The National Hockey League has come a long way in the last 8 years. From a lockout that was the first in professional American sports to cost a league an entire season, to the overwhelming popularity of the Winter Classic. These go to show how far the league has changed and how far hockey itself has come in the last 10 years. One of the benefactors of this huge growth is David Singer, the purveyor of Hockeyfights.com. In a WebProNews exclusive we were able to ask him a few questions about fighting in hockey, his website, and the state of the game in general.
We asked David when his love of hockey fights began, and how the idea for the site came about.
"In one of the first few games I went to as a kid there was a fight. It's impossible not to notice the energy it brought to the arena. It was just like a goal. I didn't appreciate fighting until I was a little older and understood the role it could play in a game (something that's been forever debated). I wanted to track fights the way others track goals and other statistics. Penalty minutes were always being kept, but I wanted to know how many times someone was fighting, and who they were fighting. I started keeping some numbers and talking about local teams. It snowballed from there."
Moving on to the popularity of his site the question of his daily visitor numbers growing exponentially in post-lockout hockey came up. "It took a couple of years post-lockout for the site to have bigger growth," said Singer. "The first, and most obvious reason, is there weren't as many fights in the seasons after the lockout. A close second was just re-gaining the hockey community in general. Many, especially the diehard fans that visit hockeyfights.com, were turned off by the league shutting down for a season. While the league has rebounded, some have never come back."
This brought me to wondering if his site sees a bigger uptick in views when 2 heavyweights go at it, or when there is an incident like last year's Islanders v Penguins brawl, or maybe when a star drops em like Crosby or Ovetchkin? "The site is definitely event-driven. A brawl can trigger traffic." He went on to say, "Some stars can, but it's not as predictable as one might think. Sometimes a player from a European country that usually doesn't fight drops the gloves and I've got a huge influx of traffic from his home country and ex-pats everywhere. Just as much as a fight, big news can do the same. There is the hockey in hockeyfights.com and big trades or signings or any other big news can drive visits."
One of the more publicized things this year has been head shots and how the NHL is dealing with them. Many players have gotten suspensions. I wondered what is the one thing that could get rid of them? Smaller pads? The repeal of the instigator? David had a thoughtful answer about this touchy subject.
"Repealing the instigator would help in my opinion, but it would take time and lenient coaching. I'm not sure most teams have that sort of patience anymore. Either way, I don't expect it to happen, even though I'd like to see it. Ironically, I think it'd curb fighting in the long-run. As for head shots in general, especially those that cause injury, I think there are a few things that can be done to help. Equipment should be an easy fix. Too many use it as weapons, or consider it armor. With technology today, there has to be a way to protect players without allowing that protection to hurt others. However, I don't think that's the main cause. A lot of it is players looking for a huge, video game-style hit. They've been taught to do that from the earliest of lessons. 'Finish your checks.' I can't think of a coach that hasn't said that. Sometimes, you don't need to wipe a guy out to do that, but in a day of sprint shifts and the fourth line always wondering if they'll be scratched or sent to the minors, they're rarely going to let up on someone. I think it's something that needs to be adjusted at the lowest levels and the higher leagues need to make sure they keep with that approach. Adding to that are players that put themselves in bad positions looking to draw a penalty, something else they've been taught. It's a bad combination."
For years all we see is talking heads on ESPN saying that fighting in Hockey is ruining the game and that if it ever wants to go mainstream they need to get rid of it. That got me wondering about who really wants to get rid of fighting in hockey? Is it just non-fans and journalists? Could we really see a day when there is no fighting in hockey? He said, "You've hit it: non-fans and some of the media are the largest supporters of trying to take fighting out of hockey, or adjust the penalties for it. Poll after poll shows the players, 'hockey people' (non-media, in the business) and most of all, the fans, like it in the game the way it is. I don't think trying to remove it would benefit the game, and I don't think it'll draw in more fans, either. I don't know if you'll ever see a day with no fighting whatsoever. No matter what the rules are fights happen in all leagues and all sports, just at varying levels."
Fights are good for hockey, whether people admit it or not, when stuff like this happens on the opening faceoff, not one single fan leaves that arena while play is going on for any reason, even if it is a blowout:
With over 45,000 likes on Facebook, he gets a lot of attention that was recently brought to the forefront by his posts on Facebook saying Goodbye, (Enter Team) when someone was eliminated from the playoffs. When he posted this, it gave him a barometer of fan hate towards a team. His assumption, by looking at the data, is what you would expect. That the teams with the longer record of being good have the most vocal fans and the most detractors means those posts get the most like and comments.
Every year Hockeyfights.com posts a little award type show with several categories for things like Best feud and best old school moment. Well the main category as one can expect is the fight of the year. This year's list is pretty good:
The voting process is very simple. Just go to Hockeyfights.com and join. You can then vote on any fight, how good it was, how rested the players are, and you will never be the same. I know I have gotten caught in this website for hours at a time.