Does Fighting Make Cents?


    I was reading through a few archived sports articles involving statistical and economic analyses the other day, and came across a very interesting piece titled “Blood Money: Incentives for Violence in NHL Hockey”. I was reading the article as part of an economics of professional sports course I was taking at the university, and was intrigued because it had been written by a Dr. John P. Haisken Denew, a Hamilton native who had taken the very same course I was taking some many years ago.

    Essentially, the article talked about a study done by the Ruhr and Westphalian Institute for Economic Research that took an interesting perspective when it came to evaluating the effects of fighting in the NHL. They looked at a huge range of data spanning from 1967 (damn them for choosing that year) all the way through to 2007. And here are some of the revealing team-oriented facts that they uncovered:

    1. The game of hockey is becoming more and more violent over time. In 1967, the average NHL team would receive roughly 750 penalty minutes a season. In 2005, the average NHL team would be penalized 1200 minutes a season.

    2. The more you fight, the more likely you are to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. But once you get to the Finals, the number of fights becomes irrelevant and the team with the highest regular season winning percentage is most likely to take the Cup. Strange.

    3. As a continuation of the above findings, researchers also discovered that if you won the majority of those fights, you’d be even MORE likely to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Now moving on to individual players, they now wanted to know how fighting would impact a player’s market value. These economists essentially did a regression analysis that helped them determine the assocation strength between a player’s salary and a number of other variables including fights won and lost. So what you’re basically doing here is identifying a whole bunch of possible factors, and then seeing which one plays a greater role in affecing how much a player makes. And here’s what they found:

    1. Penalty minutes was a positive and very significant statistic. Each PIM adds approximately $2,577 to a player’s salary.

    2. Wingers get approximately $10,940 per fighting major.

    3. Wingers who “win” those fights get $18,135.

    4. And here’s an interesting one. Plus/minus did NOT affect a player’s monetary value.

    So what does this tell us? It tells us that it pays to fight in the NHL. The teams who fight more and win more fights, are more likely to be successful in making deep playoff runs. Strangely enough, that theory falls apart once you’re in the Final. In addition, it also tells us that fighting is NOT being undervalued by the open market. Players that record more PIM’s, fight more, and win more fights, are being paid more handsomely for their efforts.

    In fact, during this past offseason, there were several “tough guys” who signed new contracts such as Riley Cote, Chris Neil, George Parros, Donald Brashear, Ian Laperriere, Raitis Ivanans, etc. Despite the fact that the  highest amount of goals scored among this group was 6, the group received an average raise of 16%. I’m sure there’s a good many of you that wouldn’t mind a nice 16% raise right about now huh? Exchanging a few punches down at the office is all it takes? Haha.

    All in all, I thought it was pretty interesting stuff and thought it would be fun to share and discuss. How is this relevant to the Leafs? Well for one thing, it signals that the guy running the Leafs upstairs has got something upstairs if you know what I mean. This was one of the best statistical proofs that shows that bigger, tougher, rougher, meaner teams are more likely to succeed in the playoffs. It’s always been a commonly accepted notion for the most part, but if you’re a stats head like me, it was refreshing to see some of the numbers behind that concept. It’ll be fun to keep this all in mind when we watch Burke reshape the roster this coming offseason.

    So the next time you see a Leaf player come out battered and bruised after winning a fight, you should tip your cap twice. One for that player displaying a ton of heart, and two, for him increasing the probability that the Leafs make it to the Finals. Even if it’s by just a tiny bit.

    Always a pleasure,

    Alex Tran