Did the Leafs' emphasis on fighting help them make the playoffs?

Cam Charron
April 21 2013 04:34PM

I'm hearing it everywhere this season, well, mostly on Coach's Corner and on the comment section of my website. "The Leafs are winning because they're tougher and fighting more."

In fact, the New York Rangers lost their fighter Brandon Prust in the offseason. They've gone from 1st in the league in fighting majors to 24th (through Saturday, according to HockeyFights.net) and have gone from Presidents' Trophy contenders to bubble team.

Prust went from New York to Montreal in the offseason. Montreal went from 22nd in fighting majors last season to seventh, and have since gone from a lottery team to a team competing for the title in the tough Northeast Division with the likes of the Boston Bruins! The other team in that division, Toronto, lead the league in fights and are going to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years!

Clearly, fighting means something right?

Well, no, not really.

I went back and looked at all the seasons since 2001 when the league expanded to 30 teams. What I did was look at see whether drastic changes in the number of fights a team had really changed much in the way of win totals.

The standard deviation for change in fighting majors in a season is between 17 and 18. I checked the average win total for teams that had eclipsed that particular standard deviation, plus or minus, from year-to-year and checked the average win total:

Standard Deviations # of teams Average Wins Increase
2 3 0.3
1 33 0.6
-1 34 2.5
-2 11 6.7

Pretty standard stuff.

The main takeaway is that teams that increased by more than 35 fights (or two standard deviations) got about a third extra win. Those that decreased their fight total by more than 35, however, increased their win total by 6.7.

Of course, not *every* team wins more games year-to-year. Teams that didn't increase or decrease their fight total by a standard deviation tend to lose a little more (about 1.3 games) so I think the general idea is that a general shift in philosophy is positive, but it's more positive if you take a progressive approach.

The other thing isn't necessarily that fighting less equals wins. Fights generally come from replacement-level players. The 2006 Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, respectively, came out of the last lockout replacing thugs like Eric Boulton and Chris Simon with skilled players Tim Connolly, Thomas Vanek, Petr Prucha and Martin Straka.

Still, it's important to note that an emphasis on toughness, while it worked for the Maple Leafs this season, is not a universal truth, no matter what Don Cherry says. The Leafs relied on good goaltending, good shooting luck and a Hart Trophy nomination-calibre season from Phillip J. Kessel. Given that teams in the past that have historically increased their fight totals by a wide margin haven't done better than those that took a more progressive turn, I wouldn't be so quick to say that the fortunes of the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Rangers indicates that more toughness is good.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 MaxPower417
April 21 2013, 06:10PM
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@Dave

Uhh what. The "stats" in this post are wins. So your opinion is that fighting helps a team win but it doesn't show up in the "stat" of wins?

Uhhhhh

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#4 Justin
April 21 2013, 07:08PM
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I don't understand the entire concept of deterrence. If it was true that players won't do stuff they would do without tough guys, how come we saw Reimer get run over like three times last night. Also, if Orr and McLaren really make people not want to have to deal with them, why do we lead the leagues in fights? You would think for a team that supposedly scares the fear of god into the opposing team, so many players wouldn't be so eager to fight us yet they do. Doesn't that inherently disprove that fighting has any impact on the game whatsoever. And also, how many times does the actual player committing the act that leads to a team looking for retribution actually have to answer for himself? Some other player will take the fight instead. I just don't see how anyone can think's fighting matters. As for the "fighting gives your team a boost" believers, how in the world can you believe that? The only boost it gives the Leafs is that they don't have to have Orr or McLaren on the ice for the next 5 minutes!

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#5 Paul Busch
April 21 2013, 05:06PM
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Pretty similar results to what I reported back in February 2012 - http://itsnotpartofthegame.blogspot.ca/2012/02/additional-statistics-on-impact-of.html.

I looked at 12 NHL seasons and measured success for teams that fight most and least. Surprise, if you rely more on skill you were more likely to finish higher in the standings, make the playoffs and ultimately win the Stanley Cup. But don't try to tell Cherry that.

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#6 Dave
April 21 2013, 05:56PM
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I think you undervalue the effect that fighting and the fourth line in general has. Fighting sets the tone for games and does things advanced metrics and possession stats can't accurately quantify and generally undervalue as a whole. Orr and McLaren shouldn't both dress every night because they can become a liability, but the emphasis on fighting when they are in the lineup definitely does help this team win games regardless of whether or not the stats support it.

