Does Fighting Deter Other Nasty Business in Hockey?

Bruce Bennett

Since the hockey season has started back up and players are yet again being injured in fights, the debate about whether or not fighting should remain a part of hockey has reignited. Personally, I think fighting does have a place in hockey, just not the staged goon-on-goon violence that accounts for nearly half of all fights in the NHL. Two guys who have their emotions boil over in a tight game? Sure. Two ham-fisted meatheads fighting on their first shift together for no reason whatsoever? Pass.

In a poorly thought out and executed article over at the Predators blog On the Forecheck, the argument was attempted to be made that fighting has place because people still pay to watch the game with fighting in it, or something like that. Like I said, it's not very well thought out. Anyway, I ventured into the comments, as I'm prone to do, and my views on fighting were challenged with one of the most cliched responses regarding fighting's place in hockey:

Fighting diminishes the use of the stick (slash, spear, etc.) skate (slue foot, trip near the boards, etc.) and the really dangerous employment of knees and elbows to solve disagreements on the ice.

There are few things I hate more than unsubstantiated claims spoken as if they were true. In fact, I think it's for that reason that I got into blogging in the first place; I wanted to see for myself what the actual truth of the matter was with regards to hockey and the various claims made about the game. So presented for the umpteenth time with this cliched response on Dirk Hoag's blog, a lightbulb went off. Dirk, as you may know, compiles a list every year compiling the various penalty types called that season. This data I figured could be used to determine whether or not fighting deters any of that other rough stuff we're constantly told it does.

What I figured is that if fighting deterred naughty behavior, then teams who fought more would draw less naughty behavior penalties. The penalties which I classified as "non-obstruction penalties" were: boarding, charging, checking from behind, clipping, cross-checking, elbowing, illegal check to the head, kneeing, roughing, slashing, and spearing. Pretty much the type of behavior that could get you an invitation to eat fists from the Colton Orr's of the league if 'The Code' is to be followed. (Which it never is because there is no code.)

So I got in touch with Dirk and he gave me his data for the 2012-13 season. This is what I found:

Team Fighting Majors Penalty Total Boarding Charging Checking from behind Clipping Cross checking Elbowing Illegal check to head Kneeing Roughing Slashing Spearing
ANA 22 30 3 1 3 13 10
BOS 29 37 4 1 5 3 13 11
BUF 25 62 10 1 13 1 1 23 13
CAR 22 48 6 1 8 7 2 21 3
CBJ 33 52 11 1 7 1 1 21 10
CGY 21 40 3 2 7 2 16 10
CHI 16 35 7 5 1 16 6
COL 22 40 6 4 1 18 11
DAL 25 58 4 2 8 3 1 28 11 1
DET 14 47 9 1 9 4 1 15 8
EDM 13 54 16 10 17 11
FLA 20 38 3 1 5 2 15 12
L.A 18 62 11 1 10 3 24 13
MIN 23 53 6 2 9 1 1 28 6
MTL 23 75 8 1 1 17 2 33 13
N.J 16 59 7 3 6 3 1 25 14
NSH 21 38 1 6 20 11
NYI 17 44 2 1 8 22 11
NYR 17 34 7 1 6 2 10 8
OTT 23 61 9 2 7 2 27 14
PHI 30 70 7 2 11 5 33 12
PHX 15 54 4 1 10 3 1 19 16
PIT 20 65 5 2 12 1 28 17
S.J 18 53 7 1 12 20 13
STL 20 66 7 12 1 31 14 1
T.B 28 53 7 2 1 5 1 1 1 24 11
TOR 41 58 10 1 3 28 16
VAN 28 51 6 3 7 1 1 24 9
WPG 26 39 2 4 1 1 2 17 12
WSH 13 55 9 1 6 1 1 25 12
Total 659 1531 197 32 4 1 235 52 6 10 654 338 2
Average 22 51 6.6 1.1 0.1 0 7.8 1.7 0.2 0.3 21.8 11.3 0.1

Google doc spreadsheet can be found here.

If it looks like you don't see a pattern, it's because there is none. I ran a correlation study between fighting majors taken and non-obstruction penalties drawn and the r^2 value came back 0.0257; non-obstruction penalties actually increased with fighting majors though there's hardly any correlation there.

(click to embiggen)

Fighting_medium

As Dirk puts the rest of his penalty data into spreadsheets, I'll update mine to see if there's any change at all; though I highly doubt it.

This should be the proverbial nail in the coffin for talk about fighting serving as a deterrent for naughty behavior in hockey.

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