Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rat PIM Update - NHL Enforcers Vs Rats

Over the past several weeks we have heard from current and former players, as well as hockey notables, about how fighting is needed to reduce or eliminate cheap shots in the sport.  Without the Enforcer role the “Rats” would take over the game.  The consensus is so strong and prevalent that there must be some evidence that would support the pro-fighting viewpoint.  It would be hard to believe that individuals who play the game at the highest level are relying solely on perception.

I decided to look at the link between the Enforcers and those players who engaged in dirty and dangerous activities on the ice, the Rats.   I started by taking the data from an interesting post - 
Vulgar Statistics: The NHL’s Dirtiest Players.   The data showed who were the top 10 dirtiest players over the past 3 seasons based on the types of penalties that were called.  There is a lot of excellent detail in the post so I recommend following the link.  The top 10 dirtiest players were ranked in 3 major categories, as noted below.

  Total Dirty Penalties (in minutes) (TDP)
  Dirty Penalties per Game (in minutes) (DPG)
  Percentage of Penalties Committed which are Dirty (%DP)

So if those were the dirtiest players it would be logical to assume that they would also be amongst the leaders in fighting.  We are told by NHL players, coaches, general managers, Gary Bettman, and reinforced by every pro-fighting fan, that anytime a player engages in dirty play they know they have to answer for their transgressions.   So let’s look at the top 10 fighters in the NHL over the past 3 years and see how often their opponents are Rats.

The chart on the left shows the top 10 dirty players as identified by the Black & Blue & Gold article.  It shows how many times each Rat has fought over the past 3 years and how many of those fights were against enforcers.  The chart on the right lists the top 11 fighters over the same time period and how many times they have fought against each other.

Some general observations on the two charts above:

  • Only 3 of the Rats appear on the Enforcer list; Dorsett, McLeod and Boll.  If they are looked upon as Enforcers by their teams then they are failing miserable since the majority of penalties they take are of the dirty variety.   That would make them corrupt policemen.  If they are Rats then it’s understandable since they would have to answer for all those slashes and elbows they are handing out.
  • Some of the Rats on the list have been forced to drop the gloves very few times in the past 3 seasons.  If these are indeed the dirtiest players then they should be challenged pretty much every game.   Kaleta is a perfect example and despite all the carnage he has delivered over the years, has only had 10 fights.  Apparently the Enforcers were ignoring an NHL player who was most in need of being policed.  
  • Despite the role of policing for Enforcers they appear to be more focused on fighting amongst themselves versus the Rats.  The top 11 fighters over the past 3 years were facing off against each other in 12.3% of fights while engaging the Rats only 8.0% of the time.  You would think that it would be reversed. 

There doesn’t appear to be any link between Rats being Rats and Enforcers making them pay for their dirty deeds, other than lip service by NHL players, coaches and league executives.   They certainly can’t be afraid of the instigator rule as it is only being called in 1 out of 25 fights (as noted in the Rat PIM update below).   I will admit that the sample size of top 10 Enforcers and Rats is likely too small to make a 100% accurate assessment of the impact of policing in hockey.  For now we have a weak argument that it’s not working but in a future Rat PIM update I’ll present some analysis over a larger group to see if the observations change.

Rat PIM League Update – as of November 8, 2013

For the first update of 2013-14 it appears that the clear trend we saw most of last year is not as obvious this season.  Although there is a general decline in Rat PIM as fights per game decreases, it is not as evident as we have seen in past analysis.  Some other notable statistics for our first update:

  • There have been some reports that fighting is down approximately 15% when compared to the same time last year.  But fights per game right now are pretty much consistent with how the previous year ended – this season is at .52 fights per game while we ended 2013 at .51.
  • Rat PIMs are actually higher this year, averaging 2.60 Rat PIM per game in 2014 versus the 2013 average of 2.34.  It will be interesting to see whether a real decline in fighting leads to more Rat PIM, which is the scenario that the majority of NHLPA members believe in.
  • Once again the referees are ignoring the instigator penalty, calling it in only 4.3% of fights.  If the NHL really wanted to crack down on fighting then the easy fix is to use the penalty as it was designed.  It’s hard to believe that over 95% of fights occur spontaneously, with both players dropping their gloves at the exact same time.

Stats include all games up to and including November 8th.  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.

Rat PIM Statistics by Team

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