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#7 jasken
April 21 2013, 06:41PM
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The purpose of an enforcer or fighter their there as a deterrent so teams dont take certain liberties. When teams do cheap shots and run goalie they had better be willing to face enforcers. You dont see known cheap shot guys taking advantage of Leafs this year as much as last. They dont wanna fight Orr or Maclaren plane and simple and thats their purpose. All teams have them even Pittsburg and Chicago. Its about what their presence brings not just their fighting. If you want to protect your stars that's their job. Even Gretzky had McSorley for that reason protection.This brings alot more confidence and belief in players and what they can do

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#8 antro
April 21 2013, 06:55PM
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I think you are underestimating how much better we fans feel when we root for a sucky team, and have a guy who beats up the other team's guy. That's just not quantifiable with your fancy-pants stats like wins...;)

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#9 jasken
April 21 2013, 09:10PM
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@Justin

If you honestly think enforcers aren't needed go tell any stanley cup champion if there is even 1 that didn't have at least 1 they didn't need to have them. Even Kadri said it he dont have to worry about dropping gloves because they do it so he dont have too. Maybe seeing Kadri out for 4 -6 weeks with a broken hand or concussion from fighting you would be happy with since he had to fight rather then an Orr or a Maclaren but hey no enforcers are playing so days of old return. The goal scorers fighting guys they aren't in league with guys like Kessel fighting a guy like Neil. I wouldn't recommend it but obviously people like you would they dont need enforcers right.

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#10 Michael
April 21 2013, 09:34PM
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@jasken

To be honest, I highly dislike Orr and MacLaren. The only thing they are good for is to fight. They are terrible on offense and even worse on defense. And, sometimes they fight at the worst times. Why are you fighting AFTER you have a lead? It makes no sense. Take the game against the Isles as an example. Leafs go up 2-0, have all the momentum, and then 2 fights break out. After those two fights, it was downhill for the Leafs.

Also, to say that Kessel would fight someone like Neil is a bit far stretched don't you think?

Personally, I don't mind seeing these guys fight goons to stick up for the team or to change momentum after losing a lead, but I don't like staged fights (ex. off a draw), and the less I see these guys in a game, the better it is for me. Every time these gus are in their own zone I'm worried that a goal is coming.

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#11 Michael
April 21 2013, 09:46PM
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@jasken

Steve Dangle makes a really good point in this video. Sums up everything I believe about hockey and Orr and MacLaren. :)

http://www.stevedangle.com/lfr6-game-31-down-with-goons

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#12 jasken
April 21 2013, 09:54PM
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Paul Busch wrote:

Pretty similar results to what I reported back in February 2012 - http://itsnotpartofthegame.blogspot.ca/2012/02/additional-statistics-on-impact-of.html.

I looked at 12 NHL seasons and measured success for teams that fight most and least. Surprise, if you rely more on skill you were more likely to finish higher in the standings, make the playoffs and ultimately win the Stanley Cup. But don't try to tell Cherry that.

Now that's interesting you use a phase like its not part of the game. So I guess you would be all for banning checking as it is a form of violence and can cause as much if not more injuries then fighting does. Any form of abuse it dont matter if its a fist, head or body violence is violence and all should be removed from hockey. Or are you a hypocrite and dictate what exactly is right or wrong in your own mind. I play non contact hockey just fine.

I guess its one perspective seems easy enough to justify an opinion when you dont look at all the facts only those you want too. The players that are out majority aren't from fights. Their from checks body on body.

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#13 Dave
April 21 2013, 10:20PM
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@Cam Charron

I was not referring to wins as an advanced metric, but I can understand how the way I phrased my post could lead to that interpretation. I was referring to how advanced metrics in general to not adequately portray the value fighting since a majority of your arguments on the blog use these stats to support claims against enforcers on the fourth line. My apologies for not being clear.

Regardless, I think my argument still has merit. Enforcers are present on teams which have NHL postseason success, and arguing that they have no use on a roster at all does not make sense to me.

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#15 jasken
April 21 2013, 10:29PM
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Michael wrote:

To be honest, I highly dislike Orr and MacLaren. The only thing they are good for is to fight. They are terrible on offense and even worse on defense. And, sometimes they fight at the worst times. Why are you fighting AFTER you have a lead? It makes no sense. Take the game against the Isles as an example. Leafs go up 2-0, have all the momentum, and then 2 fights break out. After those two fights, it was downhill for the Leafs.

