Saturday, November 24, 2007

A study in enforcement
What do the goons do?

Tyler Dellow had a post on the Oilers' Zack Stortini a few weeks back about what happens when the enforcer's on the ice, and the answer seemed to be 'not much.' When he's not fighting, he's not generating chances and the coach has to try to keep him away from any situation where the team might potentially give up a goal.

Stortini's played about 6.5 minutes per game over 12 games this season, and seen no goals for and two goals against while he's on the ice.

It all made me wonder: What does happen when goons are out there? Do any of them contribute in ways other than dropping the gloves? And who is the best enforcer when it comes to non-fighting attributes?

I'm going to try and keep this limited to traditional "goons," big guys who play little and are basically there for only to draw blood. Smaller players who can play and are among the lead leaders in fighting majors, like David Clarkson and Dan Carcillo, need not apply.

Our goon sample:

Rk Player Team GP Mins Fights PIM
1 Jared Boll Cmb 21 6.91 7 66
2 Riley Cote Phi 16 3.60 7 51
3 Eric Godard Cal 19 4.78 6 62
4 Derek Boogaard Min 20 3.44 6 52
5 Brad May Ana 20 6.65 5 41
6 Milan Lucic Bos 18 7.20 5 31
7 Ben Eager Phi 16 5.27 4 44
8 Andre Roy TB 22 4.66 4 30
9 D.J. King StL 15 5.40 4 28
10 George Parros Ana 21 4.73 4 26
11 David Koci Chi 8 3.63 4 26
12 Shawn Thornton Bos 13 6.44 4 22
13 Donald Brashear Was 22 5.17 3 40
14 Todd Fedoruk Min 12 7.01 3 37
15 Colton Orr NYR 23 6.87 3 33
16 Brian McGrattan Ott 12 3.11 3 15
17 Zack Stortini Edm 12 6.61 2 42
18 Georges Laraque Pit 14 7.40 2 14
19 Wade Belak Tor 8 3.38 2 14
20 Eric Boulton Atl 19 6.46 2 12

That should be a pretty good representative sample of guys who are punching each other this season.

One of the most difficult things in measuring what goons do is in the fact that (a) they don't play very much and (b) they don't do very much when they're out there. Here's a look at goals for and against rates for all 20 enforcers:


NAME TEAM GP GFON GAON GFON/60 GAON/60 +-ON/60
1 MCGRATTAN OTT 12 1 0 1.61 0.00 1.61
2 PARROS ANA 21 2 0 1.21 0.00 1.21
3 COTE PHI 16 2 1 2.09 1.04 1.04
4 MAY ANA 20 6 4 2.71 1.80 0.90
5 FEDORUK MIN 12 3 2 2.14 1.43 0.71
6 BRASHEAR WSH 22 3 2 1.58 1.05 0.53
7 BOLL CBJ 21 4 3 1.65 1.24 0.41
8 KING STL 15 2 2 1.48 1.48 0.00
9 KOCI CHI 8 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00
10 GODARD CGY 19 1 2 0.66 1.32 -0.66
11 LUCIC BOS 18 3 5 1.39 2.31 -0.93
12 LARAQUE PIT 14 4 6 2.32 3.48 -1.16
13 THORNTON BOS 13 0 2 0.00 1.43 -1.43
14 BOULTON ATL 19 2 5 0.98 2.45 -1.47
15 STORTINI EDM 12 0 2 0.00 1.51 -1.51
16 ROY T.B 22 1 4 0.59 2.34 -1.76
17 ORR NYR 23 1 7 0.38 2.66 -2.28
18 BOOGAARD MIN 20 0 3 0.00 2.62 -2.62
19 EAGER PHI 16 0 4 0.00 2.85 -2.85
20 BELAK TOR 8 0 2 0.00 4.43 -4.43

Average



1.04 1.77 -0.73

On average, when these guys are on the ice, only one goal is scored for their team every 60 minutes.

That's bad. Really, really bad.

