The general perception is that fighting controls the rats and makes the game safer. The thinking is that players who have a proclivity towards cheap shots will play differently when faced with the prospect of a fist to the head. As I have demonstrated in past Rat PIM updates the data shows the opposite and this post won’t be a surprise either.
Earlier this year I presented some analysis based on the Leafs previous season that showed a clear link between fighting and an increase in Rat PIM. The data only covered 48 games and for this post I studied all 212 games for the month of November. Remember the statistic Rat PIM is the combination of non-fight related penalty minutes and includes; Roughing, Slashing, Cross Checking, Elbowing, Major Penalties (excluding fighting majors), Boarding and Unsportsmanlike.
Looking at two categories of games, those without fights and those with, you can clearly see that dropping the gloves is a sure way to increase the amount of cheap shots and dangerous hits.
Although only approximately a third of the games had at least one fight, there were more Rat PIM in total in those games. The Rat PIM per game was also almost double when players dropped the gloves. The perception of NHL players, coaches and most general managers is clearly wrong when you look at the data. Enforcers don’t settle things down and the prospect of fighting doesn’t alter how a rat plays the game.
For all games where there was a fight the NHL data clearly shows that Rat PIM was far higher after a fight had occurred, almost 300% higher. Far from controlling cheap shots or dangerous hits, a fight generally sparks more violence. That’s no surprise to anyone who understands competitive hockey. No player or team can allow themselves to be intimidated and will respond by playing more aggressively and sticking up for their teammates. That fact is pretty clear when you look at the total amount of games that had no Rat PIM called. There were a total of 31 games in November that did not have any roughing, elbowing, slashing, boarding or other penalties that make up the Rat PIM statistic. In 29 of those games there was no fight and only 2 games involved dropping the gloves. Remember that the next time someone tells you that fighting makes the game safer.
Although I looked at every fight I did not make any attempt to classify them. The “passion fights”, the ones that fight fans wistfully remember and hope they never disappear, are rare and make up perhaps 10% of the bouts in November. The remainder seemed to be equally split between revenge and enforcers who are justifying their role by taking on his counterpart on the other team. Those observations are subjective of course but are based on my review of the combatants and the game situation that sparked the fight.
I’ve made the point previously that if the referees used the instigator penalty as it is written then most of the revenge and staged fights would disappear quickly.
Rat PIM League Update – as of December 28, 2013
Once again I have to report that the clear trend we saw most of last year is not as evident this season. There is a very slight trend that shows a decline in Rat PIM as fights per game decreases but enough anomalies exist to cast the data in doubt. We’ll have to wait and see how this develops over the rest of the ’13-14 season.
Fights per game have continued to drop from my last update, from .52 in November to .45 as of December 28th. Rat PIM per game are also down over the same period, from 2.60 Rat PIM per game in the previous update to 2.31 as of today. Hmmm… fights per game drop and Rat PIM per game also drops. The one statistics that shows an increase is the amount of times the instigator penalty is called, now being used in 6.6% of all fights.
Stats include all games up to and including December 28th. 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