Also, to say that Kessel would fight someone like Neil is a bit far stretched don't you think?

Personally, I don't mind seeing these guys fight goons to stick up for the team or to change momentum after losing a lead, but I don't like staged fights (ex. off a draw), and the less I see these guys in a game, the better it is for me. Every time these gus are in their own zone I'm worried that a goal is coming.

Granted on Orr but Maclaren at least he has 5 goals.

I watched Gretzky fight Broten so I know how bad it was. I was around in the days where a 50 goal scorer is having to fight a mediocre player because there was no enforcers so no its not far fetched that's the way it was.

Do I agree with what Carlyle did no but I rather have my fighters fight then have them target my star players because thats what they would do.

You give your opponent a chance for some sort of dignity losing Orr or Maclaren over losing Lupul or another targeted star is a minor consequence wouldn't you agree. Sure the momentum shifted but it's alot better then having a star player targeted and possibly injured.

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#16 Tucker_93
April 21 2013, 11:07PM
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@jasken

But thugs do not prevent your star players from being targeted. I remember Neil taking a run at Reimer, and then plastering Kessel against the boards later that same game. I do not remember Orr or McClaren taking a run at Neil or fighting Neil.

And to that Dave guy. That is the strawman of strawmen. By your logic, if a team with a useless plug of a thug makes the playoffs then thugs are important parts of a playoff team. Completely ignoring that teams with thugs miss the playoffs too. And ignoring the fact that on average teams with more fights win less games. Explain to me how thugs and fights win games when simple stats like wins prove that fights do not.

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#17 millzy09
April 21 2013, 11:40PM
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What it all comes down to is that every team responds differently to having an enforcer. The stats are interesting but it's really only something that can be assessed on a case by case basis. I do think that having toughness helped the Leafs this year. I think it built an identity which has an intangible affect on a team. Let's all remember that the Leafs are the youngest team in the league and having a big bro can make you stand a little taller.

I like that the Leafs are tough though and that they fight. I like their identity and I like the reputation they've gained in the league. Those of you who whine about fighting need to toughen up. If you don't like the rough stuff, go watch soccer. It is a big part of the game, quit being so soft.

That said, I wish that Carlyle would only dress one fighter other than in certain situations against big, rough teams. I do agree the 4th line is a bit of a liability. Our fighters aren't well rounded enough to take up 2/3 of a line and drag down whichever reasonable useful centre they are playing with. I think this will change in the playoffs when fighting typically takes a back seat. Toronto won't find as many takers imo.

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#18 John Lofranco
April 21 2013, 11:57PM
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What would happen if a team just refused to fight? The other teams wouldn't "respect" them? Their goalie would get run? That's not what really happens though. Saturday night the Leafs dressed two fighters, both of whom fought, and almost right after the fight, Neil runs over Reimer. So if there hadn't been a fight, what would have happened?

If players walk away from a fight, it's always the guy trying to fight who looks like an idiot, and while I don't have the stats to back it up, it seems to me such a show of maturity and reserve may have a more calming, positive impact on a team than a scrap. Or maybe it doesn't at all, but maybe you get a power play out of it.

I understand, though, why teams have enforcers: it is very hard to innovate and be first. Then again, some teams are getting over fighting. how are the Chicago Blackhawks managing to lead the league with the same number of fights as the non-playoff New Jersey Devils? I would like to have explained to me by any of the pro-fighting posters above why the Hawks don't seem to need to fight to win?

Final point/counter-point: the players themselves say they appreciate it. Kadri has mentioned feeling "bigger" on the ice because of Orr+McLaren. So it may not be the coaches and fans you have to convince, but the players themselves. And if the players think there is an advantage, it's possible there is one. You can't do the experiment to see what would happen because every team and every player are different.

I know if I were an NHL coach, I would dress as many skilled hockey players as possible, and I would try to send them out against the other teams' less skilled players. This isn't the 70s: goons generally only fight other goons. If there is no one to fight, all they can do is chase better players down the ice...

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#19 Tucker_93
April 22 2013, 12:24AM
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What I don't get is that if someone argues that fights don't help you win or that goons shouldn't be playing ahead of people like Frattin then people will say you are soft and don't like fights. I love fights, I love hitting. I love players that can play hockey and step up and not just fight, but fight well when needed. Steve Dangle puts it best and I agree with him. I love fights, what I don't love is people like Orr and McClaren. People where their only 'talent' is throwing punches and taking punches. People like Prust, Neil, Shawn Thornton. They can fight with the best of them, but they can also help keep the puck out of your net and in the other team's net. I have no issues with them fighting, I have an issue with the NHL having any room for people like Orr.

