YakovMironov’s Leaflets: Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore

In case you missed it over the past season, it’s become clear that Randy Carlyle seems to think fighting gives the Leafs some kind of competitive advantage. While I admit to some enjoyment from the occasional sideshow, it seemed ridiculous to link the success of the team to bad hockey players dropping their gloves to punch other bad hockey players. Since that seemed pretty stupid I decided to track it to see what kind of impact fights have for the Leafs.

Game Results

The most basic thing I decided to compare was what the winning percentage for games with fights compared to games without fights. Games with fights saw the Leafs go 15-14 and when the Leafs didn’t punch anyone they managed a record of 11-8. So a .517 winning percentage compared to a .578. Not a monumental difference, but that’s not really something that we’d necessarily expect to see, but score one for the fights don’t win games crowd. 

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Punchin’ for Goals

The piece that always interests me that punching somehow makes teams score. This may be an idea born from the EA NHL series, but it seems people have bought in. Oddly enough, what we see is that within five minutes of fights the Leafs have scored 10 goals, and gave up 4.

Wow, that seems like an impressive win for pro-fighting, but wait. The Leafs scored 23.26% that they had someone in the box with a fighting major, which again sounds pretty impressive until you consider the fact that there is a 25.17% chance that the Leafs score during any five minute interval in a game based on the number of goals they scored this season. Their production actually declined.

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When you look at how they fair over the rest of the period, and the rest of the game after the fighting major you can actually see the Leafs were outscored after their fights. So I guess that idea is pretty stupid.

Fighting out of necessity

While I confess that I enjoy the occasional scrap, I have long since divorced myself that staged fights have any place in the game. The idea that two players who have been going back and forth with each other have suddenly had enough and want to punch each other makes some sense, but whatever, have at it if you want. 

The Leafs don’t really seem to have too many meaningful fights. There seems to be a belief that the Leafs just drop the gloves as soon as they can find a partner. People who believe that have a lot of evidence on their side as ¾ of the Leafs fights occurred in the first period, often at times when the team was in need of coming back from a goal or trying to build on the early success of one. Instead we’re treated to brief interruption that does nothing more than allow us time to grab another beer.

Is there anything to learn from this?

Not really. You should already know that fighting doesn’t mean much from a hockey perspective. Arguably it doesn’t hinder the success of a team either, although it seems foolish to dress 16 capable hockey players when you have the opportunity to dress 18.

I’m not counting on the philosophy changing over the course of the Carlyle era, but I hold out some hope that there isn’t some possible opportunity for an upgrade in hockey skill or at the very least a decrease in cap hit. One can dream.

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  • I think you are missing the context of your study. Teams move to fighting to set the tone for the game, to change momentum or gain respect when they are being outplayed or to exact some type of revenge for a questionable hit etc. And often, weak teams that lose employ a facepuncher (Florida with Parros, Sabres with Scott etc) to prevent the temptation of other teams in running up the score.

    Hits also have zero correlation to winning or goals scored. Would you argue that we should eliminate hitting and the energy lines because they seem to have no value. Like hitting, fighting is part of the game. And until GMs stop signing guys like John Scott and Colton Orr the enforcer will remain.

    And don’t put this entirely on Carlyle even Burke was in favour of icing sub par hockey players like Exelby and Orr and Rosehill. If you want to know what is wrong with hockey, that is your answer right there. That is, people in a position of power and the supposed intelligence to positively change but condone this sort of on ice drama.

    • “And often, weak teams that lose employ a facepuncher (Florida with Parros, Sabres with Scott etc) to prevent the temptation of other teams in running up the score”

      If weak teams stopped employing facepunchers, maybe they wouldn’t have the score run up on them?

      “Hits also have zero correlation to winning or goals scored.”

      Well, if you’re outhitting your opponent, your puck possession numbers aren’t likely all that great, and that doesn’t help your chances of winning. So, there is a correlation between hits and winning in that instance, no?

      “And don’t put this entirely on Carlyle…”

      Why not? In more instances than not, Carlyle had better options sitting in the press box. It was Carlyle’s decision to ice Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren when he had Matt Frattin in the press box.

      • millzy09


        I understand that Frattin is a more skilled player. But Carlyle thinks overall Orr gives the team a better chance at winning. If you are going to convince people you need to show that icing facepunchers like Orr instead of skilled players Frattin significantly hurt the team’s ability to win.

