How summer changes will impact fighting

Updated: September 25, 2013, 11:53 AM ET
By Craig Custance

The prevailing thought, when you talk to many people around hockey, is that the role of the fighting-only enforcer is naturally working its way out of the NHL. It just doesn't feel that way right now. Not after incidents like we saw between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs or how things have escalated between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers, with the claiming of Steve MacIntyre by an Oilers team that already has Ben Eager and Mike Brown.

"There's been more fighting than ever in the preseason," said Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff on Tuesday. "You almost think it's on the way out, it certainly doesn't give you any indication of that in the preseason."

The reason?

"You're trying to gain even a little bit of a competitive edge. Sending a message in the preseason that you're going to be physical, you're going to be a hard team to play against," Ruff said. "Buffalo versus Toronto is a big rivalry, right across the lake from each other. A lot of times, the preseason is [used] to gain a little bit of an advantage."

And the Sabres' brawl with the Maple Leafs gets extra attention because of the players involved. Anything involving the Leafs is magnified, and it becomes even more so when star winger Phil Kessel starts swinging his stick while defending himself against a much larger opposing player (John Scott).

The fact that Toronto's big offseason free-agent addition David Clarkson made the ill-advised decision to leave the bench into the action, earning a 10-game suspension, heightens the attention even more. If Clarkson keeps his cool, doesn't get suspended, this is a 24-hour story where we debate who won the goalie fight.

Factor in Ron Rolston's fine for "player selection" and it becomes a story that will continue to dominate discussion much longer than 24 hours.

That it's generating this much debate is a sign of how much fighting has changed in the game.

"This happens 15 years ago and it's just a blip on the screen. It's another preseason game," said one Western Conference executive.

Despite what we've seen this preseason, it's not likely to maintain this pace into the regular season. And the combination of two rule changes this offseason may end up going a long way in speeding up the gradual phase-out of fighting, even if that's not the original intention of the rules.