Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Hockey Fights and Concussions / Gospel of Hockey Podcast

I have a couple of short updates in this post.  One has to do with an interesting article I came across that provided interesting data on concussions caused by hockey fights.   The other was a surprise invite to participate in a podcast for the Gospel of Hockey to discuss this blog and my thoughts on fighting in hockey today.

Hockey Fights and Concussions

Last week I was working on some research for an article on how many concussions were caused by hockey fights.  More specifically I was hoping to present some data that showed hockey fights should be a greater concern for the NHL even though their own reports showed only 8% of concussions were caused by dropping the gloves.

Anytime someone pointed out that blows to the head, specifically punches, could potentially cause concussions, some pro-fight statistician would use the 8% number reinforce the fact that the overwhelming majority of concussions came from clean hockey hits.  They would then deal the decisive blow by stating, “So if we are trying to eliminate concussions we should ban all hockey hits”.  Here’s the problem with that argument – you’re comparing apples and oranges.

Although the rate of concussions due to fighting is single digits you have to take into account the number of fights that cause them.  You then would compare that to the number of concussions caused by hockey hits. In the 2011-12 NHL season there were more than 100 times the number of hockey hits versus fights.   Using those rough numbers, and without doing any detailed calculations, I was countering that you were 6 times more likely to suffer a concussion from a fight versus a clean hockey hit.  

After several hours of research I came across a post by Iain Fyffe on Hockey Prospectus titled, Headshots: Should Fighting Be A Target?   After reading his analysis I quickly realized that nothing I could write would be worthy of the effort that he had put into his article.  If you want to know the real impact of concussions in fighting then you need to read Iain’s post.   

I did decide to compare some of his numbers from the 2010-11 season to last year and see if the data was consistent.  It was also a way for me to determine the accuracy of my off the cuff claim - 6 times more likely to be concussed from a fight versus a hockey hit.    Turns out I was very wrong….

The chart below shows my calculations.  Total concussions and Hockey Hits are both NHL numbers for the 2011-12 season.  I don’t have the same access as Iain and couldn’t find a comparable report to the one cited in his post.  Therefore I used his same percentages for concussions caused by hockey hits and fights.

Total Concussions
Caused by Legal Hits - 44%
Hockey Hits - NHL.com
% Concussions/Hockey Hit
Caused by Fighting - 8%
Number of Hockey Fights
% Concussions/Hockey Fight
Risk Multiple

The numbers show that only 56 concussions were caused by close to 56,000 hockey hits.  This means the chances of suffering head trauma from a standard hit is approximately one-tenth of one percent.  Pretty good odds.  There were 10 concussions from 544 hockey fights which means 1.88% of fights resulted in the specific head injury.  Still sounds pretty small but statistically it means that you are almost 19 times more likely to be concussed by dropping the gloves versus simply playing the game.   

Let’s forget the hard data for a moment and just focus on the injured players.  Why wouldn’t the NHL and NHLPA want to end the potential of serious head trauma for 10 individuals, who are concussed as a result of an illegal activity?  Remember, fighting is against the rules.  I would also think that with today’s media focus on sports related concussions that a professional league would take any and all potential steps to reduce head trauma.  

Gospel of Hockey Podcast

On Friday, February 8th, I joined Matt Gajtka and Larry Snyder, the hosts of the Gospel of Hockey podcast, for a discussion of fighting in hockey.  Both Matt and Larry are firmly in favour of reducing or banning fighting in the sport so there wasn’t a lot of conflict.  But they graciously allowed me to present my thoughts on the issue, and let me ramble off topic occasionally. 

We talked about my motivations for taking a stand against fisticuffs in pro hockey, especially the NHL and my opinions on the arguments used by pro-fight supporters.  Over the 30 minutes of discussion we also touched on fan support for enforcers, concussions and what action the NHL could take to ban or phase out fighting going forward.

