Answering the Bell, or Ringing It?

Look at that face. Look at it. - Claus Andersen

It's common wisdom that teams employ enforcers so their skill players can avoid fights, but do teams with goons really spare their skill players?

One of the big reasons for enforcers in the league is the idea that "Goons Fight So Skill Players Don't Have To." But after Phil Kessel sent Brian Flynn into some sort of "Call of Kth'essel"-esque zone of eternal undying (pictured above), I asked myself: isn't this someone else's job?

WIth the help of SkinnyFish, who lovingly assembled the data, we wanted to see if acquiring a goon meant that skill players would end up spending less time in the box (or being concussed). To weed out any actualy players who just like to fight, we designated goons as players with a minimum of 3 fighting majors in a season and under 100 minutes TOI between fights.

A table of fights, as represented by "goon" and "non-goon" players, through three seasons, 2011-2013. You can play with the data here, including criticism of who made the cut by our criteria (go to "file" and "download as..." or "make a copy.").

TEAM
FM TOT
GOON
GOON%
NONGOON
NONGOON %
CBJ 145 100 69% 45 31%
NYR 145 94 65% 51 35%
STL 141 84 60% 57 40%
TOR 129 84 65% 45 35%
BOS 164 83 51% 81 49%
ANA 134 73 54% 61 46%
NYI 113 72 64% 41 36%
PHI 137 67 49% 70 51%
PIT 124 61 49% 63 51%
OTT 125 57 46% 68 54%
LA 101 56 55% 45 45%
COL 101 52 51% 49 49%
WSH 87 49 56% 38 44%
DAL 105 47 45% 58 55%
CGY 92 46 50% 46 50%
MIN 98 43 44% 55 56%
VAN 95 42 44% 53 56%
CHI 85 42 49% 43 51%
PHX 66 38 58% 28 42%
NJ 92 37 40% 55 60%
BUF 95 35 37% 60 63%
EDM 95 35 37% 60 63%
FLA 75 33 44% 42 56%
WPG 94 29 31% 65 69%
SJ 101 28 28% 73 72%
MTL 85 26 31% 59 69%
CAR 67 21 31% 46 69%
NSH 58 18 31% 40 69%
TB 73 17 23% 56 77%
DET 42 8 19% 34 81%
TOTAL 3064 1477 1587
AVG 102 49 48% 53 52%

I think the results are unsurprising. Picking up Jared Boll, for example, doesn't necessarily mean you're sparing any non-goon player; you're just adding Boll's fights to your team total. (For the math-y types, the r^2 of goon fights to non-goon fights is 0.0312.)

It's worth noting that examining "goon fights" vs. "points in the standings" would be almost useless - Boston, sits near the top, Detroit sits near the bottom, both have been very successful clubs in the past. This doesn't mean that goons don't hurt your team, but it does demonstrate that you can build a successful club and still carry goons.

Breaking out Randy Carlyle teams (although these are "whole year," so it includes Boudreau/Wilson):

TEAM FM TOT GOON GOON% NONGOON NONGOON %
ANA 11 67 48 72% 19 28%
ANA 12 44 19 43% 25 57%
TOR 12 35 16 46% 19 54%
TOR 13 44 39 89% 5 11%
AVG 190 122 64% 68 36%

The Leafs definitely haven't picked up a Boston- or San Jose-esque culture of fighting up and down the roster; however, they have spent a lot of time fighting for what seems like no good reason (especially last year, when they more than doubled the next closest team in goon-fights). I guess Colton Orr will be useful next time we play the Sabres, but it should be remembered that the whole saga started because of enforcer-to-be Jamie Devane.

When you're not going to build an all-skill roster like Detroit, it's the up-and-down roster toughness - especially when combined with speed - that should be acquired and applauded. Find guys who can hit hard and win foot races, because without NHL-level skating you're just chasing after Phil Kessel, getting your legs slashed and failing to land a swing.

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