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Five for Fighting: An in-depth analysis of fighting in the NHL — Part II

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Part Two in a series examining the statistical and physical aspects of fighting in the NHL

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

In Part I of this series, we examined the narratives surrounding fighting in hockey, in addition to the toll it takes on the players. Now we'll shift the focus to the statistical side of the game, where, as it turns out, fighting has another major impact.

Impact on Team Wins

There have been several articles showing the negative impact a single enforcer can bring to a team. Derek Zona of Copper and Blue examined said impact, and laid the groundwork for this research. Tyler Dellow worked out that for every six goals a player gives up while on the ice, it costs his team one win. Raitis Ivanans was a former enforcer playing for the Los Angeles Kings, among other teams, and over the course of his contract in L.A. he was a combined -29. So over the course of his contract, Ivanans was indirectly the cause of about five losses, all while playing under 10 minutes a night.

The impact on possession

In recent years, analytics have changed the way we examine a player, and by using possession metrics a startling trend appears amongst the NHL's top fighters.

Fighting 2 WOI chart

The chart above includes the top 10 leaders in fighting majors in the NHL for the 2014-15 season, all separated by their time on ice (Y-axis), relative Corsi-for percentage (X-axis), percentage of defensive versus offensive zone starts (color), and scoring chances against (size of data points). Only Tom Wilson and Kyle Clifford managed to at least break even in terms of possession relative to their teammates, The other eight all allowed more scoring chances than they created, even with zone starts of about their team's average or easier, and all 10 give up scoring chances against at a high rate.

The statistical combination outlined above can cripple a team's ability to utilize skilled players effectively. This particularly affects those teams lacking depth or suffering from injuries, as Antoine Roussel's Dallas Stars and Jared Boll's Columbus Blue Jackets were this past season. Throw in the fact that all of these players outside of Mark Borowiecki and Roussel play less than 14 minutes a night in all situations. In limited ice time with relatively easy zone starts, these 10 players create a possession black hole for their team night in and night out.

Penalties Drawn vs Penalties Taken

WOI chart 3
The above chart shows the penalties taken vs. penalties drawn for the league's fighting leaders, and once again it's painting the picture that these players hurt their teams. Only two players had a positive differential (Wilson and Derek Dorsett), while every other player took far more penalties than they drew. We've already established that these players have difficulty helping their respective teams create offense, now add in the fact that they hurt their team from a disciplinary perspective much more than they help.

We've now seen how fighting not only impacts those throwing the punches, but also the teams they play for. Thus far in this analysis, fighting has yet to make any sort of positive impact. We've busted the narratives and now shown how fighters actually cost teams wins over the course of a season. In Part III we'll glance into my research to see how fighting impacted a team's overall wins and losses, and even its overall attendance.

Part I: The Personal Impact Part II: The Offensive Impact Part III: The Impact on Record