NHL Fighting Rules

NHL Fighting Rules: The Unwritten NHL Rules

Fighting is a part of ice hockey and is seen as part of the game’s culture. The NHL fighting rules are the NHL regulations to reduce fights in games. Even though this regulation exists, fights are allowed in the NHL. In this article, we will be looking at the NHL fighting rules and reasons why NHL players fight.

Hockey Rules For Fighting 

Hockey Rules For Fighting

According to the NHL, fighting occurs when at least a player punches or attempts to punch another player or when two players wrestle in a way that makes it difficult for the officials (referee and linesman) to separate the two players. 

However, fighting is seen as a culture in the NHL, with many memorable fights being notable in hockey. Even though fighting calls for a penalty in the NHL, players are allowed to fight so as to settle their differences. 

For a fight to occur in the NHL, both players are mandated to remove their gloves. This action shows the intent of both parties to partake in the fight, but if a party refuses to throw his gloves on the ice, the other player will be penalized if he punches or hits him

Once the gloves of the two players are on the ice, the referee will blow the whistle to call for a stoppage of the game, and every other player on both teams must go to the bench. The referee and the linesmen will also position themselves at a distance from the two fighting players.

The fight is allowed to go on until at least one play falls on the ice or when the referee deems it fit to call for a stoppage. After that, the officials separate the brawl between the players. 

Even though players are allowed to fight, once the fight has been called off, both players involved are sent to the penalty box on a 5-minute major penalty time

The NHL is the only sports league that tolerates the culture of fighting in the game. Even other ice hockey leagues are very strict regarding violence between players. 

Reason Why Players Fight In The NHL

There are some reasons why players in the NHL fight, but the most prominent reason is to stand up for their teammates. Every team has a star player; therefore, when an opposing player acts against such a player, other players rise to challenge the actions. 

Back in the day, every team had a well-built player called an enforcer who could challenge any player that came against their star players. The era of enforcers in the NHL is ending as the number of fights has reduced and because there are stricter rules for fights.

However, this was not the only reason players fought. Players also fought due to long-term feuds between players or teams. During the days of the original six, there were six teams, and the feud between players was epic, as they got to face each other repeatedly in a season.

Why Is Fighting Encouraged In The NHL

Fighting is sometimes encouraged in the NHL because it reminds players that they are some lines that should not be crossed. In a nutshell, it means that players will not go over the line and will maintain a certain level of sportsmanship because they know there are players who do not mind swinging fists to put them in their place.

Moreover, fighting helps players blow off some steam and settle compounding tension. In a game like ice hockey, the tension between players can build up a game or could be a long time tension between players. Fighting helps players ease this tension. 

Penalties For Fighting In The NHL

Penalties For Fighting In The NHL

Referees in the NHL are saddled with the responsibility of deciding what penalty befits players who fight. Generally, players who fight in the NHL are given a major penalty of five minutes, meaning they get to serve the full 5 minutes in the penalty box.

In addition, players who take off their helmet before a fight serve a 2-minutes minor penalty and their 5 minutes major penalty. However, no penalty is given if a player has his helmet removed during a fight. 

Apart from the general penalty rule, here are three additional rules on fighting in the NHL. 

Instigator Penalty 

An instigator is a player whose action encourages or initiates a fight. It is just like the person that heats or fuels the urge to fight or carries out the first action towards a fight. 

The following activities are the actions of instigators toward fighting in the NHL. 

  • The first player to drop his gloves
  • The first player to throw punches
  • Passing verbal and insulting comments and threats
  • travelling the ice to another player

The NHL has a penalty for instigators of fights. An instigator penalty is an added 2 minutes minor penalty along with the penalty time for fighting. 

Players who are given two instigator penalties in a game will receive a game ejection penalty. Once given, the player is sent out of the game for the rest of the match. 

Aggressor Penalty

While an instigator is the first to start a fight, an aggressor is the last person to stop fighting, even after everyone has been calmed. Aggressors in ice hockey are given extra penalty time along with a 5-minutes major penalty for fighting.

Aggressors are also known for throwing punches at players who refuse to throw their gloves on the ice. An aggressor penalty can also be a game ejection penalty,

Players who are assessed both an instigator and aggressor penalty can be given two major penalties and a two-minute minor penalty. This depends on the referee and the punishment he decides will suit the infraction. Typically, a player can spend up to 15 minutes in the penalty box for fighting in the NHL.

Suspension & Fines

Suspension and fines are not often awarded for fighting in the NHL, but they are measures that can be taken in certain instances. If a player is even an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of a game, the player’s coach is fined $10,000 by the league. This goes for regular time and overtime.

However, fines are not limited to coaches; If a player commits repeated acts of instigation or causes serious injury to a player while fighting, they can be fined.

As for suspensions, they are given more readily than fines. Players given an aggressor penalty in four regular season games will be suspended for two regular matches, with further violations having higher suspension time.

Also, players who get their third instigator penalty in a season are suspended from two games. If they get a fourth instigator penalty that same season, they are suspended for four games, and if they get a fifth penalty, they are suspended for six games.

Future of NHL Fighting Rules

Violence in the NHL has steadily decreased as the rules are getting stricter. Although it was once a part of the game, the league has had to curb the rates at which players fought as it led to injuries as players got old such as head trauma, repeated concussions, and so much more.

Back in the day, spectators knew who would fight in a match even before it began, but as the sport grew and expanded in the modern era, it got strict with fights, reducing it in the league. 


Some memorable games in NHL history are remembered by the fights that occurred in them. Although the league has cut back on the fights that occur during games, fighting will remain part of the league’s culture.

Thanks for reading.

Similar Posts