At least they don't get lit up too badly, other than Belak, but there's a reason for that. Have a look at these strength of competition numbers:


NAME TEAM GP QUALCOMP
1 STORTINI EDM 12 0.01
2 LUCIC BOS 18 0
3 ORR NYR 23 -0.02
4 BOULTON ATL 19 -0.04
5 COTE PHI 16 -0.08
6 BOLL CBJ 21 -0.09
7 THORNTON BOS 13 -0.09
8 MAY ANA 20 -0.11
9 BELAK TOR 8 -0.13
10 PARROS ANA 21 -0.14
11 MCGRATTAN OTT 12 -0.16
12 EAGER PHI 16 -0.16
13 BRASHEAR WSH 22 -0.17
14 ROY T.B 22 -0.17
15 KING STL 15 -0.22
16 FEDORUK MIN 12 -0.23
17 LARAQUE PIT 14 -0.23
18 BOOGAARD MIN 20 -0.26
19 GODARD CGY 19 -0.31
20 KOCI CHI 8 -0.52

In terms of where those stack up with the rest of the league, they're way, way down at the bottom. Guys like Koci basically only play against other Kocis.

The real kicker, however, is in looking at shots on goal. Goals aren't going in either way, which isn't a surprise, but some players generate absolutely nothing in terms of shots while they continue to come the other way, putting their team at an extreme disadvantage.

Someone like the Flyers' Riley Cote, for one, sees only 9.3 shots for per 60 minutes of even strength ice time and 25.6 against. With Brad May on the ice, the Ducks generate 15.3 fewer shots per 60 minutes of play.

And on and on it goes (and look at the Corsi numbers, where only Brashear isn't in the red):


NAME TEAM GP CORSI SFON/60 SFOFF/60 diff
1 FEDORUK MIN 12 -2.9 25.7 21.4 4.3
2 LARAQUE PIT 14 -2.3 23.2 22.4 0.8
3 KOCI CHI 8 -2.1 26.9 26.2 0.7
4 BOULTON ATL 19 -19.6 22.5 22.1 0.4
5 LUCIC BOS 18 -10.6 23.1 24.0 -0.9
6 BOLL CBJ 21 -2.1 26.5 27.5 -1.0
7 BELAK TOR 8 -8.9 26.6 28.1 -1.5
8 ROY T.B 22 -2.9 24.0 26.4 -2.4
9 BOOGAARD MIN 20 -14 20.9 23.4 -2.5
10 MCGRATTAN OTT 12 -9.6 30.5 33.1 -2.6
11 THORNTON BOS 13 -12.9 17.9 23.7 -5.8
12 GODARD CGY 19 -4.6 19.2 25.7 -6.5
13 BRASHEAR WSH 22 5.8 20.6 28.9 -8.3
14 COTE PHI 16 -17.7 12.5 21.7 -9.2
15 PARROS ANA 21 -0.6 14.5 24.7 -10.2
16 ORR NYR 23 -13.7 17.8 28.5 -10.7
17 STORTINI EDM 12 -17.4 14.4 25.4 -11.0
18 KING STL 15 -0.7 15.5 26.8 -11.3
19 EAGER PHI 16 -15.7 9.3 20.7 -11.4
20 MAY ANA 20 -9.5 10.8 26.1 -15.3

Average

-8.1 20.12 25.34 -5.2

Can anyone honestly look at the above figures and argue that teams are better off with these guys on the ice?

I don't know how to quantify what the effect would be if you put an average third liner out there instead of these fellows, but one has to believe it would at least balance things out a little bit. At the very least, players playing against the other teams' weakest players could exploit that a little better.

Looking at everything I've got here, who's the most effective enforcer when it comes to the non-punching parts of the game? Maybe Milan Lucic or Jared Boll, two youngsters who can bang around a bit and chip in on offence, too.

The average enforcer in this study has played 16.5 games at 5.45 minutes per game for a total of about 90 minutes of ice time this season. In that time, against the worst opposition in the league, their teams have scored an average of 1.56 goals, allowed 2.66, and been out shot 38-30.

At best, they're not a liability. At worst, they cripple their team, allowing somewhere in the neighbourhood of two goals per 60 minutes more than the rest of their team while generating almost zero offence or shots on goal.

If I'm a coach or GM, isn't there a better option at the bottom of the roster?
.

Labels:

39 Comments:

At 5:54 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

If I'm a coach or GM, isn't there a better option at the bottom of the roster?
Yes.

Goons are aging dinosaurs. The massive talent dilution of high-end hockey in the 1970s created the prototypical hockey goon. Immense expansion (the WHA and NHL combined at one point in time had as many teams as the current NHL with decidedly less talent to draw from as today's pool) allowed goons to filter into the top levels of hockey and have been in decline for at least the past 20 years in numbers.

The league is recovering it's talent level. The only reason teams still employ goons is to essentially serve as a placebo effect (makes the other players on their team feel "safer", even though the very employment of such players generally makes them more at risk), and as entertainment value.

