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Vulgar Statistics: Which Fighters Are The Best Players? Part I – NHL Evidence

02/12/13

One of the things that has always interested me, particularly with enforcers, is how their role has changed as they’ve risen through the hockey ranks.  I know we like to think of them as talent-less goons that have no legitimate place on an NHL roster, but often these guys came up as players that were expected to produce points, not penalty minutes on a nightly basis.  And then there are the guys that (true to stereotype) struggled to hit five points in a season, regardless of which league they were in.  Which is which?

This will be the first of a two part series, which looks at enforcers’ contributions in the NHL.  The second part, which will be posted later, will detail which guys were major producers in Juniors and the AHL, but became fighters once they hit the bigs.

I did this the same way I tend to do everything, I measured each guy’s statistics between the lockouts in Games per Year, Goals Per Game, Points Per Game, +/-, and Faceoff %.  Obviously there are flaws in doing things this way, let’s discuss them.

  • Games per year tends to punish guys that might have seen spot duty in their first season for reasons that had nothing to do with their talent.  It also doesn’t account for injuries.  However, that doesn’t affect an enforcer as much as it would a star forward.
  • Goals and points tends to hurt defensemen, particularly defensive defensemen.
  • +/- is just a bad stat.  Sorry, but it does have limited merits and it’s easy to track.
  • Faceoff percentage hurts defensemen as well.  So I decided to take their team’s faceoff rating and use it as their faceoff stat.  As coverage is an aspect of faceoffs, they did likely have some hand in them.

Fighters of Interest:

21). Cody McCormick

Games/Year – 46 (39th)

Goals/Game – .06 (23rd)

Points/Game – .18 (21st)

(+/-) – (-3) (12th)

Faceoff % – 39.7% (29th)

We think of McCormick as a solid hockey player for a guy who fights and the numbers certainly back that up.  While not a spectacular talent on the ice, he’s capable of putting in 5 goals a year.

45th). Andrew Peters

Games/Year – 37 (48th)

Goals/Game – .01 (45th)

Points/Game – .03 (51st)

(+/-) – (-14) (25th)

Faceoff % – 50.0% (11th)

Conversely, I think most of us would have classified Peters as fairly useless on the ice, and the numbers bear that out as well.  Still, it was always entertaining to see him score, and then dryly address the mics planted in his face after the game.

The Bottom Five:

48). Cam Janssen

Games/Year – 44 (41st)

Goals/Game – .01 (45th)

Points/Game – .04 (49th)

(+/-) – (-28) (41st)

Faceoff % – 45.5% (23rd)

I thought Janssen was a bit better of a player than this, but the numbers don’t lie.

49). Derek Boogaard

Games/Year – 46 (39th)

Goals/Game – .01 (45th)

Points/Game – .06 (44th)

(+/-) – (-12) (23rd)

Faceoff % – 0.0% (49th)

I don’t think there were any illusions about what Boogaard was in the league for…it was to hit people.  With his fists.

50). John Scott

Games/Year – 37 (48th)

Goals/Game – .01 (45th)

Points/Game – .03 (51st)

(+/-) – (-5) (14th)

Faceoff % – 0.0% (49th)

Surprisingly Scott isn’t the worst on this list, which comes from his decent +/-, likely obtained through limited playing time on decent teams.  Overall I’ve been impressed with Scott’s abilities this year.  I mean, they’re still not good, but they’re better than I thought they would be.  Sigh.

51). Raitis Ivanans

Games/Year – 40 (46th)

Goals/Game – .04 (34th)

Points/Game – .06 (44th)

(+/-) – (-41) (50th)

Faceoff % – 0.0% (49th)

Ah Ivanans.  I love the guy, but he tied for second to last in +/- and was last in faceoff percentage.  Still wouldn’t want to line up opposite him though.

