Saturday, 6 April 2013

Rat PIM Update – NHL Teams Fighting to Win

So the league is settling down with fewer fights per game over the past few weeks.  Some teams have made dramatic changes, either adding some 4th line grit or downsizing their police force and focusing on hockey.  I wonder if the teams who have significantly increased or decreased their fights per game have improved their win – loss record.   Let’s find out.

I started by picking a period time that covered the previous 10 games – as close as I could, understanding that there would be some small variance of +1 or -1.   Then I looked at the 10 teams that had the greatest change in fights per game over that period.  The list below has the 5 with the greatest increase and the 5 with the largest decrease.

Calgary’s fights per game were up 50% but they suffered the worst record of our sample group.   The other 4 teams picked up the pace of their fights and all had a winning record over the last 10 games.   But the bottom 5 teams, those who seemed to find fewer reasons to drop the gloves, also had a winning record over the past few weeks.  So what is the correlation to fighting and winning?

In my opinion the answer is simple; there isn’t any correlation.  Absolutely none.  Fighting has nothing to do with winning or losing, and it has nothing to do with actually playing hockey.  If you watch a lot of hockey, and my wife would put me in that category, you notice that most fights are sideshow events between designated punchers.  They happen early in the game to set the tone.  They happen after a goal to change momentum.  They happen after someone is hurt on a hit and they need to exact revenge and keep the other team “honest”.  Or they just happen because the enforcer knows his role and if he doesn’t fight then he’ll be in the minors.  Probably the most positive impact of fisticuffs is the delay of the game, giving real players an opportunity to grab a drink and tap their sticks in appreciation.

So stop looking for some magical link between adding an “enforcer” and rocketing up the standings.  General Managers would have better success by handing out magnetic bracelets and installing pyramid power under the bench.

Rat PIM League Update – as of April 5, 2013

After the NHL started with a flurry of fists, fights per game have declined over the course of the 2012 – 13 season.  But the pace remains ahead of last year:  .44 per game in 2011 – 12 versus .52 in the current campaign.   The increase this season is despite the referees calling an instigator twice as often.   Last year the instigator was called 6.9% on one of the combatants in 546 fights.  In the current shortened season the NHL has seen 287 fights and an instigator has been assessed 13.6% of the time.  It’s still pretty incredible that in 287 fights the officials have decided that only 39 times someone actually started it.  Spontaneous combustion?

If you check out the chart below you’ll see that the trend in Rat PIM continues to hold true.  In general, teams that have more fights per game will be assessed a higher number of dirty penalties and cheap shots.   

Stats include all games up to and including April 5th.  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 trend is pretty strong and even clearer when you look at the averages for the top, middle and bottom group of teams, as presented below:

So maybe the top fighting teams are cleaning up the game by also inflicting more slashing, cross-checks, boarding and roughing.  The logic is clear, “if we pound our opponents with our fists and with illegal use of our sticks and bodies, their Rats will go into hiding.  We’ll spend so much time in the penalty box that the other team will be forced to stay on the power-play and only their skilled players will be on the ice.  That’ll show them.…”

So why do players and coaches believe that enforcers and fighting will lead to a cleaner and safer game?  It’s amazing that a professional hockey player can watch season after season and not notice that teams continue to take liberties, dirty players don’t change their style and injuries continue to occur no matter how many times they drop the gloves.    I think a big reason is that every player and coach (usually former players) has bought into the culture of fighting and intimidation that has been ingrained at every level since junior.   Until one or more players start to question that culture, nothing will change.


  1. One interpretation of your PIM analysis is that the fighting is a response to cheap shots. This argument coincides with an argument you make in an earlier post that players fight due to feelings on inequity. To better make your case against fighting you might want to compare the average RAT PIM within games before and after a fight- and there are still some issues with this approach.

    1. I did track Rat PIM before and after a fight for the Leafs entire season last year. It's available here -