But if teams want to win, they'll stop filling their rosters with these guys. Or they'll do like Anaheim, and have several that hardly play at all and just play their top end players A LOT.

 
At 6:07 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

The rates are mostly good, but I'd like to point out that these goons experience a lot more stoppages in play from their fights; it will naturally deflate any offensive-style numbers, I'd think.

This one probably has to get decided outside of spreadsheets, I'd guess. There are good teams and bad teams that don't employ enforcers, and there are good teams and bad teams that do.

But I do trust this: if there was no place for an enforcer in this game, they'd become extinct of their own accord. For now I think it's still up in the air.

 
At 6:12 PM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Bman said...

i have a feeling that the average person watching hockey is not 100% interested in the game, unlike bigtime fans. fighting, checks, and aggressive behaviour in general probably help draw people to the game where they wouldn't be otherwise. so maybe it's a crowd-thing

 
At 7:11 PM, November 24, 2007, Anonymous Baroque said...

i have a feeling that the average person watching hockey is not 100% interested in the game, unlike bigtime fans. fighting, checks, and aggressive behaviour in general probably help draw people to the game where they wouldn't be otherwise. so maybe it's a crowd-thing

The problem is that most games aren't full of fights. Often only one real fight (as opposed to some pushing and shoving), MAYBE two if the game is really heated--I would guess that three fights in a game is really rare.

What non-hockey fan is going to think, "hey, let's go to a game. I'm only interested in the fighting, so if I'm lucky I may see two fights in the 60 minutes of playing time--if I'm not at the concession stand or in the restroom or distracted at the time."

I think it really isn't the kind of thing that will draw in a definite non-hockey fan. If they are interested in fighting, they are probably watching boxing or ultimate fighting or something that provides a bit more reliable fighting entertainment. It is probably more likely something that is a nice added feature to the game for someone who is already there for the hockey.

 
At 7:16 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger usually frustrated caps fan said...

I think you are all missing the facts and off mark. Physical hockey is returning and on the up-swing. Look at the current Cup Champions from last year; look at the Flyers this year and I could go on.

As a hockey fan who came into my own in tne 70's I can tell you that saskhab never looked at Dave "The Hammer" Schulz's minor and junior league stats before he became an enforcer - I don't use the term goon it's cheap and wrong (as in incorrect and ill-informed). I assure you, all the guys you listed can skate better than most guys in the AHL and many of the "grinders" in the NHL. The Flyers of the Broad Street Bullies had 4 guys who would/could be enforcers in today's league and they could all play the game well.

Today's game is once again getting physical and that's fine with me. As for the Team I root for now - the Caps - Donald Brashear is a real contributor and team leader. It's part of the game always has been and always will be.

 
At 7:33 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Kirk said...

Colin Campbell is now the league-wide goon. With him playing the role of enforcer by handing out far more suspensions than we ever used to see, the need for the traditional goon is lessened. I don't think this means that fighting is going away anytime soon (let's hope not), but revenge is certainly on the decline.

 
At 7:37 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Wade Belak has never, will never, skate better than a crippled war veteran, much less most NHL grinders and the entire AHL. To pick just one name from that list.
To suggest so displays, pardon me, a profound misreading of hockey, but is not, excuse me again for generalizing, a surprise coming as it does from a fan of the most @zz-backward neanderthal franchise quite likely in the history of the NHL. A franchise that set back hockey decades with its mayhem-inducing style in the 70s, its nurturing/negligence of prototypical power FW Eric Lindros in the 90s, and its current fixation with players of dubious skill level who nonetheless have managed to inflict near-career-ending damage on skill players such as McAmmond, Kessler and Bergeron.
/end rant

 
At 9:53 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Adam C said...

Dave Schultz's career AHL stats: 211 games, 42 goals. Yeah, he was lighting it up! Clearly he was a better skater than anyone else down there. And hey, his 2000 NHL penalty minutes were for enforcing the rules, not breaking them.

A 'goon' is defined as someone who is hired to treat others violently or roughly. Yeah, that sounds like an incorrect and ill-informed definition.

 
At 10:02 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger mike said...

Great post--maybe now some of the other dinosaurs who inhabit this profession might actually think this issue through a little bit.

Don't think this'll sway Don Cherry though.

 
At 3:48 AM, November 25, 2007, Anonymous Rick Marnon said...

There are some pretty big numbers in that list. They make the game fun though.

 
At 6:58 AM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Joe said...

I don't know how to quantify what the effect would be if you put an average third liner out there instead of these fellows, but one has to believe it would at least balance things out a little bit. At the very least, players playing against the other teams' weakest players could exploit that a little better.

