Leafs-Canucks epilogue: fighting role continues to diminish

For all the hype surrounding Saturday’s Leafs-Canucks rematch – a highly-touted supposed revenge game – the event turned out to be: a hockey game. Not the next iteration of UFC.

There was much scrutiny on the Canucks players under the expectation to deliver payback for the fracas on November 5 at Air Canada Centre. The Leafs would have to answer for Morgan Rielly’s check on Jannik Hansen, for Matt Martin fighting rookie Troy Stetcher, and most of all, for Nazem Kadri’s blindside hit on Daniel Sedin – deemed ‘by the book’ by the league’s department of player safety, but still suspect.

And the final truculence scorecard showed, wait for it, one fight.

Martin scrapped with Erik Gudbranson, acquired by the Canucks in May to add some muscle to the roster. Gudbranson presumably did his part to live up to ‘the code’ by making Martin answer for the fight versus Stetcher, one month earlier.

That was it. The teams combined for a grand total 22 minutes in penalties, a minuscule fraction of the 171 minutes registered by both teams in the Air Canada Centre.

Leafs vs. Canucks Part 2 was the biggest sequel flop since “Blues Brothers 2000”.

OK, maybe we shouldn’t say things we can’t take back. The point is, the relative lack of fisticuffs further illustrates the diminished role of fighting in the game.

Data collected from HockeyFights.com indicates that there were 734 fights that occurred in 509 games during the 2008-09 season. Since then, both numbers have decreased on a season-by-season basis in years with a full 82-game schedule.

The 2015-16 campaign saw only 344 fights take place in 288 games. Players engaged in fisticuffs only half as frequently as they did seven years prior.

And, the role of the enforcer has all but gone the way of the dodo.

There is simply no place for the likes of Colton Orr, or Frazer McLaren, on the Leafs roster, contrary to days past.

In fact, which players in the NHL could be considered enforcers? Chris Neil? Jared Boll? Sure. Although, how many names could you rhyme off before hesitating?

Conversely, if you’re of a certain age, the names would roll off your tongue. In the “Chuck” Norris Division alone there was: Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, Basil McRae, Tie Domi, Shane Churla. That’s not even going outside the division to think about Marty McSorley, Dave Semenko, Donald Brashear, Gino Odjick et al.

But, the role of such players in today’s game is all but antiquated.

Fighting may never be completely eradicated from the sport.

However, unlike the days when historical ‘payback’ games prevailed, the trend is definitely in the more pacifist direction.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca.

In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.