Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at the situations in which the Canucks are most likely to  drop the gloves.

On the Canucks’ most recent road-trip, they had a string of games in which a fight seemingly had a massive impact on the flow and outcome of the game. In Minnesota, the Canucks were clinging to a one goal lead when Volpatti dusted off Cal Clutterbuck and was immediately challenged to fight by Wild enforcer Brad Staubitz. He accepted the challenge, the two engaged in the old pugilistic hockey dance, and both went off for five minutes. In those five minutes, the Wild scored two goals, and wrested control of the game away from Vancouver, ultimately winning 5-1.

The very next night in St. Louis, David Booth fought Scott Nichol in an attempt to contribute something other than goals (which he is struggling to score) to his new team. Although the fight was probably a draw, Booth took the worst of the scrap, but the ramifications didn’t end with him: In the period of time before the two men exited the penalty box, David Backes scored a weak one on Luongo and the Blues won the game by a score of 3-2.

The following Sunday in Chicago, Volpatti dropped the mitts with Daniel Carcillo, and had a fight that lasted about as long as the average teenagers’ first time (zone start adjusted). When the dust settled, they skated off to the box and, in the five minutes that immediately followed, the Canucks scored two goals on their way to a 6-2 win…

While previous research has convincingly shown that there is no correlation between fighting and winning (and thus no correlation between fighting and losing), it’s clear that a fight can have a decisive strategic impact on a hockey game. I don’t mean that a fight “sways momentum” as the old notion holds true, but certainly there’s an inherent risk involved, especially if the “wrong” player ends up sitting in the box.

Take the game on halloween between the Panthers and the Jets, where the Panthers came back from a 2-1 deficit, briefly took the lead and ultimately lost in a shootout following a controversial late goal from Evander Kane. In this game, the Jets matched up Kyle Wellwood, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little against the Panthers main scoring line of Weiss, Versteeg and Fleischmann. Fleischmann and Ladd in particular were engaged in a reasonably entertaining individual battle all game, and were rarely on the ice without the other. That is, until Andrew Ladd dropped the gloves early in the third period. Forty three seconds after the scrap, and with Ladd in the box, Fleischmann capitalized on the absence of his shadow to tie the game.

While fighting may not be useful in that it doesn’t actually “protect stars” or help teams “turn momentum,” it often plays a large role in an average NHL game. I was curious to see what situations the Canucks have fought in since Alain Vigneault took over as the team’s coach, so I looked at every fight over the last five and a quarter seasons. Without adding in the situational element yet, it’s interesting to see the rate at which the Canucks have fought over the years since AV took the helm:

Season

Total Fights

2006-07

26

2007-08

66

2008-09

61

2009-10

60

2010-11

29

2011-12

14

The deviations in these numbers are curious, and I hypothesize that they’re mostly driven by personnel. While it’s tempting for a relative hockey pacifist such as myself (I’m okay with fighting, hate staged fights, would rather the team I cheer for not employ an enforcer) to point out that the Canucks’ two most successful seasons in the last five were the seasons in which they fought the least – that would be disingenuous. Frankly, in 06-07 and in 2010-11, the Canucks didn’t have a prototypical enforcer on the roster and I think that deflated the team’s overall fight totals.

In 07-08, 08-09 and 09-10, on the other hand, the Canucks had a collection of “toughs” occupying their fourth line: guys like Rick Rypien, Jeff Cowan and Darcy “haha” Hordichuk could be counted on to drop the mitts, and drop them often. That again changed in 2010-11, when the Canucks entered the season with a fourth line consisting of Rypien, Guillaume Desbiens and Peter Schaefer. Rypien only played in 9 games in his final NHL season, after which the fourth line centre role was occupied by the likes of Jeff Tambellini, Mario Bliznak, Alex Bolduc, Cody Hodgson and eventually Maxim Lapierre – none of whom are well known as “fighters.”

This season, the Canucks are back on pace for sixty fights, and I’d suggest that the presence of Aaron Volpatti and Dale Wiese (not the most skilled fighter, but certainly a willing participant) has a lot to do with that.

But it’s not the only factor, and I wonder whether or not teams are giving the Canucks the old “Punk Test” with increased regularity — copying the “hard as f—” way Boston matched up with Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Final. Frankly, I suspect they are.

Another possibility is that the “between the whistles” mantra the team adhered too so strenuously last season has been relaxed by the team’s leadership group and head-coach. Certainly stories such as the one about Lapierre looking to fight more so as to change his floppy reputation, suggests that the Canucks are not as laser-focused on avoiding the extracurricular rough stuff as they were last season.

Finally with the Canucks struggling mightily at even-strength — largely a result of bad-luck and subpar goal-tending — it’s possible that the team is considerably more frustrated this year than they were last year. Is their frustration showing up on their fight card?

To determine this, lets look at what situations the Canucks have fought in this season, and over the past five seasons previous. I’ve broken down the fights into percentages that reflect the score of the game at the team of each fight going back to 06-07.

Season

Up 3 (or more)

Up 2

Up 1

Even

Down 1

Down 2

Down 3 (or more)

2006-07

3.8%

3.8%

15.4%

34.6%

23%

7.7%

11.5%

2007-08

3%

12.1%

24.2%

31.8%

13.6%

4.5%

10.6%

2008-09

11.5%

3.3%

11.5%

41%

21.3%

9.8%

1.6%

2009-10

18.3%

6.6%

11.6%

23.3%

15%

5%

20%

2010-11

0%

3.4%

41.4%

34%

13.8%

6.9%

0%

2011-12

35.7%

7.1%

7.1%

28.6%

14.3

0%

7.1%

Expressed a bit differently, the game-situation at the time of Canucks fights, breaks down like this:

Season Even 1 Goal Game 2 Goal Game Blowout Fight%
2006-07 34.6% 38.6% 10.5% 15.3%
2007-08 31.8% 37.8% 16.6% 13.6%
2008-09 41% 32.8% 13.1% 13.1%
2009-10 23.3% 26.6% 11.6% 38.3%
2010-11 34% 55.2% 10.3% 0%
2011-12 28.6% 21.4% 7.1% 42.8%

I was very surprised to discover that the Canucks didn’t get into a single fight in a “blow-out game” situation last season. In fact, 90% of their fights in 2010-11 came in games that were within a goal. This season, functionally half of the Canucks fights have come in games that were either out of hand, or headed rapidly in that direction. While this is, in part, reflective of the Canucks early season inconsistency, it at least suggests a different organizational approach as regards fighting this season, versus last season.

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3 comments

  1. J21
    November 18, 2011

    Interesting article, but one thing:

    While previous research has convincingly shown that there is no correlation between fighting and winning (and thus no correlation between fighting and losing), it’s clear that a fight can have a decisive strategic impact on a hockey game.

    I don’t see how this could possibly be true? If it doesn’t show up in wins and losses, by definition is there really a strategic impact to be seen?

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  2. ArtemChubarov
    November 18, 2011

    Anecdotally fights can have an impact in a particular game. Especially if a star player fights (like an Ovy or an Iginla) or a top defensive player fights, then his team loses that player for five minutes. Obviously that can impact the result of that one game.

    Over a large enough sample, however, there’s no correlation between a fight and any particular result – so it’s mostly just a side-show.

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  3. Anonymous
    November 18, 2011

    and had a fight that lasted about as long as the average teenagers’ first time (zone start adjusted)

    I guffawed much too loudly.

    This is quite interesting, I do wonder if their mantra has changed due to the Bruins series? Or if they think it’ll be better for the team as a whole?

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