I knew as soon as I saw the first list that the Red Wings wouldn't have a player on it. And they wouldn't have had a player on that list in several years. Even Darren McCarty would have a hard time fitting on that list. I would say the Red Wings are a good example of what can happen when you put a real player on your 4th line, instead of a "goon".

Not only is the enforcer taking away a spot from a potentially more skilled 3/4 liner, but they're also taking away development time and a roster spot from a young player who may develop into far more than a 3/4, and into a 1/2 liner. Getting the best bang for your young star's buck is one of the keys to winning under the new salary cap, and keeping a valuable roster spot for a goon hamstrings your ability to do that.

 
At 10:12 AM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Baroque said...

Joe--

I thought the same thing about Detroit. For the last few years there has been a continual (on the part of some) cry for more "toughness" and "grit" in the form of penalty minutes on the roster, and they have tried a number of players in that enforcer-type slot without much success because they need someone who can also skate and play with the rest of the team. A pair of fists in cement skates can't keep up with linemates or what the coaches have wanted the team to do, and a tough guy who can also play is a rare commodity.

 
At 10:40 AM, November 25, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

Though this will never be accepted by the Art Vendeley crowd, the goons and the pests are often the most colorful players on the team. I've probably forgotten 95% of the fourth line players on the Flames over the years, but I sure as hell can remember all the goons. You guys can pretend that all people want to see it good, well played hockey, but if you're a Flames fan like me and you had to suffer through a decade of dump and chase, it's always nice to have the guy out there who'll spark the crowd up with a big hit or a fight. Or a little talk trash before the game. The reality is that 30 teams every year can’t field a team that is fun to watch every year. Heck, 15 can’t. There just isn’t enough talent. But while you can’t guarantee the fans they’ll watch a good hockey game every night, you can guarantee, by throwing a couple pests on the team, that they’ll see a couple good hits and fight.

And Art might think that people stand up and cheer during a fight just to drive him insane, but an alternative theory is that a fight is part of the entertainment package and people enjoy watching them. If I drop $90 to watch the freaking Flames and Wild play a neutral zone snooze fest, I sure as heck better see some hits and maybe even a fight in order to satisfy myself that I at least got 50% of my money's worth.

So can you guys do me a favour and quit bringing up this strawman argument that “if people wanted to see a fight, they’d watch UFC.” Fighting is only part of the entertainment package, so it’s only part of the reason people go to a game. No one goes just to see a fight, but if a fight breaks, the only guys in the arena covering their eyes are Art and his crowd. Secondly, people don’t want to see “fighting” as much they want to violence. And freakish displays of athleticism. And because the latter is in serious short supply in the NHL, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the league chooses to compensate for the inherent flaws in is product by allowing guys to run into each other at high speed and punch each other in the face.

 
At 11:52 AM, November 25, 2007, Anonymous Matt D said...

Appealing to the fact that fans like fights misses the point here-- it might be true that fans love fights, and that fighters are colourful, and so on, but coaches aren't in the business of pleasing the fans.

Coaches are in the business of winning. (If you doubt this, ask yourself why every team in the league traps.) And the stats seem to show that goons are not conducive to winning. Why should coaches set their lineups with entertainment in mind?

Of course, I suspect that most fans are happier leaving the rink having seem their team win a fightless game than loose a fight-filled one, which makes the use of goons even stranger. Maybe coaches are just dumb? In any case, the fact that fans like fights doesn't seem to explain it.

Best thing I've ever read on the subject was just posted yesterday: http://theoryofice.blogspot.com/2007/11/on-fighters.html

 
At 11:55 AM, November 25, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I can't speak for Art, but I've never claimed that there aren't a lot of hockey fans that want to see fights. My claim is that there are a lot of those people who advance moronic arguments in an attempt to justify wanting to see fights. If you like fighting, then like fighting, but stop embarrassing yourself by stating that allowing fighting somehow leads to less dirty play.

I've made several subsidiary claims that I stand by. One of them is that I think that someone who thinks fighting is a good thing has no business getting exercised about other types of dirty play. The NHL has instituted new rules to try to prevent players from hitting other players in the head in an attempt to cause them injury. This contrasts with fighting, which is two players hitting each other in the head in an attempt to cause injury.

Further, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, hockey fights are boring. If I wanted to watch players hit each other in the head in an attempt to cause injury, then sports where that is the main goal do a much better job of giving me that. I will say that“if people wanted to see a fight, they’d watch UFC,” because, if they did, they'd get to see much more interesting fights.

