Hard Hitting Fact: Fighting helps win hockey games in the NHL

Brandon Prust fights Chris Neil (NHL)

Brandon Prust fights Chris Neil (NHL)

For years now, we’ve all heard the argument that there’s no point to fighting in the NHL. Most advocates seeking to abolish fighting from the game, hold firm on one point – it doesn’t lead to wins.


Well, 3 years of cold hard facts say otherwise.

I compiled a list from 2011-12 to 2013-14 of fighting majors and points by team. Of the top 10 fighting teams in the NHL over that span, 50% of them represent the top ten teams by points in the regular season. The Philadelphia Flyers who rank second in fights just missed out at 11. Only the Buffalo Sabres made the list from the bottom 5 teams for points in the league.

TOP 10 FIGHTING TEAMS LAST 3 SEASONS

TOP 10 FIGHTING TEAMS LAST 3 SEASONS

So what about the team’s that choose not to fight? Maybe they should consider it. They represent 30% of the best teams by points during the regular season over that same span. Incidentally, 2 of them were also one of the 5 worst teams in the NHL over the last 3 seasons. The Oilers, dead last.

BOTTOM 10 FIGHTING TEAMS LAST 3 YEARS

BOTTOM 10 FIGHTING TEAMS LAST 3 SEASONS

Matter of fact, numbers suggest that the Edmonton Oilers approach of finesse forwards over the years is their biggest problem. Instead of a gaggle of Nail Yakupovs they should find one or two Brandon Prusts.

The Oilers rank 25th in fighting majors and are dead last in points over the study. Sure, you can blame lousy defense and goaltending, but maybe the opposition wouldn’t run over Oilers players as they march to the net, if there was a an ounce of intimidation coming from the bench.

FIGHTING HELPS WIN HOCKEY GAMES

Lucic is intimidation personified (NHL)

Lucic is intimidation personified (NHL)

It’s like a dirty little secret that everyone wants to pretend doesn’t exist. My research is pretty simple, but others have done more extensive analysis and come up with similar information.

Back in 2012, the Associated Press’ Jim Litke wrote an article about such a study performed by powerscouthockey.com – They deduced that the offensive output 3 minutes of play after a fight, booms upwards  to 76%.

The research also noted that it wasn’t always the team that won the fight that got the boost, but no doubt there was an uptick in momentum.

Terry Appleby who conducted the study remains conflicted about fighting in the game. “It might be provocative (the results), and there are sure to be a lot of people who don’t want to hear it, but that’s what the data says.”

FIGHTING’S DECLINE

FightsPerSeason

Back in September we discussed the future of fighting and found 734 fights were fought in 2008-09, and has since been on a steady decline. Last year, 469 fights occurred — the fewest in a full season since 2005-06. The lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign naturally saw the fewest amount of fights, with 347; but pro-rated over a full season, that total would have been projected to be approximately 590 tilts.

 

David Singer of HockeyFights.com, where we gathered all our fight data told us, “With fighting numbers dropping, the league may see if it takes care of itself.” When, you factor concern over head injuries David added, “Concussions from fighting are a small number of reported concussions. It’d be great if the number were zero.”

WHAT THE PLAYERS THINK

The game is moving towards more skill and ultimately that does win hockey games. However, does the presence of a few players on the roster with the willingness and ability to fight help? Most NHL players probably would agree.

If someone goes out there and they know I’m on the other bench, I think they’re going to think twice about running around that game,” Sharks enforcer John Scott said during the preseason. “It’s always going to be important, I think, to have guys patrol the ice.”

Shawn Thornton (Boston.com)

Shawn Thornton (Boston.com)

Former Bruins enforcer, Shawn Thornton said, “I’ve been made aware of what our record is when I fight and never really gave it a thought.” When Thornton dropped the gloves, Boston was 38-13-8 (at the time of the AP article). Boston ranks #1 in fights since 2011 and 3rd in overall points. The connection is hard to refute, but I assure you, there will be plenty that will tell you my analysis is all wrong.

Yet, even the greats are apprehensive about eliminating fighting from the game. Bobby Orr wrote in his book, “Orr: My Story,”:

I would be very hesitant to take fighting out of the pro levels of the game, and here’s why. As a young player in the NHL, I was called out on certain occasions and responded to those challenges to fight because I felt it was my duty to do so. I didn’t particularly enjoy fighting, but I understood its place in the game. I never wanted or needed someone covering for me when the rough stuff started, and as a result I believe it helped me over the course of my career, both with teammates and opponents.

Bobby Orr’s words harken back to the feeling of accountability on the ice for your actions. “It is a tough sport, a sport that requires physical play, and sometimes that can lead to frustration,” Orr continued. “Similarly, hitting from behind is a cowardly and careless act that has resulted in far more significant injuries than those resulting from fighting, at least in my estimation. If respect for the guy between you and the boards isn’t enough to stop you from running him, maybe what will be is the fear of the retribution that is sure to follow.”

LIFE AFTER YOU DROP THE GLOVES

The concern for the overall well being of players is omnipresent, as it should be. However, most of the serious injuries we see are the result of reckless acts such as elbows to the head and hits from behind. Ask yourself, when was the last time you recall a player seriously injured after a fight?

Sadly, some players are being made into the poster children of why fighting should be abolished. Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak, noted fighters — all passed away young.

All three men were also found to have sustained chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a degenerative brain disorder found in individuals who have sustained multiple concussions and other various head trauma. CTE was also discovered in legendary enforcer Bob Probert’s brain, after his passing in 2010.

However, these poor men also battled alcohol and substance abuse addictions, which contributed to their sad demise. Investigating brain trauma and fighting makes sense, however to directly link fighting to their deaths in any way shape or form is irresponsible.

What about all the older players who are living prosperous lives? Here’s a list of some of the NHL’s “baddest boys”:

  1. Tiger Williams, 3,966
  2. Dale Hunter, 3,565
  3. Tie Domi, 3,515
  4. Marty McSorley, 3,381
  5. Bob Probert, 3,300
  6. Robert Ray, 3,207
  7. Craig Berube, 3,149
  8. Tim Hunter, 3,146
  9. Chris Nilan, 3,043
  10. Rick Tocchet, 2,972

Last I checked most of the men on this list are doing very well after the blows.

Tiger Williams told Josh Rimer, “Here’s a problem Hockey’s got, you got to many liberal thinking people watching the game. You gotta get rid of them. Name the last time they every changed a rule in baseball, or in NFL or the NBA. Name the last time. Why does everybody want to change the rules in hockey? If you can’t handle someone getting knocked out when someone falls down, don’t watch it. Go watch Tiddlywinks, it might be your sport. No more discussion on this. It makes no sense, it is what it is. The other thing about fighting, no one gets hurt in fighting very often, but once in a while it happens.”

There you have it folks, take from it what you will – but these numbers are hard to argue. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it wrong.

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