Fighting: End of an Era

There were 469 fights during the 2014 regular season. From a historical perspective the NHL saw 0.38 fights per game last season which is tied for the lowest league wide average since 1965. The NHL has not seen such low rates of fighting since the Original Six Era. You’ll notice in the graph that both goals per game and fights per game were at their heights during the eighties and now have dwindled to their lowest totals since the the first expansion. Obviously correlation never equals causation but it is interesting to note that fighting increases and decreases have mirrored that of goal increases and decreases throughout the history of the NHL.

Evolution of the Game

This is the argument that many people are presenting as the NHL slowly abandons the enforcer mentality. Personally I highly doubt that a decrease in “goons” will lead to a decrease in concussions. The reason is not because of players ability to stick up for teammates but because numerous concussions are caused by glancing blows to the head and open ice hits, typically from faster moving players, not enforcers. Fighting is already at record lows and enforcers are being weeded out every year so further application of these movements won’t have major effects on injuries in hockey. The other thing that has yet to be seen is a comparison of long term effects of players who played after 2005 compared to those who played in the nineties. This data will not be available for decades.

One thing that will indeed change and is already changing is the composition of fourth lines in hockey today. Over the years, fourth line ice time has increased and teams are now relying on those players to play closer to ten minutes per game. With younger, faster and more versatile players making up the bottom-six forwards, teams find it less risky to put a fourth line guy out on the penalty kill or to take a key face-off in the defensive zone. Someone like Rich Clune, Brian McGrattan or Shawn Thornton do not have the ability to play on special teams in today’s game compared to other fourth line players like Drew Miller, Daniel Paille, or Andrew Desjardins who are relied on for their penalty kill prowess.

Below is a list of the 72 players who were involved in five or more fights during the 2014 regular season. The majority are fourth line players.

Player Position GP Points Fights SH TOI/G PP TOI/G TOI/G
Bieksa, Kevin D 76 24 6 2:12 1:57 22:46
Stuart, Mark D 69 13 7 3:04 0:01 18:38
Iginla, Jarome R 78 61 5 0:24 2:30 18:12
Gudbranson, Erik D 65 9 7 1:56 0:51 17:58
Jackman, Barret D 79 15 5 2:18 0:01 17:55
Weber, Mike D 68 9 5 2:00 0:01 17:49
Allen, Bryan D 68 10 5 2:16 0:04 17:33
Lucic, Milan L 80 59 7 0:00 2:20 17:22
Prout, Dalton D 49 6 5 1:35 0:04 17:12
Simmonds, Wayne R 82 60 6 0:02 3:23 16:46
Schenn, Luke D 79 12 6 2:09 0:01 16:32
Clowe, Ryane L 43 26 5 0:00 2:11 16:07
Calvert, Matt L 56 24 5 1:33 1:32 16:06
Foligno, Nick L 70 39 6 0:12 1:44 16:03
McQuaid Adam D 30 6 7 1:48 0:01 16:02
Bortuzzo, Robert D 54 10 6 1:18 0:02 15:28
Fraser, Mark D 42 2 6 2:10 0:02 15:22
Clarkson, David R 60 11 9 0:00 1:03 15:06
Foligno, Marcus L 74 19 5 1:07 1:06 15:03
Nystrom, Eric L 79 21 6 1:50 0:04 14:51
Stewart, Chris R 63 26 6 0:02 1:52 13:41
Roussel, Antoine L 81 29 10 1:40 0:08 13:19
Stoner, Clayton D 63 5 8 1:17 0:01 13:19
Engelland, Deryk D 56 12 6 0:56 0:08 13:02
Brookbank, Sheldon D 48 7 6 0:29 0:02 12:53
Prust, Brandon L 52 13 11 1:45 0:10 12:49
Hendricks, Matt L 77 7 12 2:35 0:08 12:44
Maroon, Patrick L 62 29 13 0:00 1:43 12:18
Carkner, Matt D 53 3 9 0:22 0:00 11:59
Campbell, Gregory C 82 21 5 1:51 0:09 11:54
Martin, Matt L 79 14 10 0:41 0:19 11:53
Neil, Chris R 76 14 15 0:01 0:36 11:48
Glass, Tanner L 67 13 7 1:38 0:01 11:47
Malone, Ryan L 57 15 5 0:07 1:10 11:46
Moen, Travis L 65 12 5 2:33 0:04 11:31
MacKenzie, Derek C 71 18 5 1:51 0:05 11:15
Desjardins, Andrew C 81 17 10 1:12 0:03 11:08
Dorsett, Derek R 51 8 10 0:45 0:06 11:01
McLeod, Cody L 71 13 12 1:30 0:01 10:19
Bollig, Brandon L 82 14 6 0:13 0:02 10:16
Crombeen, B.J. R 55 10 11 1:29 0:01 10:10
Clifford, Kyle L 71 8 9 0:18 0:09 10:09
Chipchura, Kyle C 80 20 5 0:02 0:01 9:43
Carcillo, Daniel L 57 5 6 0:00 0:05 9:16
Nolan, Jordan C 64 10 6 0:01 0:04 9:00
Thorburn, Chris R 55 11 7 0:04 0:03 8:57
McCormick, Cody C 43 7 8 1:19 0:01 8:54
Thornton, Shawn L 64 3 10 0:00 0:02 8:47
Reaves, Ryan R 63 8 10 0:00 0:00 8:31
Clune, Rich L 58 7 16 0:10 0:01 8:27
Weise, Dale R 61 16 5 0:07 0:04 8:25
Wilson, Tom R 82 10 14 0:00 0:05 7:56
Konopka, Zenon C 59 3 12 1:06 0:02 7:54
Rinaldo, Zac C 67 4 7 0:27 0:02 7:41
Boll, Jared R 28 2 8 0:00 0:01 7:37
Volpatti, Aaron L 41 2 5 0:00 0:01 7:21
Brown, Mike R 56 5 12 0:01 0:03 7:09
Jackman, Tim R 36 5 10 0:01 0:03 7:06
Bordeleau, Patrick L 82 11 6 0:00 0:02 6:53
Scott, John L 56 1 5 0:00 0:08 6:45
McGrattan, Brian R 76 8 11 0:00 0:03 6:43
Westgarth, Kevin R 48 7 6 0:00 0:01 6:29
Sestito, Tom L 77 9 19 0:00 0:06 6:27
Boulton, Eric L 23 4 8 0:02 0:02 6:24
Barch, Krys R 55 4 13 0:00 0:00 5:58
Gazdic, Luke L 67 4 15 0:00 0:02 5:48
Peluso, Anthony R 53 5 8 0:00 0:02 5:46
Orr, Colton R 54 0 6 0:00 0:01 5:22
Rosehill, Jay L 34 2 10 0:00 0:02 4:56
Parros, George R 22 1 9 0:00 0:04 4:33
Kassian, Matt L 33 2 9 0:00 0:00 4:26
McLaren, Frazer L 27 0 9 0:00 0:00 4:00
AVERAGE 60.9 12.778 8.125 0:45 0:22 11:17