 
At 12:34 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

And the stats seem to show that goons are not conducive to winning.

My response to this would be that the goons affect on winning is immaterial. We're talking about, for the most part, guys who play 6 minutes a game against the other team's fourth line. Over the course of a season, they essentially play 6 full games ((80 games *6 minutes)/60 minutes)). So the value of replacing them with a typical fourth liner over the course of an entire season, who by definition is likely a negative contributor to the team himself, is most likely marginal.

That's why the goon stays on the team. His impact with respect to winning or losing games is immaterial (because he plays no time, and his replacement would be another relatively talentless fourth liner), but he is colourful, identifiable player on the team whose contribution to the entertainment value of the team far outweighs whatever the team loses from sticking him on the ice. That, and there's a number of non-quantifiable contributions he makes to the team (makes players feel safe ect.) that also must be considered.

As well, you again have a guaranteed provider of "entertainment" if it's needed. If the team is playing a terrible, unwatchable brand of hockey, you can always send the goon or pest out there to muck things up and get the fans going. McTavish can't go to Hemsky and say "this is a brutal game, go do something unreal," but he can always go to Stortini and tell him to put someone through the glass.

The prevailing assumption here is that playing the game itself provides enough inherent entertainment value to satisfy the fans for 60 minutes a game, 82 games a year. But anyone who follows a shit team (which is 60% of fans every year) knows this isn't true. So the goon and pests are there to provide those auxiliary forms of entertainment (ie. violence) to get fans through the inevitable 40 some games a year where the aesthetic value of the hockey itself isn't there. The coach might be in the business of winning, but if he can put some butts in the seat without taking away from his ability to win hockey games, then why wouldn't he have a pest or goon on his roster?

 
At 12:54 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

If Mirtle was so inclined, he could probably roughly quantify the effect of having a goon on the roster. His calculations in this post show that goons cost their team 1.1 net goals per game. My rough calculation shows that they play about 6 full games a year. So they cost their team 6.6 net goals over an entire season.

Now presumably the goon is replacing a guy who would otherwise be the worst player on the team. Now if you assume the replacement player played the same number of minutes (which might not be that valid, but let's keep things simple) and took the worst non-goon player from each team and got their numbers, you could compare this to the numbers Mirtle calculated in this post and get a Value over Replacement value.

I'm going to guess the worst player on each team is also a negative contributor, let's say, as a guess, a negative 0.50 net goals a game. So the replacement player would cost the team 3 net goals a year over the same number of minutes, meaning the cost of having the goon out there instead is 3.6 net goals a year. Which is nothing. It probably wouldn't even amount to one loss. That's why he is out there.

 
At 12:54 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

So the value of replacing them with a typical fourth liner over the course of an entire season, who by definition is likely a negative contributor to the team himself, is most likely marginal.

One would think, but magnified over a full season, the guys who are dragging down their teams the most here would see their teams allow an extra 10 or so goals over a full season while they're on the ice.

The figures show that playing Belak less than 3.5 minutes a night has resulted in zero goals for and two goals against over just eight games. That's more than a 20-goal swing to the negative if he plays 82 games at that pace.

 
At 4:49 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Joe said...

Over the course of a season, they essentially play 6 full games ((80 games *6 minutes)/60 minutes)). So the value of replacing them with a typical fourth liner over the course of an entire season, who by definition is likely a negative contributor to the team himself, is most likely marginal.

Now thats a hell of an assumption to make. Nothing says that just because you're on the fourth line, you have to suck. And even if you do, then the issue becomes, "do you suck as bad as that goon over there?" If the answer is no, you get his line spot. This is particularly important when developing youth. Instead of telling a kid to tag along and watch from the boxes each game, you can tell the goon to do that. Sure, a young kid may make mistakes when hes on the ice, same as a goon, but by giving him the chance to develop, you enable yourself to find out just how good of a player he is, when you already know how good (read: bad) of a player the goon is.

Remember, a lot of the successful teams in the league use their 4th lines as defensively responsible lines. I'm not able to follow the Sharks on a regular basis, but isn't Mike Grier on the 4th line? Quite frankly, every playoff year, Mike Grier is one of the best players on the team he is on. Kirk Maltby is another great 4th liner. Mike Ricci was another. Obviously, none of those three was some sort of poor man's Gretzky, but they are all far more useful players to stick on a 4th line than ANY of the guys on Mirtle's list. In fact, I would argue that having these kinds of players on a team is FAR more helpful in putting asses in the seats and points on the league standings, than having a goon. And these players exist, and theres definitely more than a handful of them. Hell, I'll go block shots for a living, if it means I can play in the NHL. And a lot of guys who ARE in minor leagues or whatever feel the same way. Making it to the show as the unsung 4th line hero is a lot better than not making it at all.