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#20 Derek
April 22 2013, 12:49AM
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Michael wrote:

Steve Dangle makes a really good point in this video. Sums up everything I believe about hockey and Orr and MacLaren. :)

http://www.stevedangle.com/lfr6-game-31-down-with-goons

I'd like to point out that the game after this video, MacLaren scored the game winner on an assist from Orr. Just sayin.

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#21 leafer4life
April 22 2013, 07:13AM
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The focus is too one dimensional by looking only at fighting and on one variable. What is the key factor is the leaf identity. And for this you need to include - fighting, hit, blocked shots etc as these in totality are what creates the leaf hard to play against identity.

To me this is like taking height and ignoring the contribution of weight and muscle mass etc when looking for a correlation to how much a person can lift.

But let me also add who cares. Learning about Fenwick and PDO this season has ruined my enjoyment of leaf games and their playoff success. Why are you trying to take out all the fun from the leafs and hockey for us fan?

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#22 Back in Black
April 22 2013, 07:17AM
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@jasken

"If you honestly think enforcers aren't needed go tell any stanley cup champion if there is even 1 that didn't have at least 1 they didn't need to have them."

The Kings didn't dress a goon for the playoffs. Last year. When they won. Good memory, though.

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#23 Michael
April 22 2013, 08:12AM
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Derek wrote:

I'd like to point out that the game after this video, MacLaren scored the game winner on an assist from Orr. Just sayin.

Ya. I know that, but I'm saying in general, alll they are good for is fighting.

And don't get me wrong, I don't mind fighting in hockey. Its fun to watch, but I don't like staged fights, and also I don't like seeing them fight after a lead. It doesn't make sense. Sure. Keep them in the line up, but don't have them play 10+ minutes a game.

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#24 Michael
April 22 2013, 08:18AM
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jasken wrote:

Granted on Orr but Maclaren at least he has 5 goals.

I watched Gretzky fight Broten so I know how bad it was. I was around in the days where a 50 goal scorer is having to fight a mediocre player because there was no enforcers so no its not far fetched that's the way it was.

Do I agree with what Carlyle did no but I rather have my fighters fight then have them target my star players because thats what they would do.

You give your opponent a chance for some sort of dignity losing Orr or Maclaren over losing Lupul or another targeted star is a minor consequence wouldn't you agree. Sure the momentum shifted but it's alot better then having a star player targeted and possibly injured.

Its not particularly the fighting part that I don't like about them. If they were better defensively and (even though MacLaren has 5 goals), they don't really pose any offensive threat either. Like I said before, keep them on the ice, but not for more that 6 or 7 minutes. Other then fighting and hitting, they're more unuseful for the team then they are useful. Just saying :)

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#26 Bryon
April 22 2013, 11:09AM
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After a similar debate with a friend a few years ago, I ran some numbers in Excel to look at whether fighting had a positive impact. He argued that fighting contributed to winning and that it prevented injuries. I simply couldn't (and still can't) believe that replacing skill with one-dimensional goons can possibly help a team win.

At the time (2003 or so), I looked at fight numbers & some key metrics over a 3-season span and found two strong correlations: (a) teams that fought a lot tended to have less wins, and (b) teams that fought a lot lost more man games to injuries.

Granted, my analysis was fairly simplistic and I was only looking at correlations, but on its face the results supported my argument.

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#27 Bryan
April 22 2013, 12:18PM
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The weakness of stats-based analysis.

Goaltending stats, +/-, and now this...just weak in assessing the overall value of a single player. Can those stats tell a piece of the truth, sure - and in some cases, very accurately...some cases.

However, I don't believe there is a stat for CHEMISTRY and the affect of a good locker room... A fighter can definitely add to chemistry - some can take away too. I'd say that Sean Avery had a positive impact at times and very negative impact at other times.

Hockey is a team game. The system used, the players in that system, and unity of the team all contribute to the stats...so often individual stats are merely a thermometer for how the system is working.

Pekka Rinne is a great example - his play wasn't worse this year. But his stats make it look like an off year...

