Abdelkader: Head-injury concerns lead to fewer fights

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The video went quickly went viral. Enforcers Brian McGrattan and Daniel Maggio landing powerful punches in a minor league hockey game Tuesday, ultimately leaving McGrattan unconscious and face down on the ice.

Justin Abdelakder saw the video and remembered hockey’s past.

“Like old-time hockey,” said Abdelkader, with a nod to hockey’s rambunctious past when fights were the norm.

And a far cry from today’s NHL.

According to Hockeyfights.com, there’s been an average of one fight in every four NHL games this season.

On pace for 357 fights this season in 1,230 games, the TSN network said that would be only 10 more fights total than 720 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.

Now that does change in the American League and other minor leagues. According to Hockeyfights.com, there have been 737 fights this season, nearly double the NHL total.

The game is changing, with skill and speed sought after, and enforcers and fighting ability not nearly as important.

Abdelkader has been in one fight this season, as credited by Hockeyfights.com, against Buffalo’s Josh Gorges on Dec. 1 (the website tabbed Gorges the winner).

Abdelkader feels the trend away from fighting, along with the increased education on concussions and head injuries, has nearly eliminated fighting from the NHL.

“The numbers have dropped,” said Abdelkader, of the number of fights. “Obviously everything with head injuries, and how it affects players and their families. It’s unfortunate.

“Fans probably enjoy the fights and it’s been a big part of hockey, it tends to keep players honest out there,” Abdelkader said. “But there are consequences that come with fighting, head injuries, that the NHL and owners and players, everyone wants to protect themselves and protect the league.”

Abdelkader is one of the few true, physical players on the Red Wings and has shown the willingness to fight if needed.

But if fighting were eliminated completely, Abdelkader doesn’t feel it would change his game or any other power forward’s game in the NHL.

“There could be a place for fighting as far as policing the guys and making sure (cleaning up) the after the whistle stuff, the different things that can go on, but at the same time,” said Abdelkader, “no one really needs to fight anymore. You’ve seen less and less of it.

“I don’t fight a ton, I do when I need to, but I think I still bring elements to the game which wouldn’t go away.

“Players are more skilled and focusing on playing good on the ice and are more skilled. They’re focusing on playing good on the ice rather than going out and fighting. You’re not seeing a fourth line that’s full of guys that are there to fight.”