I've got to leave here in a minute, but if I had the time (maybe I'll do it later), I'll figure out of last year's playoff teams, which had one of those enforcers. I'm guessing it won't be too many, because the better teams find key contributors on the 4th line. Even Brad May's presence there for the Ducks is kind of an aberration, as he was never used in the playoffs again (I dont think, if he was, it was sparingly) after the Minnesota series, because thats when the Ducks had to start playing smarter, more disciplined hockey.

 
At 5:14 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Bruce said...

Over the course of a season, they essentially play 6 full games ((80 games *6 minutes)/60 minutes)).

Uh, that's more like 8 full games. A simple way to figure it is that 6 minutes per game is 10% of the ice time.

 
At 5:17 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Speaking of which, six minutes may sound insignificant, but these guys are playing 10 per cent of the game, and 15 per cent of the even strength minutes in the average game.

Fifteen per cent doesn't strike me as an insignificant amount of time on the ice.

 
At 5:26 PM, November 25, 2007, Anonymous Matt D said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Leafs missed the playoffs last year by 1 win. If Belak's stats last year were anything like they are this year, he probably cost his team a playoff spot. Or rather, Maurice did by playing Belak instead of a young farmhand. Or perhaps JFJ did by setting the roster... In any case, every win matters for bubble teams. Which is most teams, really.

(Of course, this argument would work better if the Leafs actually had young prospects, but you get the picture.)

 
At 6:24 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Mclea might have his math off a bit, but I think I'm siding with him. Detroit is a good team without an enforcer, but we shouldn't get carried away and say that they are a good team because they don't carry an enforcer.

The numbers rates seem dull, but I can't say that I have ever walked away from a game muttering that George Parros cost us the game--he's not really played in a deciding role.

I don't know if you'll find the value of an enforcer in GF/GA rates or shot rates--you are showing me a tradeoff cost, sure, but the fact that they still get ice time for coaches trying to win suggests that there is a benefit we're not looking at. Or at the very least, that it is pretty immaterial.

 
At 6:56 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:07 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger mc79hockey said...

McLea - I've looked before - 5 or 6 goal differential is about what a win costs. Something that Earl said caught my eye too:

I don't know if you'll find the value of an enforcer in GF/GA rates or shot rates--you are showing me a tradeoff cost, sure, but the fact that they still get ice time for coaches trying to win suggests that there is a benefit we're not looking at. Or at the very least, that it is pretty immaterial.

I don't know about hockey but I know that in baseball, managers make decisions that are absolutely against the numbers all the time. Frequently, these decisions can't be explained. I wouldn't let the fact that coaches use these players end the discussion as to whether it makes sense.

 
At 9:21 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Especially since not all coaches make that same decision. There have been plenty of strong, winning teams without a goon tromping around out there 10 per cent of the time.

 
At 11:05 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

I wouldn't let the fact that coaches use these players end the discussion as to whether it makes sense.

Fine, but I think it will take more than showing that selected players that fight more than they score have tough counting numbers. I could have guessed that.

Is there any correlation with winning that can be pointed to, or is it irrelevant? I'm not above listening to data above coaches, but just showing the known downside is sort of skewed.

 
At 11:16 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Everyone's singing a familiar refrain on that one, but did people know enforcers were this bad? One goal scored per 60 minutes of even strength ice time? And that's not their rate; that's the rate for the entire team while they're out there.

This post isn't about correlating winning and fighting; I'll leave that up to someone else. What I was really interested in was seeing if any of these guys contribute anywhere near the level of an average NHLer.

It doesn't look like it.

 
At 11:53 PM, November 25, 2007, Blogger Adam C said...

At the risk of simply refining 3 points already made:

1) Appealing to the wisdom of the NHL establishment (including coaches) is unconvincing. How many years did it take for them to routinely pull goalies in the last minute? Many teams still don't practice shootouts, and I have yet to see them take the gambles in OT that were supposed to come with the extra point.

2) The goon does not necessarily replace the worst forward on the team; I believe he would usually replace a player of similarly high risk. An example might be Simon Gamache of the Leafs.