A Ticking Clock

Ryane Clowe Bruins left wing Milan Lucic
Ryane Clowe (age 32) was once a big time power forward until concussions and other ailments began to take their toll. How long until fellow power forward, Milan Lucic (age 26) begins to see a decline in his game?

In 2014, only 288 players were involved in fights and the 72 listed above make up 25% of that population. If you were to combine all of these fights together the total would be 585 fights. This number is higher than the 469 recorded fights for the season because many of these 72 players fought each other so they are being counted twice. Matt Carkner fought Jared Boll, Chris Neil fought Tanner Glass so on and so forth. From this we can assume that even if every single one of those fights was counted twice the resulting number would be halved, giving us 292.5 fights. What we can conclude from this assertion is that 25% of players involved in fighting partake in AT LEAST 62% of the fights during the 2014 regular season.

How I found these numbers

  • 288 total players involved in fights
  • 72 players above (5+ fights)
  • 288/72 = 25%
  • 469 recorded fights (between two participants)
  • 585 totaled between the 72 players
  • 292.5 half the amount of 585 so as not to count any fight twice
  • 292.5/469 = 62%

The reason these numbers are important is because the league can flat out say, “restricting or banning fighting will not affect the sport.” If tomorrow all of the players on this list never played in the NHL again there would not be much of a fuss game-play wise.Yes fans and players alike would be in an uproar but the game itself would not really change. Some major names like Jarome Iginla, Kevin Bieksa and Milan Lucic would be gone along with some lesser names like Adam McQuaid, Matt Calvert, and Brandon Prust.

Make no mistake, I am not anti-fighting but I would not be against implementing a fight limit like the OHL. 22 players had over ten fights this season and only two had over twenty points so the effect would be minimal. I like fighting, scrums, brawls as long as it is voluntary. Any time a player attacks someone who is unwillingly to fight it loses its sense of honor, even if a player needs to “answer for his actions.” What is great about fighting in the NHL is the fact that hockey players have a sense of respect for each other when they do it.

A lot of these players I enjoy watching, especially because I grew up during the Dead Puck Era which saw some great rivalries including the Red Wings and Avalanche. One thing I love above all else is a goaltender fight because it is like saying you saw Bigfoot. Still, I understand that player safety needs to come first and with the heaps of data about long term problems to athletes. I don’t want to see someone like Ryane Clowe struggle like Chris Nilan has throughout his life. I don’t want to read about another lawsuit or a player who overdosed. As a fan I care about the players long after they retire because they gave me; entertainment, joy, heartache, anger, passion all things that I will remember for the rest of my life.