How the AHL’s new fighting rules will affect the Marlies

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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com

As the American Hockey League evolves themselves more and more into a highly skilled developmental league that competes with even Europe’s best rosters, the league has done its best to minimize the “goon factor” of the league. Enforcers who no longer have jobs at the top are spilling over into new roles, and that can sometimes have distracting consequences.

To combat this, the league has announced new rules for acts of fisticuffs. They are as follows:

Rule 46 (“Fighting”) / Rule 23 (“Game Misconducts”)

  • Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of a puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed. 
  • During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.
  • During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically, for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.
  • In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the players’ total for this rule.

The “fighting in hockey” debate is a tricky one. This is, after all, one of the only sports and probably the most popular of the small group that considers fighting to be on the “slight breaking of the rules” side of the spectrum, rather than an embarrassment to the league. But it’s been in the game for so long at so many levels and has been taught as part of the game for such a long time.

I’m not against a total ban, if only because I think it’s easier to ban fighting than it is to fire every single coach and general manager who still hires players to play for three shifts a night because they think an agreed on, emotionless scrap will “change the momentum” of the game. But since neither of these things appear to be happening, minimizing the amount of fights that are obviously staged is a step in the right direction. I do wonder if teams will find ways around this, though, like players did with the extra penalty for taking off helmets (by agreeing to both do it, or making it easy for the opponent to remove it “accidentally” at the start). Maybe players skate down the ice for a few seconds before dropping their gloves. Maybe the gooniest of teams start signing multiple enforcers. We’re going to have to see.

This isn’t something that is going to make the Toronto Marlies sweat, though. Last year saw fewer fights than any in team history, with just 27 scraps recorded, down from the previous record of 37 the year prior and 75 in 2014. Toronto’s most in a single season came back in 2009/10 when players dropped the gloves a whopping 95 times. This year’s “fight kings” were the Binghamton Senators, who had 71 bouts.

Rich Clune is the only player on the Marlies roster who would have qualified for suspension this year, having fought ten times in 49 games. What might surprise you, though, is that Clune was one of the first players in the league to praise the new rule on social media:


Firstly, it’s not shocking that Clune is in favour of these rules. His 10 AHL fights and single NHL scrap are the fewest that’ he’s had since jumping up to the pros in 2007/08. He seems more focused than ever on actually playing the game, something that worked in Toronto’s favour in the second round of the playoffs. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him cut that down further. As for the faceoff rule, let’s look at his fight history this year.

Date Opponent OFM Situation
10/17/2015 Chris McKelvie 5 Mid Shift – Words and Shoves
10/24/2015 Mark Fraser 9 Mid Shift – Opponent Hit Retaliation
11/13/2015 Stefan Fournier 14 Mid Shift – Board Battle, Prior Words
11/29/2015 Brett Lernout 3 Mid Shift – Clune instigator & Misconduct
11/29/2015 Stefan Fournier 14 Mid Shift – Prior history, game effects
12/16/2015 Zack Stortini 13 Post Shift – Shift of battling
1/2/2016 Tanner Richard 1 End of Game – Shoves thrown, game effects
1/9/2016 Darren Kramer 16 Post Shift – Clune “extra poke” retaliation
1/16/2016 Zach Rinaldo 6 Post Active Shift – Hit Retaliation
3/5/2016 Joey Mormina 4 Post Shift – Opponent “extra poke” retaliation
3/6/2016 Alexander Grenier 3 Mid Shift – Opponent Hit Retaliation

OFM = Opponent’s fighting majors (total, 15/16). All fight-related stats in this post via HockeyFights.com

Clune spent this entire year as a “fight when the situation needs it” enforcer, which is pretty much what you want in today’s game. None of Clune’s fights this year came off the draw, and they all came in “heat of the moment” situations. Clune fought out of emotion or immediate retaliation, not to “create momentum” or whatever your coach stuck in 1976 tells you wins a hockey game.

As for the “fighting isn’t done, just guys who suck are” bit, I decided to take a look at the stats of all of the suspension-qualifiable players in the AHL this year.