3) I'm very disappointed to hear that unlike baseball, football, basketball, soccer, rugby and cricket, my favourite sport is too dull to watch if your team sucks. Especially when the 'spice' required to make it interesting is the predictable, choreographed wrestling match between two goons that we usually see.

 
At 1:49 AM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Everyone's singing a familiar refrain on that one, but did people know enforcers were this bad? One goal scored per 60 minutes of even strength ice time? And that's not their rate; that's the rate for the entire team while they're out there.

I guess, but it seems like a hand-selected list of guys who specifically aren't played many minutes and don't produce points.

If you rounded this list to all six-minute-a-night guys, I suspect it would get better but not by much.

 
At 2:03 AM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous George Malik said...

I know he doesn't play regularly enough to make a meaningful "fights vs. goals for-goals against" list, but Aaron Downey has repeatedly explained how he approaches games over the last few weeks

He's indicated that when Mike Babcock puts him in the lineup, his first goal is to play a responsible defensive game and to do what a grinder would do in getting pucks into the opposition zone and grinding on their defencemen by cycling the puck and winning battles along the boards, not fighting. He wants to not be a liability in his limited ice time because he knows that if he's on the ice for a goal against, he's probably not going to get another shift.

Second, he said that he wants to isolate opposing players while on the forecheck, and he looks to give them extra pushes, shoves, slashes, etc. to attempt to draw penalties. He wants to get on specific players and repeatedly pester them to distraction.

Downey's indicated that he's only really looking to fight outright when he feels that opponents have taken liberties with star players, so it's more of a "message sending" occupation for him instead of merely "giving the boys a lift."

It was just a player who knows he's got limited skills and is trying to earn a living with those limited skills talking, but it was somewhat refreshing to hear a "tough guy" explain that his role is to do more than just fight and then sit on the bench.

 
At 2:35 AM, November 26, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I guess, but it seems like a hand-selected list of guys who specifically aren't played many minutes and don't produce points.

I simply looked at the fighting majors leaders and picked out the notable enforcers. To be honest, I expected there to be more of them, like Brashear or Laraque, who contributed more of value, but it's pretty ugly stuff.

The league needs more Chris Neil types who are big, tough and who can fight, play and score. I love those multiple threat types of fighters, and I can't see why there can't be more players in that mould.

 
At 2:47 AM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Joe said...

I don't know if you'll find the value of an enforcer in GF/GA rates or shot rates--you are showing me a tradeoff cost, sure, but the fact that they still get ice time for coaches trying to win suggests that there is a benefit we're not looking at. Or at the very least, that it is pretty immaterial.

But the time that coaches are MOST trying to win (the playoffs) is the time when those goons get pulled off the ice, and off the roster entirely. Your Ducks did it with Brad May last year. Its not uncommon for an enforcer type to stay with the team until the playoffs, when every single shot really does matter, and having a weak link out there for 6 minutes a game IS a big problem.

I think the fact that the enforcer usually gets yanked come playoff time speaks quite clearly to the role of an enforcer. During the regular season, when people are doing more stupid things that lead to people getting hurt, they bring along the enforcer as a way to whoop someone's ass for taking liberties with your players. In the playoffs, that generally isn't a concern, because no one wants to be the one who took the stupid penalty, and thus, there often isn't the same liberties being taken. Then you really don't have a need for the enforcer.

 
At 2:53 AM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Steve Patterson said...

in my opinion alot of these posts miss the point of why "goons" are employed in the nhl. a study about the unproductivity of goons is kind of like stating the obvious...they are fourth line players and if you took ratings of fourth line players on most nhl teams, you would uncover similar results.

there are alot of reasons why fighters are still employed in the nhl and are far from "dinosaurs." as an aside, i remember reading about how guys like dave brown and joey kocur were dinosaurs in their day and they ended up with fine careers.

probably the most obvious but debatable point is the entertainment value they bring. some say that hockey fights have no "aesthetic value." well, that's one opinion, one shared by about the 10% of hockey fans that respond to polls about banning fighting in hockey that are regularly taken whenever a violent incident causes the media to again question why it's still a part of the game. many, like myself, enjoy watching fights...tonight's game that i watched between the canucks and the blackhawks had one abrupt bout and another good spirited fight. the crowd was as loud for the fight as they were for the goal. as a fan, if i had to choose between watching george parros or mark mowers play on the fourth line, who in the world is going to say mowers?

