Rule changes in recent seasons have forced Junior A teams and players across Canada to be more choosy about when they fight. Players now earn escalating suspensions for fighting more than four times a season. The elimination of the “two fight rule” has resulted in automatic ejections for anyone who fights. There are also other measures that have been introduced to curb staged fights, line brawls, end-of-game scraps and the instigating of fights.
I thought it would be a fascinating exercise to take a detailed look at fighting in the SJHL this past season. Ideally, I would compare the findings to seasons before the rule changes were made — but I’m afraid that data isn’t available to the general public. I came into this study wanting to know how often SJHL players fight, who is doing the fighting, when are they fighting and what happens when they fight.
Let’s start with some basic SJHL fight numbers before we try answering those questions. There were 228 fighting majors handed out during the 2016-2017 regular season. That translated into 117 fights (six fights involved only one player getting a fighting major). As well, there were fights in 90 of the league’s 348 regular season games — meaning 25.9 per cent of SJHL games this past season had at least one fight.
So let’s take a look at the teams that did the most fighting in 2016-2017. The table below also shows how many games each team fought and how many players from each team picked up at least one fighting major. The teams are listed in order of fighting major totals.
|Team||Fighting Majors||Games with Fight||Players with Fighting Major|
SJHL Team Fighting Totals, 2016-2017 Season
I think most SJHL fans already knew Estevan and Kindersley were the most frequent fighting teams, given their season totals in majors and PIM. But I wouldn’t have guessed that they and two other teams (La Ronge and Yorkton) all had at least 15 players get in a fight. Granted, not all of these players are on these rosters at the same time. Still, that’s 25 per cent of the league’s teams hitting that mark. If we head to hockeyfights.com, we find that only three of 30 NHL teams (10 per cent) had at least 15 players get a fighting major this past season. This is a league with no limit on how many times a player can fight, where teams play 24 more games than SJHL teams and where fully 11 teams this past season picked up more fighting majors than the SJHL-leading Estevan Bruins. I believe this is evidence of the choosiness at the Junior A level I was referring to earlier. Teams that want to fight a little more than others have no choice but to spread the chore among several players so that no one gets into suspension trouble. I don’t know if it is as intentional as that, at least at the team level. I’m guessing it’s mostly a matter of individual players keeping close tabs on their fight total, as well as coaches realizing they can no longer count on just a few guys to do the fighting.
Let’s move on to the instigating of fights in the SJHL this past season. The table below includes how often each team was penalized for starting a fight and how often they drew an instigator penalty.
|Team||Instigator Penalties||% of Fights Instigated||Times Opponent Penalized as Instigator|
SJHL Instigator Penalties by Team, 2016-2017 Season
So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the two teams that did the most fighting in the SJHL this past season also started the most fights. But Estevan and Kindersley also ranked high in terms of the percentage of their fights that they instigated. However, it was actually the Melfort Mustangs who led that category by a fair margin — instigating almost 31 per cent of their fights. In the quirky stat category, the Bruins instigated their last four fights of the regular season, while the Mustangs started their last three scraps. As far as who got jumped the most, three teams stand out from the rest: La Ronge, Nipawin and Kindersley. This is one of those categories that’s both good and bad to lead. On the one hand, these clubs were the best at suckering teams into instigator penalties. But it also makes you wonder why teams were jumping them so often.
League-wide, an instigator was identified in 32 of the 117 SJHL fights this past season — or 27.4 per cent of the time.
The next thing I dug up was the combinations of teams that produced the most fights in their games versus each other. Here is a snapshot of the top fighting rivalries from this past season.