The stats are REAL but the interpretations of stats can be very misleading.

Anyway, to look at the numbers in a general way and declare that fighting/team toughness has no significant impact or, maybe even, negative impact is ludicrous.

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#28 jasken
April 22 2013, 01:08PM
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Back in Black wrote:

"If you honestly think enforcers aren't needed go tell any stanley cup champion if there is even 1 that didn't have at least 1 they didn't need to have them."

The Kings didn't dress a goon for the playoffs. Last year. When they won. Good memory, though.

who's kyle Clifford again I know my memory is vague how soon I forgot and didn't he play in playoffs yes yes he did.

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#29 Killawatt
April 22 2013, 01:40PM
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@Bryon

"I simply couldn't (and still can't) believe that replacing skill with one-dimensional goons can possibly help a team win".

Carlyle plays his 4th line sparingly, in situations that their specialties are called for. Orr played less that 4:00 against Ottawa but mostly gets about 6:00. So if it's skill you want, you got it. The top three lines get more ice time because Orr and McLaren play so little.

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#30 Daniel Wagner
April 22 2013, 01:41PM
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jasken wrote:

who's kyle Clifford again I know my memory is vague how soon I forgot and didn't he play in playoffs yes yes he did.

Kyle Clifford played a grand total of three playoff games last year and none in the Final. Try again.

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#31 Killawatt
April 22 2013, 02:49PM
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Appreciate the league wide fights to wins %, but what if we start looking at conferences individually. Important this season in particularly because of no inter conference play.

For one, the east fights more than the west. Nine of the highest Fifteen fighting teams come from the eastern conference.

The Leafs are in the most scrappy division by far. Every team is in the top 10 in fighting majors, four of them (Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Ottawa) are in the top 6.

The capitals and islanders are the only two teams going to the playoffs from the east who are in the lower half of the league as far as fighting.

One wonders if the Leafs dressing two goons is as much to do with the conference and division we play in as it has to do with Carlyle's history of using fighting as a component of his teams culture?

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#32 jasken
April 22 2013, 03:13PM
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Daniel Wagner wrote:

Kyle Clifford played a grand total of three playoff games last year and none in the Final. Try again.

I never said they played them I said they have them for a reason if a team wants to go that route they wanna throw a guy out there that will take certain liberties they can be matched if needed. Stanley Cup Finals are about playing the best you can. No body lost dignity those were good stanley cup games it wasn't like there was a 5-0 blow out or teams run up the score they showed respect to their opponents.

In regular season there is no respect for opposing team and when you dont show the opposing team some respect they will command it 1 way or another. You dont spit in someone's face unless your looking to get your bell rung. Teams dont need an 11-1 or 8-0 score to show their more dominate team you do that your players deserve a beating. That is a spit in the face.

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#33 jasken
April 22 2013, 03:22PM
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I love how soon everyone forgot that on the Leafs 2003-2004 team they had 3 fighters and finished with 103 pts to say they dont contribute and only take up space how many points have they had without them on their team 90pts maybe now that is interesting.

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#34 m@
April 22 2013, 03:56PM
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*** CAVEMAN ALERT ***

To say that enforces are not a part of the game or part of an NHL team - is to say that you know more about hockey than the majority of NHL coaches and managers. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

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#35 tnleaf
April 22 2013, 03:59PM
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This study is all wrong as fighting is about gaining and earning respect and not about winning explicitly.

There are two games being played on the ice - ideally you win them both but sometimes you only win or the other.

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#36 Killawatt
April 22 2013, 04:00PM
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@jasken

Are you talking about Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson and Wade Belak?

Because Tucker was coming off a 24 goal season and Corson scored almost 300 goals in his career. They would fight, indeed, but they were not "fighters" in the one-dimensional way that McLaren and Orr are.

End of the day, the Leafs are winning with this fighter element. Use that in your arguments, you'll get further.

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#37 jasken
April 22 2013, 04:28PM
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Killawatt wrote:

Are you talking about Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson and Wade Belak?

Because Tucker was coming off a 24 goal season and Corson scored almost 300 goals in his career. They would fight, indeed, but they were not "fighters" in the one-dimensional way that McLaren and Orr are.

End of the day, the Leafs are winning with this fighter element. Use that in your arguments, you'll get further.

