree, you have a gentlemen’s agreement similar to boxing.

NHL fights have legal protection in most cases because a ref is there to watch and monitor everything. If anything becomes out of hand via the NHL fight, a ref is there to break up the altercation.

Even though NHL fights are a gentlemen’s agreement, there have been legal cases brought up via fights in the past. Most notably, in 2004, Todd Bertuzzi was charged for assault after sucker-punching a Colorado Avalanche player from behind.

The sucker punch from behind was unsportsmanlike conduct but went outside the game and into civil court due to the severity of the issue.

The Colorado Avalanche player, Steve Moore, sued Bertuzzi in civil court because that resulted in his early retirement.

Who Fights the Most in the NHL?

The NHL player with the most fights in their career is Tie Domi. Time Domi, over his sixteen-year career, has more penalty minutes than any other player for fighting. He owns the record with 333 fights during his hockey-playing career.

What Teams Fights the Most in the NHL?

As of June 11, 2020, we have the Anaheim Ducks leading the leagues with 25 fights. Coming in at second place with 21 fights is the New York Rangers.

In third and fourth place, you have the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators with 20 fights each. At 17 fights, you have the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals at the top of the league via fights.

Is Fighting Allowed Outside the NHL?

While fighting is part of the National Hockey League, other leagues don’t allow fighting. For example, the Olympics, NCAA, and European Hockey Leagues greatly discourage any sort of fighting.

If there is any type of battle or brawl at a hockey game, players receive a severe punishment. A harsh punishment usually means a suspension from the next game, so players don’t want to risk getting that punishment.

Also, the Canadian Junior Hockey in 2014 adopted an ejection model for anyone causing game misconduct via fighting.

TV + Fan Viewership:

One reason why fighting takes place in hockey games is for the TV and fan viewership. Fights typically make the highlight reel on TV programs like ESPN, so it is additional air coverage for the sport.

Hockey fans also get into the fights by banging on the glass near the action. NHL fights also are part of a team’s DNA, so some teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Boston Bruins like to be known as tough guys on the ice.


Hockey is a more physical sport than the MLB and NBA, so expect fights to take place on a more frequent basis. Most fighting takes place due to retaliation while other fights are a way to motivate your team to play better.

While fights per game are going down each season, there is still a handful of duel happening in the NHL during games. Perhaps, the NHL may end up banning fights between players soon.