Fighting: What is it Good For Absolutely Nothing

Oh the old debate about fighting. Enforcers install fear into your opponents, but having more skilled all-around players on all four lines makes you a much more talented team. The debate is endless and what doesn’t seem to help the cause for either side of the coin this season is that the fighting numbers don’t really seem to favour one side or the other.

The Writing is On the Wall

Take a look at this chart, it shows the leaders in fights this season followed by their rank in the standings out of all 30 teams.

Fighting Rank Team Number of Fights Rank in the NHL Standings
1 Buffalo Sabres 23 28
2 Pittsburgh Penguins 20 5
3 Columbus Blue Jackets 19 24
4 Anaheim Ducks 18 1
5 Edmonton Oilers 18 30
6 San Jose Sharks 18 13
7 Ottawa Senators 17 22
8 Winnipeg Jets 17 14
9 Washington Capitals 16 11
10 Dallas Stars 15 20
11 Vancouver Canucks 15 10
12 Arizona Coyotes 14 27
13 Boston Bruins 14 18
14 Los Angeles Kings 14 17
15 St. Louis Blues 14 9
16 Colorado Avalanche 13 23
17 Montreal Canadiens 13 7
18 Calgary Flames 11 15
19 Minnesota Wild 9 21
20 New Jersey Devils 9 26
21 Philadelphia Flyers 9 25
22 Tampa Bay Lightning 9 3
23 Florida Panthers 8 19
24 New York Islanders 8 6
25 New York Rangers 8 16
26 Carolina Hurricanes 7 29
27 Chicago Blackhawks 7 2
28 Toronto Maple Leafs 7 12
29 Nashville Predators 6 4
30 Detroit Red Wings 3 8
Fighting info via hockeyfights.com

What you will see if that there are teams at both the top and bottom of the standings are among the top and the bottom of the teams with the most fighting majors this season. In fact one interesting stat is that both the Anaheim Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers who are first and 30th in the NHL standings both have 18 fighting majors this season, tied for the fourth most in the league. The NHL leader in fights is the Buffalo Sabres, who early on were believed to be favourites to land Connor McDavid, while right behind them is the Pittsburgh Penguins who sit one point behind Tampa for top spot in the east.

Fighting Stats This Year

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This season there is an average of 0.34 fights per game, one f the lowest numbers in years. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

This year there have been 558 games played as of January 1st and so far there has been 190 fights to date, an average of 0.34 fights per game or just over one fight every three games. That means this year we are on pace to see 419 fights in the NHL this season. Of the 558 games so far, there has been a fight in 165 of them or 29.57% of the games have seen two players go toe-to-toe.

To date there have been 20 instances where there have been multiple fights in a game, with nearly half the season in the books were on pace to have this occurrence take place just 44 times this season, which would be a huge drop from the 78 times in which it took place last year. Last season 288 different players dropped the gloves, while this season 188 players have participated in the fisticuffs.

Maybe Fighters Are Vital

What might possibly swade the argument in one direction (sorry for mentioning this band) is the fact that of the top-20 fighters in the NHL this season 13 of the play for teams who currently sit in a playoff spot. The Toronto Maple Leafs are another interesting case as over the past two years the team has lead the league in fighting majors. However, during those two seasons the team finished in sixth in the Eastern Conference in 2012-13 and 12th last season. This season the team has made a complete 180 in terms of the lineup they dress. The Maple Leafs do not include players one would coin as ‘enforcers’ on their fourth line, something they had done in the past with the likes of Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren.

The team has instead gone in the direction of trying to put together a roster that is four lines deep with each one capable of providing

There seems to be no corelation between whether a team with fighters is more successful in the standings.(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
There seems to be no corelation between whether a team with fighters is more successful in the standings.(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

offence. For now the change going from last season to the present seems to be paying off as the team currently holds down the first Wild Card spot.

The number of fights and the success of the teams is such a fascinating topic as critics of both sides of the debate and the importance of the implied toughness fighting radiates seems really unsubstantiated. Five of the league’s top-10 teams find themselves among the eight teams with the fewest fights in the league, but once again, amongst them is the Carolina Hurricanes who sit 29th in the league standings.

In all Fights are Down

The total number of fights in the NHL has dropped every year since 2008-09. Dating back to 1997-98 no NHL season has seen a fights per game average lower than the 0.34 we are seeing this season. So whether fighting helps your team or not what can be taken away is that players are slowly fighting less than they have before.