52). Wade Belak

Games/Year – 39 (47th)

Goals/Game – .00 (51st)

Points/Game – .04 (49th)

(+/-) – (-25) (38th)

Faceoff % – 0.0% (49th)

Ah Wade Belak, another guy I liked, and feared considering he played much of his career for Toronto.

The Top Ten:

10). David Clarkson

Games/Year – 63 (22nd)

Goals/Game – .22 (2nd)

Points/Game – .39 (4th)

(+/-) – (-26) (39th)

Faceoff % – 40.8% (25th)

Clarkson should probably be higher on this list.  His transformation from NHL pugilist, to regular shifter, to 30 goal scorer has been nothing short of fascinating.

9). Gregory Campbell

Games/Year – 74 (5th)

Goals/Game – .10 (10th)

Points/Game – .25 (9th)

(+/-) – (-30) (43rd)

Faceoff % – 49.4% (16th)

For all the crap I give Campbell about being a terrible fighter, he’s a pretty decent hockey player, probably the exact type of guy you want on your fourth line if you’re making a run at the cup.

8). Jamal Mayers

Games/Year – 75 (4th)

Goals/Game – .10 (10th)

Points/Game – .25 (9th)

(+/-) – (-71) (52nd)

Faceoff % – 55.5% (4th)

Mayers’s abysmal +/- aside, the guy is a solid hockey player top to bottom.

7). Arron Asham

Games/Year – 68 (8th)

Goals/Game – .11 (6th)

Points/Game – .27 (8th)

(+/-) – (-15) (26th)

Faceoff % – 40.3% (26th)

For some reason, I always pictured Asham as an old school goon, not a guy that took a regular shift.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

6). Matt Hendricks

Games/Year – 54 (25th)

Goals/Game – .10 (10th)

Points/Game – .23 (11th)

(+/-) – (-6) (15th)

Faceoff % – 50.8% (8th)

An older guy that’s bounced between the AHL and NHL for a while, Hendricks is a solid fourth line player that can get you  10-20 points under the right circumstances.

5). Brandon Prust

Games/Year – 56 (22nd)

Goals/Game – .09 (14th)

Points/Game – .17 (23rd)

(+/-) – (+3) (4th)

Faceoff % – 48.7% (17th)

Prust is another guy I think, whose fighting ability overshadows his hockey skills.  He won’t light the lamp often like the four guys above him, but he is a threat to do it.

4). Steve Ott

Games/Year – 67 (10th)

Goals/Game – .17 (4th)

Points/Game – .43 (3rd)

(+/-) – (-16) (29th)

Faceoff % – 54.9% (5th)

Ott is another guy who, due to his reputation, sometimes gets billed as more of a fighter than a hockey player, when the truth is in fact the opposite.

3). Ian Laperriere

Games/Year – 78 (2nd)

Goals/Game – .11 (6th)

Points/Game – .34 (5th)

(+/-) – (+2) (6th)

Faceoff % – 45.5 (22nd)

Obviously this list didn’t hurt defensemen too bad as there are two of them in the top three.  One of my favorite players, Laperriere was also a solid winger-turned-defenseman.

2). Milan Lucic

Games/Year – 72 (6th)

Goals/Game – .25 (1st)

Points/Game – .59 (2nd)

(+/-) – (+43) (2nd)

Faceoff % – 41.4% (24th)

It shouldn’t surprise anyone who read the enforcer article who takes the top two spots on this list.  While Lucic isn’t talented enough to force you to reckon with him every night, and he isn’t rounded enough to garner significant time on the penalty kill, and he doesn’t fight guys bigger than him, he is very tough and talented nonetheless.

1). Zdeno Chara

Games/Year – 78 (2nd)

Goals/Game – .18 (3rd)

Points/Game – .60 (1st)

(+/-) – (+118) (1st)

Faceoff % – 51.1 (6th)

No one will mistake Chara for Mike Tyson, but the guy drops his gloves an awful lot and is perhaps the most difficult defenseman to face in the entire NHL.  Oh, and he produces points.  Tough to get any more well rounded than that.

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