        And, if you dislike facepunching then sure Carlyle shares blame but he is not the only person. That is, who brought Carlyle in, who put him in that position and for what reasons?

        • “If you are going to convince people you need to show that icing facepunchers like Orr instead of skilled players Frattin significantly hurt the team’s ability to win.”

          This hasn’t been done a million and one times already?

  • It’s difficult to quantify the effects face punchers have on games. I can easily see how their teammates are more comfortable with them sitting down the bench. For example, if Chris Neil gives Kadri the business, he knows that the next time Orr is on the ice he’s being challenged to fight. Since hockey is such an “honourable” game, Neil knows he has to answer for what he’s done. Kadri knows this too, and you can see it from him more than anyone when he’s comfortable being a pain in the butt out there. I’m not a pro-fighting guy either, I think they should be given misconducts for a fight, but I don’t think it’s fair to say they have little effect on the game.

      • jasken

        really taking a shot out of text in that picture aren’t you. Yes Orr hit crombeen from behind right after crombeen hit him. Crombeen and Orr had been chirping to each other all the way down the ice.
        why not show the whole video and what lead to victor hedman and Kadri. Hedman gave Kadri a nice little crosscheck nudge Kadri took a 2 handed slash to hedman. Not content there it was Kadri who went right after Hedman not the other way around and Orr finally realizes what’s going gets right between them. After being separated from Hedman what does Kadri do sucker punches hedman anything Kadri got was his doing Orr did his best to keep from happening it was Kadri’s persistence to go after hedman lead to them 2 fighting. Lucky it was with Hedman and not Crombeen. Kadri would have been in serious trouble with Crombeen he is a fighter 14 in 2013, Hedman only fights if he has too his big 3 career fights state that.

      • Cam – you’re usually very good with your analysis, but this is a bit of a flippant response to the only potentially good argument for keeping some face punchers on the team.

        As Chris says, it is difficult to quantify. I’d go even further and say it is difficult to even test as a theory. But it is certainly possible that a team plays with a greater aggression when they have a teammate like Colton Orr behind them.

        • They may be more aggressive, but it doesn’t help them win hockey games.

          Ultimately, you want to do what wins you hockey games. Whether that’s playing like a wimpy European, or a rough-and-tough, north-of-the-53rd he-man, play the game that helps you score the most goals, allow the fewest, and by extension, win the most games.

          • I’m not sure you have shown that.

            The win% may be lower in games that include fights. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the win% will increase if you do away with the fighters.

            The hypothesis is that the team overall is playing better throughout the year because of the heightened confidence that fighters create.

  • millzy09

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…fighting has a different impact for different team makeups.

    Controversial comment or not, guys that grew up playing hockey south of the 53rd parallel really have no idea about rough hockey and thus know very little about positive impacts that fighting CAN (not always) have on a team or an individual player.

      • millzy09

        Seems like an appropriate response to me saying that we should have NHL teams in the north however, I didn’t say that better players or teams come from the north. I’m just saying you learn to appreciate fighting and toughness when you’re in those situations. Players from the north aren’t the only ones subject to these human feelings. I’m also just stating that I think I understand the use of teammates willing to get messy better than most.

      • millzy09

        Pretty ignorant really. You need to see your own country…where are you from? Toronto? There are tons of places north of that in Canada, and they don’t have to have the population of a major Canadian city to count.

        I’m not talking about internationally, I’m talking about nationally. I don’t know what the style of hockey is in Scandinavia and Northern Russia, but I definitely know what it’s like in Northern Canada.

        I’m also not saying that players from the populated areas of Canada don’t know what the value of fighting is, but I am saying that the northern folks know a lot better.

        This has everything to do with a human psychology in everyone, so this isn’t a North vs South debate. The psychology is just magnified where I grew up because of the type of hockey. This directly translates to any other human being in any other style of hockey. I’m just saying that I believe I understand it’s use better than most.

  • millzy09

    And this is the crux of it. Despite no real observable effects, and evidence to the contrary, the belief persists that fighting, hitting, and blocking shots are all things that contribute to a winning hockey team.

    It’s a psychological belief ingrained within hockey players, who then become hockey coaches and mainstream media and general managers, who plant the seed in young hockey players.

    A large percentage of Eastern Conference hockey coaches and MSM journalists thought Carlyle should have been in the Jack Adams conversation. Think about that for a second. Other coaches thought Carlyle was one of the best coaches in the league.