I love fighting in hockey, even though I’m a pacifist. It’s nice to know that NHL players agree with me. About the fighting part, not the pacifism.
In the recent NHLPA Players Poll, 98% of the players polled said that fighting should remain in the game. To be more specific, they answered “No” to the question “Should fighting be completely banished?” With 257 players completing the poll, that essentially means 5 of those 257 said yes, that fighting should be completely banished in the NHL.
While my initial reaction is incredible curiosity about who those 5 players are and what there reasons are for wanting fighting completely out of the game, my second reaction is how is there such a complete disconnect between players and the media on this issue? After the tragic events of last summer, when the hockey world lost three enforcers, the media erupted in stories about the dangers of fighting and questioned whether there was a connection between the occupations and the deaths of those three NHLers.
The players themselves, however, have had no such reaction. The percentage of players who want fighting to remain in the game hasn’t changed since last season.
The over-emphasis on head injuries got to the point where Brooks Laich felt the need to speak out about feeling “babysat,” saying, “This is what we love to do. Guys love to play, they love to compete, they want to be on the ice. How do you take that away from someone? We accept that there’s going to be dangers when we play this game. We know that every time we get dressed.”
It would have been nice, actually, for the poll to ask about staged fights, as that might shift the percentage points a little. Two goons giving each other a stick tap off a faceoff and throwing haymakers for 30 seconds doesn’t interest me too much. Ilya Kovalchuk taking down a surprised Brayden Schenn after Schenn’s teammate gave Kovalchuk’s captain a cheap shot? yes please. I’m willing to bet that a fair number of NHL players would agree.
In any case, this seems a fine occasion to take a look at some statistics on fighting, thanks to the fine folks at hockeyfights.com, who just might love hockey fights a little too much. It’s getting weird, guys. Get a room.
1. Fights are actually down this season.
As much as there is a constant refrain from fighting’s detractors that there is more fighting in the game than ever before, there has been a pretty significant drop this season. The league is on pace for 547 fights, which is almost 100 fewer than last season and the lowest total in 2006-07. If this pace continues, it will be the first time in 5 years that the NHL has averaged fewer than half a fight per game.
This is consistent with the pre-season, where there was fewer than a fight per game for the first time in 5 years. Considering the number of prospects and tryouts literally fighting for a job in the pre-season, that’s significant.
2. Rangers and Bruins are tops in the East and tops in fighting
As boisterously pointed out by Don Cherry on Saturday, some of the best teams in the league are also the fightiest teams in the league. This is especially true in the Eastern Conference, where the Rangers and Bruins are first and second in the standings and also first and second in the league in fighting majors, with 46 and 44, respectively. The Flyers have the third most fights in the league and sit fifth in the East. It’s going to be a thoroughly unpleasant slog to the Eastern Conference Final.
In the West, the Red Wings sit first in the conference, but are tied for the fewest fighting majors. The second place Canucks, however, are also second in the West in fighting majors, behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. So no, fighting doesn’t automatically lead to wins, folks. Unless the Blue Jackets teach Steve Mason how to punch the puck away from the net, they’re going to keep losing.
3. The Vancouver Canucks appear to be taking a page out of Boston’s book
The Canucks were severely criticized for their perceived softness during and after the Stanley Cup Final. While GM Mike Gillis claimed the Canucks had no plans to change their team just because of one team, their number of fights has drastically increased. In fact, with 23 games left in their schedule, they have already surpassed their total number of fights from last season.
Leading the way is an unlikely person: Maxim Lapierre, who was previously vilified for never backing up his mouth with his fists. With that said, he’s not a particularly good fighter, but he’s likely earning himself a bit more respect around the league for at least answering the bell when it’s rung.
4. Derek Dorsett fights at home, Jared Boll fights on the road
I mentioned the Columbus Blue Jackets being first in the Western Conference in fights, proving that fighting along won’t win a hockey game, but there’s an odd thing about their two fight leaders. Derek Dorsett leads the way for the Blue Jackets with 15 fights. Jared Boll is right behind him with 13. The odd thing is that 1o of Dorsett’s fights are at home, more than twice as many as he has on the road. Jared Boll is the opposite and slightly more extreme, with 11 of his 13 fights occurring away from Columbus.
Boll is the prototypical enforcer type, while Dorsett averages over 14 minutes of ice time and has 10 goals, but is still capable of holding his own in a tough tilt.
5. George Parros isn’t likely to reach 20 fights
George Parros is arguably the most well-known enforcer in the NHL, thanks to an engaging personality and the best moustache in the league. He’s managed to reach 20 fights in 4 straight seasons, but has just 9 so far this season with 23 games to go. With the Ducks still holding out hope that they can make the playoffs, Parros could find himself on the bench a little more often down the stretch.
6. Unsurprising news: defencemen don’t fight as much as forwards
With only 6 defencemen (traditionally) dressed per game, having one sit out for 5 minutes isn’t a great idea. Fighters usually come from the ranks of the fourth line, where the absence is sometimes barely noticed. Missing 1/6th of your defence is far more significant than 1/12th of your forwards.
That’s why the top fighters among defencemen have just 6 fights apiece, compared to 17 fights for the overall leader (Zenon Konopka). Stu Bickel, Sheldon Brookbank, Deryk Engelland, and Mark Stuart all have 6 fights each, with Bickel averaging the least in ice time at a paltry (for a defenceman) 8:35 per game. If you ever wonder why Dan Girardi leads the league in ice time, it’s partly because of Bickel.
7. Wayne Simmonds and Ryane Clowe are guys you want on your team
Simmonds and Clowe are the only two players in the top-40 in total fights who also have more than 30 points. In fact, if you exclude Zach Smith, who has 23 points and 6 fights, they’re the only two players with more than 15 points in the top-40.
My good buddy Harrison Mooney talked about the rare fighter-scorer as someone who scores at least 10 goals and has atl least 10 fights in a season. There were only 7 players last season that fit that criteria. Now what about 30 goals and 10 fights: Simmonds has 21 goals and 7 fights so far and could hit both those totals by the end of the season.
Mike Richards, incidentally, has 14 goals, 28 points, and 3 fights this season. Just saying.