Thursday, 18 April 2013

Am I the Only One Who Believes Fighting is Bad for Hockey?

I’ve spent more than a year publishing 3 or 4 articles per month on why fighting and enforcers are negatively impacting the sport of hockey.  Most are opinion pieces but a significant amount provide data and research that dispels the myths that the hockey establishment (players, coaches, team and league executives) uses to explain why it remains in the game.  But I’m not the only one providing real facts on why fighting hurts the team.

What follows is a series of URLs that link to some excellent research and statistics to further disprove all of those popular misconceptions about fighting and enforcers.  Here you will find evidence that dropping the gloves doesn’t change momentum or helps you win more games.  Fights are far from strategic and certainly don’t protect any players.  Along with each URL I have provided a quick summary of what you’ll find once you follow the link.

Fighting your way to the Stanley Cup – Literally

A Don Cherry rant served as the jumping off point for this post.  Prashanth Iyer looks at 43 NHL seasons to see if fighting helps teams win more games and takes them further in the playoffs.  I don’t want to spoil the ending but Don won’t like the data very much.

Flying Fists Don’t Add Up To Victories

Jeff Klein, writing for the N.Y. Times, provides a historical view that teams who fight the least have fared better in terms of where they end up in the standings or how far they advance in the playoffs.  He also throws in a few facts that show fights have no impact in changing momentum or helping teams score goals.

Fighters Prosper, But Just Barely

Gabriel Desjardins crunches a full season of statistics to find out if winning a fight actually contributes to winning the game.  His results show that winning a fight actually provides a slight edge in goal differential.  How slight?  A fighter would have to win 80 fights in order to guarantee 1 win. 

Do hockey fights lift a team's performance?

Phil Birnbaum, with way more patience and analytical thought then I could ever have, looks at fighting and its impact on team success.  His conclusion is that it’s statistically insignificant and, in most cases, has absolutely zero influence on the team.

The myth of momentum from fighting

Peter Raaymakers takes a small sample of data to look for immediate goals after a fight, and comes away disappointed.  His summary summarizes it best, “In my opinion, fighting is simply just a delay from the actual game of hockey, with no real impact on the outcome of games. Some people may find it entertaining for reasons other than actually affecting the outcome of a game, but it is wrong to continue to assume that is generates momentum.”

Fights (boardroom and ice)

In this Tyler Dellow post he makes the point that nobody fights in the playoffs, or in any game where it’s close and you’re trying to win.   If you are in the third period and it’s a one or two goal game then the enforcers stay on the bench.  But if one team is down by 3 or more goals then the goons get unleashed.

As these writers have found, once you really study the fight statistics and impact on the game, the conclusion is obvious.  My own research, which I’ll compile into a single reference document in an upcoming post, clearly shows that fighting has a negative impact on the game.   It doesn’t change momentum, it doesn’t keep players honest and doesn’t contribute to a team’s success.  In terms of protecting players the facts show it has the opposite effect.   And the designated enforcers who take up roster spots will also reduce the overall skill level of the team and put them at a disadvantage when they are on the ice.   

I’ve seen my fair share of comments from pro-fight fans that wave off these facts and statistics with the tried and true, “you don’t understand because you haven’t played at a competitive level.”   It doesn’t seem to matter that 99% of the commenters also don’t have that experience but nonetheless feel their opinion is correct.   Another interesting rebuttal was something along the lines of, “You’re trying to prove your case with statistics?  Fighting in hockey is a tradition, and is an emotional and instinctive response to a sport played at a high level.  It’s a joke that you are using facts to try and measure that.”  

So if you want to prove a theory or support a plan of action, solid facts would seem the best route to creating educated hockey fans.   But if you run into a roadblock then fall back on emotions, feelings and unchallenged perceptions.  That always works.

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