another reason is the nuclear deterrent factor. fighters aren't noticed so much until a team realizes they don't have one anymore and the other team does. ask the pittsburgh penguins about the liberties crosby received until they traded for georges laraque. ask the minnesota wild who just claimed todd fedoruk off waivers. ask edmonton oilers fans who are still searching for a replacement for the aforementioned laraque.

and that leads to another point, and that is their role in policing the game. paul coffey was recently asked who the one player was who deserves more credit for the edmonton oilers dynasty, and the player he said without hesitation was dave semenko. in their own way, they make players accountable for their actions on the ice and help protect the star players. ask players who are almost unanimous about taking the instigator rule out of the game.

with fighters, it is true that violent incidents are going to occur occasionally when they are on the ice. as a canucks fan, i had to watch jesse boulerice try to take ryan kesler's face off a month ago. but last week i also saw mattias ohlund take a bobby clarke baseball swing and break mikku koivu's ankle, as well as "agitator" matt cooke give two different players concussions in hits from behind. violence is not isolated to fighters in this league at all.

so yeah, if teams want to win, they will employ a "goon" here or there. i guess the exception is to go the detroit route and load up on skill. but just look how it's paying off for them in the playoffs and in the stands lately.

 
At 8:45 AM, November 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

timely post. i was watching rangers/stars yesterday and down a a goal with 6 mins to go the rangers had hollweg, betts, orr on the ice. since they scored their even strength goal for the season (decade?) the other night against tampa it seemed to be a strange move.

cheers

 
At 11:49 AM, November 26, 2007, Blogger Hawerchuk said...

George Malik does bring up and interesting point about Aaron Downey. But let's not take Downey at his word.

When this group of 20 players is on the ice this year, their teams have taken 2.3 more minor penalties than their opponents per 60 minutes of ice time. That's another 4-5 PP goals that these guys cost their teams over the course of a season.

Last year, the Leafs took 13 more minor penalties than their opponents when Belak was on the ice. That's another 2.6 goals against, which, combined with the worst plus-minus on the team against the weakest competition on the team, definitely cost the Leafs a game in the standings.

 
At 7:34 PM, November 26, 2007, Blogger PB said...

The fight stuff this past few days has been truly thought provoking. It's too bad I was wrapped up in my own junk at the time to weigh in earlier.

However, I've been flitting back and forth on teams needing muscle issue for the past couple of months - namely when we sent Josh Gratton down to the AHL via the waiver wire. The Coyotes as a team have not backed down, but they haven't been knocked around too much physically. That might change though...

Obviously, Carcillo has filled that void and the kid can actually play some hockey, but as the Coyotes swing through the upper midwest this week, I wonder just will happen when they meet up with the Kocis and the Fedoruks and the Boogards of the NHL. Last year, Koci didn't care too much who he hit, with or without Gratton on the bench.

From these stats, the muscle is hurting their teams somewhat and the guys will have learn how to play something else on the ice than the traditional pugilist. Does fast skating and skill negate the heavyweight?

I guess I'll see the answer later this week.

 
At 5:54 AM, November 27, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

The league needs more Chris Neil types who are big, tough and who can fight, play and score. I love those multiple threat types of fighters, and I can't see why there can't be more players in that mould.

Not sure if anyone is still reaing this thread, but . . .

The reason you don't see more players like this is because most skilled players don't want to shorten their careers by encouraging other players to hit them in the head. Fighting causes injuries. They don't necessarily become apparent as fighting injuries, but the human body does become weaker through cumulative damage.

If someone can make money because he can pass, shoot, or skate, why the hell would he want to risk that by volunteering to be a punching bag? There's a reason that fighting is done mostly by players who wouldn't make it in the NHL if they didn't fight. That reason is that it's a stupid way to make a living.

 
At 6:43 AM, July 23, 2008, Anonymous Eric said...

Forgive me if there's redundancy here in my commments.

I don't think you can honestly compare today's enforcer to that of even 5-10 years ago.

I remember enforcers in the 80s and 90s getting the occasional shift on the first line or a guy like Probert netting a few goals because he actually got decent ice time. Nowadays most head coaches barely play their enforcer, let alone give them a shift with quality offensive players.

A lot of enforcers today are relegated to jumping over the boards, dropping the gloves once or twice (rare) and then sitting for the rest of the night on the bench.

How often do you see a legit enforcer get just 1 shift on the pp?

And since this was titled "what do the goons do?" I think it might be useful to note that enforcers typically aren't asked to score goals. Face it, McGratton, Stortini, Parros, etc... aren't asked to contribute the way a guy like Clark Gillies did when he was winning Cups for the NYI.

 

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