No in 2003- 2004 wade belak, Nathan perrott, Tie Domi although domi had some talent I would be pushing to say either of those other 2 had any other then fighting. Corson and Tucker were not fighters any more then MacCarthur is and Corson wasn't on either years of those teams he was 2002-2003

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#38 Killawatt
April 22 2013, 05:26PM
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@jasken

Sorry. I looked at 2002-2003. Like an idiot. Carry on.

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#39 Chuck Diesel
April 22 2013, 06:26PM
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m@ said:

*** CAVEMAN ALERT ***

To say that enforces are not a part of the game or part of an NHL team - is to say that you know more about hockey than the majority of NHL coaches and managers. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

Let me rephrase this for you

To say that the world isn't flat is to say you know more about geography than the best scientists and religious scholars of the 1100's. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

To say that your prime minister is doing things wrong is to say you know more about politics than the politicians. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

To say that marijuana is not a step-drug is to say that you know more about drug use than the doctors and nurses. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

To say that your brain doesn't contain an Ego, a super-ego and an ID is to say you know more than Sigmund Freud. Pretty pretentious in my opinion.

Unless you do it directly, not allowed to have an opinion? Pretty ridiculous if you ask me.

To the rest of you that say the benefits of fighting don't show up in stats: Stats measure who's doing better. If fighting doesn't show up, then it has no effect. You understand? If fighting made them play better than the stats would show they play better. Do you not realize this?

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#40 Dave
April 22 2013, 08:18PM
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@Chuck Diesel

Stats are a great tool for evaluating and judging talent, but stats are not the be all - end all that I think some are trying to make it out to be. I think what the pro-enforcer sentiment of this blog is trying to say is that stats do not show things such as chemistry and confidence, and having fighters in your lineup definitely presents some of those intangibles that can't be quantitatively obtained by looking at stats.

The argument that on average having less on an emphasis on fighting equaling more wins is fine, but it does not mean having less toughness equals more wins. The bottom five teams in fights this year are the Devils, Yotes, Caps, Wings, and Oilers, and of those teams only the Capitals are in a playoff spot. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but it still shows that less fighting does not necessarily equate wins.

Hockey is a physical sport and toughness is a part of the game, and having played and been around hockey for 15 years I can assure you that the enforcer does a lot more than what is done on the ice. Enforcers are often the least skilled player on the team, but also the hardest working, and having those types of players in a locker room is invaluable to team chemistry and cohesion. The stats may not support this, but there is value to having players like Orr and McLaren by virtue of the way in which they play and the example they set for the team.

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#41 Justin
April 22 2013, 08:44PM
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@m@

No, it just means coaches haven't evolved their way of thinking about the game as much as they could have. I don't think were saying fighters have no use, its fighters that can't do anything but fight that are useless Orr and McLaren, while definitely more talented than the 99% of the world, are in the bottom 1% of talent in the NHL, and that makes them liabilities and useless.

As for the entire, fighting changes the culture, makes you harder to play against argument, there is no proof of that. Look at Detroit, they won a cup in 2008 with a team many considered soft, but in reality they had a hard team to play against and beat you with talent.

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#42 Chuck Diesel
April 22 2013, 09:20PM
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Dave,

Toughness and fighting are two different things. Fighting on its own is completely and utterly useless. Toughness is a whole other ballgame. Kulemin is mega-tough but he doesn't fight. Colton Orr is a zero of a hockey player who can barely skate and to be honest doesn't even hit much since he can't catch up to anyone. I'd rather have 1 Komarov or Kulemin for 20000 Orr's.

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#43 Justin S.
April 22 2013, 09:43PM
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@Dave

But if fighting provides intangibles such as chemistry and confidence, then those intangibles would show themselves in the stats (i.e wins). A fighter may provide chemistry, confidence, protection for skilled players, etc., but then we would likely see that result in better Fenwick ratios, shooting percentages, or some other stat. Admittedly, a fighter's influence may be hard to measure, but as I said, if there is any benefit to a fighter, then it would lead to more success for the team, and therefore more wins. So far, nobody has conclusively shown that fighting leads to more wins.

In addition, as a GM or coach, you want to make the best decisions you can given the information available. It certainly is possible that fighters make teams more successful, however, there is currently no evidence (available to us, anyway) to support that position. There is, however, plenty of evidence to suggest more skilled players lead to success. Therefore, you can be more confident in your decision to play skilled players rather than fighters.

Please note that by "fighters" I mean those enforcers with little offensive or defensive ability.

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#44 Dave
April 22 2013, 10:23PM
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@Justin S.

