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:
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:
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:
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):
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?