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I think it is more than a theory, it is a widely held view by HoundDog1973

A recent survey of all NHL players found that 98% of them are against the banning of fighting in the game. They are the people who play the game and are in the dressing rooms. They know how important it is to their safety. With players getting bigger, faster and stronger and flying around the ice over 30 mph it is the fights and the threat of facing a fight that keeps a lot of the cheap shots from happening. They think it keeps order in the game that would otherwise disappear.