Understood and well put. But there are examples of having enforcers (or goons who only fight) which lead to team success. Leafs are constantly out-shot and prone to playing defensively for large stretches of the game this year, yet still win. I am not going to suggest this is solely a result of having Orr and McLaren in the lineup, but I do think that they have added an element to this team which has contributed to the success of the squad despite the fact that their contribution will not be shown in the stat sheet.

I will agree that there is no evidence which supports enforcers equals an increase in wins, but it doesn't mean that enforcers do not contribute to wins (begrudgingly I realize the naivety of this statement, but I am trying to argue something qualitatively rather than quantitatively, so bear with me). The things added by enforcers may not show up in things like Fenwick and possession ratios, but they can have an impact on a team and how they approach the game. Things like the tone of a game and momentum, variables not tracked or counted, are perhaps the things most affected in the course of a game by enforcers. I get how this is a subjective and uneducated way to look at things, but regardless it is of value and it is there.

@Chuck Diesel

I too would rather have a Komarov or a Kulemin too over an Orr or McLaren, but those are much tougher to come by than a replacement level enforcer. I agree that a player with skill and the ability to fight has a much higher value than simply a fighter alone, but those players are harder to find and are less common. There is a distinction to be made between fighting and toughness, I agree. However the ability to drop the gloves is an important aspect when talking about toughness in hockey. Therefore, the enforcer still plays a role on hockey teams that can be successful and benefit the team.

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#45 millzy09
April 23 2013, 12:13AM
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As I mentioned way back. This can only be measured on a case by case basis. Different groups of players respond differently to having enforcers on the team. I would go out on a limb and say that a younger team is more easily impacted by these players than an older team.

Stupid example but the best I can do off the top of my head. Think about getting a new job. When you're young it's always nice to have someone you know at the new workplace because it makes you feel more comfortable. As you get older, it's not nearly as important because you've probably been through the new workplace experience multiple times in the past and at the end of the day it's not that important.

Again case by case. My position is that it DID help the leafs this year. They were a team without an identity and without direction. They now have both in being a fast, tough, crappy team to play against.

@Chuck Diesel...if you've ever seen an enforcer play rec league or bush league pro, you wouldn't say they are a zero. Believe it or not, these guys are still some of the best hockey players in the world.

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#46 Lemming
April 23 2013, 12:41AM
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I think you guys are confusing having guys who can fight or are enforcers vs. number of fights. They're very different things.

I don't think Cam is suggesting that having tough, grinding, hard working guys is bad for a hockey team. In fact, I'm not even sure how you got there.

The whole point was to show that having more fights doesn't equal more wins. In fact, he showed a higher increase in wins when a team has less fights.

Whether a reduction in fighting was the cause of more wins, or more wins being the cause of less fighting, I don't know. But having a higher number in the "fights" column does not, according to Cam's study, equal more wins.

Pay attention to language people, linguistics, semantics, so forth!

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#47 Justin S.
April 23 2013, 10:56AM
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@Dave

I know momentum shifts is commonly used to defend enforcers. Gabriel Desjardins actually did a study on that by looking at all fights where there was a clear winner and looking for any change in goal differential afterward. He found a positive outcome, but not a big one.

http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=222

His conclusion:

"Now before you get excited about your favorite team signing a new goon, remember that an NHL team needs to improve its goal differential by approximately six goals to win one additional game. So winning a fight is worth a little more than 1/80th of a win in the standings; given that the best fighters might win at most ten fights in a season, the direct benefit is probably on the order of having the equipment guys make sure nobody's playing with an illegal stick."

And I refer to my second paragraph in my previous post. You may be right that enforcers contribute to success, but there is no proof. There is proof that skilled players contribute to success. To me, the question isn't whether enforcers provide ANY value, but whether they provide GREATER value than another available player with better offensive/defensive ability. And given that all the current evidence lines up on the side of the skilled player, then it would be silly to dress the enforcer.

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#48 Ben Wendorf
April 26 2013, 08:20AM
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Goons are so valuable even GMs know it, that's why they always get the big contracts and never switch teams.

Sarcasm aside, Cam, it would be interesting to put a salary value on a fighter. If they're a slight positive, what's the market for them, and what's an overpay? Orr is clearly an overpay, but should any of them received more than league minimum? You'd really need to categorize apart goons that can move the puck and those that can't...maybe TOI would help with that.

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