Melville/Yorkton – 10 fights
Flin Flon/La Ronge – 7 fights
Battlefords/Kindersley – 6 fights
Estevan/Kindersley – 5 fights
Weyburn/Estevan – 4 fights
Flin Flon/Kindersley – 4 fights
Kindersley/Notre Dame – 4 fights
(several matchups tied at 3 fights)
So that Melville/Yorkton rivalry led the way, but the interesting thing is how often Kindersley appears on this list. Of course, you would expect one of the league leaders in fights to show up a few times here. But if you add up the fights from the four rivalries the Klippers had with the North Stars, Bruins, Bombers and Hounds, you account for 73 per cent of Kindersley’s season total of 26 fights. In other words, as much as the Klippers fought this past season, they were only in a combined seven scraps with the remaining seven teams in the SJHL.
Now we are going to get into some situational statistics. I said earlier I wanted to find out when SJHL teams were fighting. There are at least a couple of ways we can go about this. One approach is taking a look at which periods teams tended to drop the gloves. Teams are listed in the table below in order of who had the lowest percentage of their fights in the third period.
|Team||1st Period Fights||1st/2nd Period Fights||3rd Period Fights|
Percentage of SJHL Teams’ Fights per Period, 2016-2017 Season
So we see that Notre Dame and Melfort were the runaway leaders in fighting in the first two periods of play — and the only two teams who did most of their fighting prior to the third period. When we focus on just the first period, there are the Hounds and no one really close. On the other end of the spectrum, teams like Melville and the Battlefords reserved almost all of their fighting for the third period. If we include the next-closest teams (Nipawin and La Ronge), it’s apparent there was no right or wrong approach in terms of regular season success. Both the top and the bottom of the standings were well represented here.
League-wide, 67.5 per cent of the fights this past season were in the third period. Meanwhile, only 9.4 per cent were in the first frame.
So getting back to my question about when teams were fighting, the next thing I wanted to know was how often SJHL teams fought while the outcome of the game was still in doubt. So I came up with a crude “close game” measure. Basically, any fight that took place while the score was within two goals was deemed to be a “close game” scrap. (Incidentally, I came up with rules in advance about how I would approach late game scenarios, but I never had to use them.) The table below includes how many close game fights each team had in the regular season, but they are listed in order of the percentage close game tilts made up of their season total.
|Team||Number of Close Game Fights||Percentage of Close Game Fights of Total Fights|
Percentage of Close Game SJHL Fights by Team, 2016-2017 Season
Pretty interesting how vastly different some teams’ approaches were this past season. In the previous table, we saw how both Notre Dame and Melfort had a tendency to fight before the third period. As you might expect, this translated into a high percentage of their fights being of the close game variety. Almost 77 per cent of the Hounds’ fights happened when the outcome of a game was still in doubt. On the other end of the spectrum, the Nipawin Hawks rarely fought when the game was still close. In fact, the three top regular season teams in points (Hawks, Bombers and North Stars) all finished in the bottom four here. (You may have also noticed these three clubs were all among the league leaders in third period fights in the last table.) Perhaps the most important finding is that 41.9% of fights league-wide this past season occurred in close game conditions. I’m not sure what league officials think of that percentage, but that strikes me as surprisingly high. Even though SJHLers are automatically ejected with every fight, they were not afraid to drop the gloves when the game outcome was still in doubt.
This close game measure is going to come up a few more times, including in our next area of study. I mentioned earlier I was interested in what happened when SJHL teams dropped the gloves this season. That’s even the title of this piece. Again, there are a few ways to look into that. The first is simply looking at team records in games with fights and compare them to games where they didn’t fight. The table below also includes home and away splits, as well as each team’s record in games where a fight happened in a close game situation.
