Tuesday 25 March 2014

Rat PIM Update – Fighters Versus Rats

The popular opinion of those who support fighting is that it controls the Rats in the game.  There is the contrary position that some of the enforcers are also the biggest Rats.  But if we compiled a list of the top fighters and the top Rats – what would the statistics tell us.

Usually when I publish fight and Rat PIM related data the results are pretty clear and consistent in terms of demonstrating that fighting increases cheap shots and dangerous hits.   I usually start my research with a hypothesis that dropping the gloves has a negative impact on the sport, and generally I’ve been proven right.  This article is not as clear cut.

My belief going in was that the fighters in the league would also be among the leaders in Rat PIM.  So I compiled a list of the top 25 players in both categories.  Here’s what the results show:

Some interesting things resulted from this data.  Only 4 of the top fighters show up in the list of top Rats (highlighted in table on the right).  A few of the most active enforcers end up well down the list of Rats.  Like Konopka who comes in at #335 on the Rat list.  Thornton, reviled outside of Boston for his attack on Brooks Orpik, is also well down the list at #310.  Krys Barch, at #497, is the cleanest fighter on the Rat list but that might be due to his limited use this season (48 games played, average TOI of 6:03).

Nothing strange on the Rat list.  It has all the players that you suspect are dirty, or play on and over the edge of acceptable behavior.  The only player that surprised me was Byfuglien, the 3rd worst Rat according to my data, likely because I haven’t watched a lot of Winnipeg games this season.  Over 42% of his penalties 2014-14 would fall into the Rat PIM categories. 

Figuring out how many Rats there are in the NHL is not an easy exercise but if you use the ratio of Rat PIM to Total PIM you end up with a sizeable population of the NHLPA.  

There were a total of 803 players studied in my Rat PIM stats.  648 had less than 30% of their infractions called as Rat PIM.  There were 152 players where Rat PIMs made up more than 30% of their total time in the penalty box. Those with greater than 50% of their total penalties are the elite Rats with only 23 members in that group.  But what’s the right threshold for determining a Rat?  

I think 25% would put you in that category, and that ups the number to 219 NHL’rs.  I mean if a quarter of your penalties include Roughing, Slashing, Cross Checking, Major Penalties (excluding fighting majors), Boarding and Unsportsmanlike calls – I believe that you can’t be considered a clean competitor.  Even if we use the 30% number in the chart above that leaves us with 152 players who regularly engage in play that most fans would call dirty or dangerous.  Therefore Rats are pretty widespread and the mayhem caused is common in most games.  I have trouble understanding how a few enforcers, playing on the 4th line with limited minutes, are keeping these 150+ players under control.

Perhaps the NHL Department of Player Safety should create a system of monitoring players who take an excessive amount of Rat type penalties.  If they exceed certain limits then they are sent a warning.  Continue to rack up Rat PIM and you get called in for a conference.  A failure to reign in their reckless play would then result in suspensions and meaningful fines.  Get these cheap shots under control by changing the behavior of the Rat and you'll end up with far less occurrences where hockey players have to retaliate or seek retribution. That means no revenge and little need for a player who spends most of his time dropping the gloves and sitting in the penalty box for 5 minutes.  Then we can watch hockey.

Rat PIM League Update – as of March 24, 2014

The downward trend of fewer fights has continued, from .45 per game at the end of December to .40 as of this report.  Rat PIM per game has increased slightly, from 2.31 PIM per team to 2.35 as of today.   The use of the instigator penalty is also up slightly since my last update, now called 6.9% of the time in all fights.  Amazing that in over 400 fights the referees have determined that only a few more than 30 were clearly started by one person.  Spontaneous dropping of gloves is clearly the norm.

Stats include all games up to and including March 24th.  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:


  1. Paul, when calculating the Rat PIM:Total PIM, are you including fighting majors and misconducts in the Total PIM? If so this would explain some of why you didn't get quite the result that you expected. The goonier the player, the more his total PIM is inflated by fighting, and thus the lower his Rat PIM ratio will be. Since most fighting penalties are accumulated by a relatively small number of players, this will skew your results.

    1. Good point Iain. You're analysis may be correct and because fighters play fewer minutes, their Total PIM would overshadow Rat PIM. They're not on the ice (in general) to play a regular shift but instead are sent out for "message sending",

    2. A better basis for comparison would be rank in fighting majors per minute of playing time, versus rank in rat PIM per minute of playing time.

  2. Great article, Paul. Unfortunately, it is very hard to distinguish penalties as "RAT" or not. Even penalties such as tripping or interference could fall under the "RAT" category, depending on the situation. Throw in the factor of the quality of officiating in the league, which was watered down considerably when they decided to instantly double the amount of referees needed, and it makes it more difficult. Some call penalties, some don't, some pick on visiting teams, etc..... That being said, I think you're on to something. And don't get me started on Brad Marchand, who single-handedly has me cheering against my life-long favorite team. Thanks for the good read and keep it up. As someone who has officiated thousands of hockey games in almost four decades, I, too, want to see the fighting and gratuitous violence removed from a once great sport.