Rarities in this image: The fight in the playoffs, and the underage fan in Philadelphia who doesn't appear to be interested.

Don’t think any of this is normal.

In last season’s first round, I went through and counted up three major penalties total: an elbow by Mike Richards, a boarding call on Milan Lucic, and a charge by Jamie McGinn. I don’t remember those particular offences, but what’s important is that, in the 49 games that were played in last season’s first round, there were just three major penalties that were for an infraction other than fighting.

This year in the first round, in 19 games, we’ve seen a board by Byron Bitz, an elbow by Carl Hagelin, a charge by Andrew Shaw and a crosscheck by Arron Asham, probably the most egregious of the four penalties. That’s already four major penalties, and it could have been five it we also factor in Matt Carkner’s unrequited fighting major on Brian Boyle in Game Two of New York and Ottawa.

They call it “playoff hockey” but it’s anything but. When a good hard game is played between October and March, announcers will jump on clichés like a Scotsman on Haggis. A “playoff-type atmosphere” is a favourite up in the press box, but that really begs the question. What is a playoff-type atmosphere? Brayden Schenn, when prompted, said that Game 3 between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia qualifies. I’d have to ask him: ‘Do you actually watch any playoff hockey? Why are there so many more major penalties in the playoffs compared to the regular season than every before?’

Is it that we’re more sensitive today in regards to hockey violence as we were a year ago and feel that every infraction should be called? At any rate, a season ago, there were 29 major penalties assessed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. When Craig Adams pulled Scott Hartnell out of a scrum with Sidney Crosby Sunday afternoon, Adams and Hartnell were awarded with the 23rd and 24th major penalties of the playoffs. Last season, 89 games were played. We’ve only finished up 19 games.

The amount of major penalties is unprecedented. Is the amount of cheap hits? Well, I actually can’t remember my levels of indigence last season, but there was some kerfuffle about Raffi Torres and a few pigs slaughtered in a Montreal/Boston series, one would expect.

Old-time hockey? Well, it certainly isn’t anything I’m used to. What’s odd is the actual number of fights, truly. The number of fighting majors assessed in the playoffs since the lockout, drops 71.9% from the regular season to the postseason. There were 1.15 fighting majors per game handed out in regular season contests between 2006 and 2011, and just 0.32 in the playoffs.

So games with lots of fights aren’t necessarily “playoff-type atmospheres”. They’re the reverse. A playoff-type atmosphere has, since the lockout, been less likely to provide a fight, until this season. What people may see as a rejuvenation of old-time hockey, it’s something a lot of people born post WHA-merger aren’t used to. Fighting was down in the regular season to its lowest level since 2007, at 0.89 fighting majors per game. In the postseason, that’s up to 1.11. For anybody who says this is “playoff hockey”, they’re either cheating themselves or living in the past.

Last season, there were 16 fighting majors assessed in the entire first round, and we’re already at 21 this season. What makes this year special? You had rivalry series’ last season as well as lots of close games.

For the rest of the majors, there’s a chance that the increase in majors is all part of some crackdown we aren’t really noticing, but it’s showing up in the stat pages. While Shea Weber wasn’t penalized except for a two-minute minor and pocket change for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s face into the glass, it’s an example of an uncalled infraction that gets scrutinized every year. Maybe we have more to scrutinize because we expect better from players. The worst, in my view, was TJ Galiardi taking a run at Andy McDonald in Game 2 of San Jose-St. Louis.

Another explanation could be a small sample, but since we’ve almost already hit last season’s quota of majors, that one probably won’t fly with me unless the teams are on their best behaviour from here on out.

I’d like to try to present this data without too much more opinion getting in the way, but here are the post lockout numbers for fights in the regular season and playoffs (presented in chart form) since the lockout. You can see fighting peaked in 2009 in the regular season but has been more staggered in the playoffs. This season is, as noted, a bit of an outlier, to say the least:

[Information gathered via hockeyfights.net and NHL.com]

The number of misconducts handed out is actually quite consistent year-to-year in the playoffs, and there hasn’t been much change this season.

As for entertainment, that’s entirely subjective. It isn’t anything I’m used to seeing, which is why I made more sense of this .gif of a chipmunk riding a turntable:

Comments (8)

  1. I think that, apart from the fighting, the physical style of hockey we are seeing is still pretty regular from past posts-seasons that I can recall. I guess players are taking more offense with more infractions and are more willing to drop the gloves over things. I guess we are getting more sensitive to “voilence” (I still think, flying elbows aside, much of what I’ve seen as been physical, but not overly violent for hockey).

    I wonder which series the fighting majors are alotted to. I mean, Pittsburgh unravelling this year must play a big role in this whole jump, no?

    Good post! Better gif! :D

    • Kind of agree with this. Same point, different perspective:

      - On CBC, the announcers spent 5 minutes trying to find a way that Dustin Brown’s hit on Sedin was illegal. It was a big violent hit, so there must be something wrong with it.

      Wait . . . hold on . . . it was actually a clean, playoff hit.

      • Have never been closer to actually muting the sound on a CBC Hockey broadcast. Have done it with fox, nbc but never CBC. I have a feeling game four is when it happens, they will be in denial when the canucks are being eliminated and sound even more delusional than usual. If that is possible.
        Go Kings!… we east of BC thank you for your efforts!

  2. Seems like it’s just a couple of series skewing the average – Philly / Pens, obviously, and to a lesser extent STL / SJ (for that brawl at the end of Game Two).

    But most of the other series have had one fight, if that. And a couple of those were in ridiculous circumstances, like the Kopitar fight on Saturday that barely qualified (it seemed like the refs weren’t letting anything go, because otherwise that should’ve been an instigator / roughing combo at best).

  3. I would have to think the majority as mentioned, are coming from Pittsburgh and their spoiled brat captain not getting what they want so far. Any time you have guys blatantly targeting star players and trying to injure them, fights should ensue.
    I don’t understand how an NFL coach can be suspended for an entire year for a “bounty program”, and Penguins gutless coach Bylsma can clearly send out goons and morons like Asham to hurt Flyers star players with not even a thought of reprecussions from the league. The NHL has lost control with spotty and inconsistent discipline both with suspensions at the league level, and game to game officiating. Until they find a standard for these players to identify with, every game is going to look like a scene from slapshot in some of these series, it’s inevitable. Chris Neil and Asham should be gone for the series for the filth they displayed yesterday, instead they will be suited up for when the disgruntled penguins really get stupid during a an elimination game going badly. You would think sid would refrain from targeting players heads based on what he has been through, guess not. Would be surprised if one or more flyers were not concussed in the third period during that disgusting display.

  4. I think the matchups for the playoffs have teams that really dont like each other and payback is happening first chance they get. Also they dont think the league is going to do enough to deter the cheap hits

  5. Fighting begets fighting begets fighting. How often do you see a one-off fight in a playoff series? Almost never. Every once in awhile a series gets out of hand and there are fights all the time. We just happen to have a few of them this round.

    Also, I don’t think playoff atmosphere really has anything to do with fighting. It has to do with the intensity of the game being played. Does this sometimes lead to fighting? Of course. Realistically, the reason that fighting normally drops in the postseason is the removal (or reducing) of the fight-only players, as well as the staged fight. All that is left are the fights from intensity boiling over.

  6. I think you hit it right on the head but then dismissed yourself. This is a case of small sample size (19 games versus 550-600 gp over the past 6 postseasons) and, let’s face it, the start to this postseason has to be considered an outlier for reasons mentioned in previous posts.

    I think both of Derek’s points are well taken that “fighting begets fighting” and that a playoff atmosphere is about the intensity-level and has nothing to do with fighting.

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