- Associated Press - Thursday, January 31, 2013

DETROIT (AP) - Wanna fight?

If you’re an NHL player, you can probably find somebody to drop the gloves.

A lockout-delayed and shortened season has created a spike in fights around the league, just as it did the last time labor woes led to a 48-game season.

There were 58 fights through the first 87 games this year, following play on Tuesday night, an increase from 39 after the same number of games last season, according to STATS. During the 1994-95 season, there were 83 fights over the first 87 games of that lockout-shortened slate, a jump from 58 during the same stretch previous season.

“Obviously, you have a situation where the players are being thrown into the immediate intensity of a shortened season and that certainly may play a role,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote Thursday in an email to The Associated Press. “We monitor these things as well, and the number of fighting majors have decreased significantly and begun to normalize over the last week. I expect that will continue over the balance of the season.”

There were, in fact, fewer fighting penalties than games on Monday for the first time since the season started with 12 fights in 13 games. And on Wednesday, there were six fights in four games.

But there were a season-high 16 fights in 10 games on Tuesday, when Detroit Red Wings forward Jordin Tootoo and fought two different players in the opening period against the Dallas Stars.

Tootoo has been a part of two of the four fights that have started within the first three seconds of a game this season. When the gloves drop soon after the puck does, the fights seem orchestrated by World Wrestling Entertainment decision-makers.

“For me personally, nothing is staged,” Tootoo insisted. “It’s spontaneous. It’s all about the eye contact. You kind of say, `Let’s do it,’ without saying a word.”

Some players say they’re unleashing pent-up energy, stored during the four-month lockout.

Others want to give fans what they seem to want.

One 25-year-old player acknowledges he’s fighting for his job. Nashville Predators forward Richard Clune has been trying to make it back in the NHL since playing in 14 games with the Los Angeles Kings three years ago. He was in three fights in his first five games.

Clune didn’t play in Nashville’s opener when star defenseman Shea Weber got into a rare fight with Columbus forward Jared Boll, the first NHL player to five fights this season. Clune, perhaps not coincidently, was in the lineup for the next game and tried to make his presence felt right away by getting penalized for boarding in the opening minutes.

“I play hard and get in the other team’s faces and sometimes it results in dropping the gloves,” Clune said in a telephone interview before playing on the road against the Kings.

The NHL struggles with its public stance toward fighting.

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