Hockey enforcers are touted as “policemen” in hockey. According to some they hand out retribution for cheap shots and their targets will think twice before about repeating their sins. It has even been suggested that their mere presence on the bench will calm things down and their opponents will play differently. Unfortunately that’s all myth and perception because the facts tell a different story.
Let’s take a season long look at the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaders by a wide margin in the fights per game category of dubious NHL statistics. Logically, if you are a firm believer that fighting is needed to police the game, you should see some of the cleanest hockey in the NHL this season simply by watching the Leafs. I’m sure they only fought to teach someone the error of their ways, and then cheap shots would disappear for the remainder of the game. Just having Orr and McLaren in the line-up night after night would cause all chippy players to save their antics for another game.
I looked at every Leafs game this year and tracked the Rat PIM (non-fight related penalty minutes of the cheap shot variety). I charted the Rat PIM for both the Leafs and their opponents, and kept a separate record for games where there was a fight versus no fighting. I also kept totals for Rat PIM before the Leafs dropped the gloves and after. The myth and perception around enforcers should result in less Rat PIM after a fight versus before, and games without fights should have more of those penalties because the “policemen” are not cracking down on the criminals. Once again, real facts and data overcomes myth and perception.
The important conclusions from this season long study:
- Rat PIMs are dramatically higher when the Leafs engaged in fights or brawls, and the majority of the penalties came AFTER the fights.
- After the Leafs enforcers dropped their gloves, Rat PIM were higher for the opponents. I guess the Rats on the other team weren’t sufficiently “policed”.
- The Leafs fought in 30 games this season. There was only one game (Feb 25th) where the Rat PIM was less before the fight. In the other 29 games the Rat PIM was higher AFTER the fight.
- The average RAT PIM/Game shows just how effective a punch to the face is when reducing cheap shots. After a fight the cheap shots are more than double for the opponents (1.04 Vs 2.50).
- Of the 48 Leafs games, 10 were played against teams that were in the top 5 in fights/game and gloves were dropped in only 7 of those (3 had no fights). If you track the same stats for those meetings the results are similar for the Leafs who have almost identical Rat PIM/Game numbers. However the Rat PIM/Game number for opponents, at 1.40, is 40% less than all teams combined. Maybe that’s where the policing works. If enforcers can keep the enforcers busy fighting, then there is no one left on the ice to cross-check or slash or drive players into the boards from behind.
It’s pretty obvious from this limited study of the team with the most fights in the NHL that the “enforcers” were useless in controlling cheap shots on the ice. In fact there is a stronger argument that engaging in fighting increased the violence and cheap shots in the game. That’s not a surprise to me. Every fact based post on this blog shows a strong correlation to more non-fight related penalties for teams who have more fights/game. “Enforcement” is a myth.
Rat PIM League Update – as of April 27, 2013
For the final update of the 2012-13 season, the trend line is even clearer than in all previous charts. It supports the above noted detailed look at the Leafs season – teams with higher fights/game will end up earning more Rat PIM.
Stats include all games up to and including April 27th. Rat PIM is the combination of non-fight related penalty minutes and includes; Roughing, Slashing, Cross Checking, Major Penalties (excluding fighting majors), Boarding and Unsportsmanlike.
The League finished the season handing out instigator penalties in 13.3% of fights. That’s still double the average that this rule was used over the previous 3 seasons but still amazing that it is not used more. The NHL should ratchet up the use of the instigator penalty and eventually teams will get the message. If they gave an instigator in 50% of the fights, which would be very easy to do, coaches would probably start telling their designated fight guys to stop fighting. Soon they would stop dressing them and eventually replace them with some skill. The NHL could do that without making any public pronouncements and risk alienating the fight fan or the NHLPA. Perhaps that’s their secret plan. I hope so.