Player Fights GP G A P +/- SOG ETOI EP60 GF%Rel
Michael Liambas 20 44 1 1 2 -4 21 9:07 0.3 -13.39
Kyle Hagel 18 75 5 5 10 -2 68 11:23 0.7 -1.69
Stu Bickel 16 59 1 6 7 -13 56 15:43 0.45 -25.64
Darren Kramer 16 61 7 5 12 -13 61 10:44 1.1 -11.96
Mike Cornell 15 51 3 6 9 1 58 16:23 0.65 -0.25
Kurtis Gabriel 15 66 6 4 10 -10 60 10:41 0.851 -5.83
Cody Bass 14 39 4 5 9 -1 42 15:45 0.88 -18.58
Jacob Doty 14 53 4 4 8 -4 36 9:39 0.94 -2.61
Stefan Fournier 13 46 7 4 11 -9 60 10:26 1.13 -7.17
Alex Gallant 13 27 1 0 1 0 7 6:35 0.34 -3.64
Zack Stortini 13 66 8 8 16 -14 72 12:44 1.21 -1.02
Ben Thomson 13 73 6 12 18 2 121 10:40 1.31 -2.94
Oleg Yevenko 12 54 1 3 4 -5 38 14:27 0.31 -9.7
Travis Ewanyk 11 66 5 4 9 -6 88 11:26 0.64 -14.86
Brett Gallant 11 48 0 1 1 -9 30 8:04 0.16 -35.68
Ryan Horvat 11 59 5 10 15 14 60 13:02 1.17 -12.06
David Broll 10 60 2 6 8 -11 46 10:01 0.8 -14.1
Austin Carroll 10 53 6 7 13 -17 65 12.:46 1.18 -11.14
Rich Clune 10 49 8 16 24 20 44 14:45 2 3.81
Jamie Devane 10 62 6 5 11 -7 50 11:13 0.95 -16.13
Daniel Maggio 10 36 1 2 3 -10 21 9:05 0.55 -30.71
Adam Payerl 10 74 13 16 29 -6 145 15:25 1.52 -9.08

Estimated TOI, points/60, and GF%Rel stats from Prospect-Stats.com’s AHL page

Unsurprisingly, most of these players are extremely poor at point generation, don’t play a lot of minutes, and their lines are much worse at creating goals than others. That is, except for Clune, who Sheldon Keefe trusts to play an actual hockey role. Clune is the primary forechecker on his line, relied upon to loosen up pucks around the boards for Nikita Soshnikov or Frederik Gauthier to recover. Sometimes, he takes care of the puck moving too, as evidenced by the fact he has the second most goals and points of this group of 22 behind Adam Payerl. Clune is trusted with more ice time than most of his counterparts, has an estimated points per 60 well ahead of the pack, and is the only player with a relative GF% that’s in the positive, meaning his line was more effective at tilting the score in their favour than the rest of his teammates.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, Clune is probably an NHL quality bottom-six forward who doesn’t need to fight but does it because he’s more prone to annoying his opponents and is better suited going against a typical enforcer than his even more skilled and younger teammates. This rule change is perfect for him when you think about it; traditional goons won’t want to waste a fight on him, or jumping someone who doesn’t want to engage, and he can spend a few more minutes in a given game playing hockey instead of sitting in the penalty box.

In short, this rule isn’t the answer to hockey’s problems, but it’s a nice step in the right direction. The Marlies will almost entirely be unphased because they’re a highly skilled team that only fights when they need too, and their only “enforcer” happens to probably be the only enforcer in the league who would be worth keeping if the practice was banned entirely.

  • AnthonyV

    I don’t know why people are starting to under rate grit to a point where even if the guy is good they still think he’s bad. A guy like Martin for example, is he over payed yes, but lets say a player of his type. He’s a competent player skill wise, but can also hit, and fight. With the young kids on the roster you don’t want to get bullied. A guy like Mitch marner is under 170lbs. Put him with a guy like bozak and Martin/komerov and you got a line

  • I’ve long wondered how Mike Liambas keeps getting contracts, beyond his willingness to fight (and deliver cheap shots). But you have to assume Nashville didn’t know this rule change was coming, because how can you possibly take the risk of rostering him anymore?

  • Gary Empey

    Ice time has to be made in the AHL for all the fast, skilled forwards and defencemen everyone is drafting. Too many AHL ownership/GM’s couldn’t do it on their own. Hence one of the reasons for the rule change.

    Another good reason is lawsuits.

    The risk of a severe head injury is inherent in lots of sports. Employing players whose only real skill is to fight, especially staged fighting, is hard to defend against, after you know for sure the risk.

    To say “yes we knew these type of players would likely end up with some form of brain damage, but it sold tickets.”…..That’s going to cost you big money.

  • Bleedblueandwhite

    I’m surprised the AHL didn’t include any fines for the coaches with these rule changes. Its rare that the coach doesn’t know about a fight that starts right at puck dropping – beginning of games or periods, or if the other team has put a couple in the net.