Fighting has been an officially accepted part of the hockey at the professional level for almost a century. In 1922, the National Hockey League incorporated Rule 56 into its official rule book, which governed what it then called “Fisticuffs” as an official part of the game.
Today, the section of the NHL rule book dedicated to fighting is Rule 46. It says that referees are given “very wide latitude in the penalties with which they may impose under this rule.” According to former NHL official Kerry Fraser, fighting is technically a rule violation.
Any player who fights is automatically subjected to sitting in the penalty box for at least five minutes. Additional penalties, including ejection, can be imposed if deemed necessary by the referee.
We sought to understand why this sanctioned violence is still embraced by the league, which, based on a recent interview with its commissioner Gary Bettman, doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
Bettman called fighting a “thermostat” for the game, and that it “may prevent other injuries.”
According to author Ross Bernstein, who wrote the book “The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL,” fighting is a way for the sport to “police itself,” and to remind players that there are consequences for stepping over the line during play in such a way that “the Code” is violated.