You can listen to our discussion on the Gospel of Hockey podcast website


  1. That's one of the most important points that often gets overlooked in the fighting debate. So much verbiage is expended justifying something that is explicitly against the rules. Fighting is illegal per the rules of the game, and is much more likely to cause head injuries than legal hockey plays. Why does the league itself defend a practice that they have deemed illegal? Bettman uses it himself when asked why fighting isn't banned - "it's already against the rules." Precisely. So what's the issue?

    1. Really? It is done routinely, encouraged by coaches and players, despite it being against the rules. And the NHL loves it because it gets crowds fired up and people coming to the games. Sure, fans also want to see great play and goals. But the NHL allows fighting to exist because removing it (in their eyes) would damage the product.

      They may have changed their tune the past couple years, but we shall see if they do anything about it.

  2. First off, congratulations on the additional exposure. This is an excellently written blog and deserves the recognition.

    This article also exploits another interesting statistic. The table illustrated only accounts for 52% of the league's reported concussions, meaning that 48%, or 62 in total, of the leagues concussions are resulting from illegal hits. I don't have the data on this one, but I'm guessing more than 2% of dangerous illegal hits (boarding, hits to the head, etc.) result in concussions. Additionally, many of these dangerous hits would have been applauded in the days of Stevens and C. Lemieux. Hockey is at least moving in the correct direction for player safety, but as I discussed in your Rat PIMs post, I think fighting has a place in the game until such time that useless players who can do no better than to injure opponents have been phased out. Once the GMs and coaches feel that star players dont need "protection", I think the call to ban fighting will be both relevant and urgent. Right now though, I think it is still shortsighted and dangerous when more focus should be on calling out and minimizing the players that are causing injury without providing value to their team.

    1. But a big chunk of the fighting is done by players who cause injury without providing value to their team (and not only by fighting). Ban fighting and these guys lose their jobs. These are not independent issues. Players who can't contribute with the puck do whatever they think will help ensure they stay in the lineup, typically by taking runs at the good players. Someone tweeted recently that you need guys like Colton Orr to protect the skilled players from guys like Colton Orr. Spot on.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. And I don't disagree with you. Which is exactly why, instead of focusing on fighting as a whole "more focus should be on calling out and minimizing the players that are causing injury without providing value to their team", to quote myself. I am not defending players like Colton Orr, who as you say is willing to do anything to stay relevant, including injuring opposing players. There are players for whom fighting is not the strongest facet of their game, but are willing and able to do so if it is warranted. I went through a list of these players in the Rat PIMs post: some who fight and score goals, others who fight and specialize in penalty killing and defensive minutes (though Prust is now a shadow of who he was two years ago). I still believe fighting has a place in hockey, but its importance has been diminished as it became a sideshow between heavyweights that have no other impact on the game.

    1. Boy I am having trouble this morning. ThirdLineHero reply fail to Iain...

  4. It would not be surprising to me if the absolute true data you would complie for this case would be significantly higher. Everyone knows that concussions go undiagnosed all the time. Concussions are said to include seeing stars, disorientation, or blurred vision. One could assume that the results of a fight which included a few solid shots thrown, one or both fighters could have had some of these symptoms for a brief period after the fight. Athletes don't want coaches, trainers, or teammates to know they could have a concussion, especially the tough guy's whose job is to be tough. I am not criticizing your data in this post, but the way concussions are reported in most sports.

    1. Probably, though the ratios above might be the same.

  5. Not all hockey hits are equal. This needs a follow-up study of the hits that get reviewed by the league--whether discipline is offered, or not. Sure, it'd be a smaller sample, but over the past few years, I bet we have enough data to make a few conclusions.

  6. This post definitely shows that you do your research. I think looking at concussions in this realm is important for assessing sports safety, and finding ways to reduce head trauma. I appreciate your stance, and I think it's necessary for the health and safety of NHL players.

  7. listen I've been playing hockey my whole life and people need to realize it is not like the 80's where there are players just to fight. every single player knows the risk of fighting and accepts it I think people like you are just ignoring one fact the players want it. even if the NHL tried to get rid of it they would fail without taking checking out which wont ever happen. one more thing shut up and leave hockey alone.