|Team||Games with a Fight||Games Without a Fight||Home Games with a Fight||Road Games with a Fight||Games with Close Game Fights|
SJHL Team Records in Games with Fights, 2016-2017 Season
The teams that did the best in games with a fight — in comparison to their record in games without a scrap — include Estevan, Yorkton and Melfort. Meanwhile, the teams that seemed to be much better off in games that didn’t have any fighting include Humboldt, Notre Dame, Melville and La Ronge. In fact, the Ice Wolves didn’t win a single game this past season in which there was a fight. Meanwhile, a number of teams had substantially different results when we narrowed things to records in close games. Nipawin experienced the biggest drop-off in points percentage when comparing all games with fights to contests with close game scraps, while Yorkton and Weyburn had the biggest improvement. In terms of home records, Yorkton was clearly the best in winning home games with fights, while Humboldt and Notre Dame were also much better in home games. But the Broncos and Hounds struggled in road games with scraps, while the Battlefords, Nipawin and Melfort had the best records in that category. Speaking of the North Stars, there were at least an .800 team in almost every category — except games with close game fights. A .643 points percentage is still very solid and was fourth-best in the league in this category. But if you were trying to use fighting as a tactic against the Stars this past season, your best bet was to get into a scrap with them when the outcome of a game was still in doubt.
Another way to try to measure what happened after an SJHL fight this past season is to look at how many goals each team scores and gives up shortly after the scrap, as well as their relative importance to the eventual outcome. In the table below, I’ve listed each team’s plus/minus of all goals scored within five minutes of their fights this past season. I’ve also included the percentage of each team’s fights that saw a goal scored either way, and how many of these goals were game-winners, game-tying goals and insurance goals.
|Team||+/- Within 5 Minutes of Fight||% of Fights With a Goal Within 5 Minutes||Important Goals For||Important Goals Against|
|Flin Flon||+3||33.3||GWG; IG||0|
|La Ronge||-5||56.5||0||GWG(x2); IG(x2)|
Goals Scored Within 5 Minutes of an SJHL Fight, 2016-2017 Season
The Klippers and Mustangs experienced the best goal differential within five minutes of their fights this past season. In the case of the Klippers, they were tied with the Bruins and Terriers in terms of how many of those goals were important to game outcomes. That’s despite the fact that the Terriers had a negative goal differential immediately after fights. La Ronge had the worst goal differential and the highest number of important goals given up five minutes after scraps — but the Ice Wolves also had the highest percentage of their fights followed by a goal either way. Across the SJHL, there were 45 fights (or 38.5% of fights) that saw at least one goal scored soon after the tilt.
Another way to look at what happened after a fight is too see how often fights were followed at some point by a lead change. I defined a lead change as any time a team either tied the game or took the lead at any point in the game after a fight, regardless if they eventually won the game. In the table below, teams are ordered by the total number of favourable lead changes they experienced after fights this past season.
|Team||Favourable Lead Changes After Fights||Unfavourable Lead Changes After Fights||% of Fights Resulting in Lead Changes||% of Games with Fights with Lead Changes After Fights|
Impact of SJHL Fights on Game State by Team, 2016-2017 Season
Kindersley and Flin Flon did the best in this regard. In fact, neither team experienced a single unfavourable lead change anytime after a fight this past season.
Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Hounds were the runaway leaders in the percentage of their fights and their games with fights that were eventually followed by a change in game state, while Melfort was also significantly above the rest of the league in these categories.
I should point out that across the SJHL this past season, there were just 22 of 117 fights (18.8%) that were followed by any sort of game state change in favour of one team. Meanwhile, only half (11) of those 22 fights (or 9.4% of the league total) were followed by a victory for the team that experienced the favourable lead change.
I bring this up because most studies at the NHL level have concluded there is a negligible relationship between fighting and winning, and in some cases a negative relationship. Even if the idea of fights generating meaningful momentum hadn’t been studied extensively, there’s also that pesky possibility that this can all be explained by talent or luck. Personally, I’m not convinced that there has been enough study done to conclusively say teams can’t benefit from fighting. Either way, I decided to present the last few tables as an expression of what did happen after fights in the SJHL this season — and not try to explain why it happened.
Next, I’m going to look at who did the fighting on SJHL teams this past season. I’m not going to get into names, but rather, present the average points per game of the players behind each team’s fights. Just to clarify, when calculating a team’s average, I included a player’s PPG for every time he fought. Why points per game? Ideally, I would use ice time here — but that’s not available. I realize there are many valuable players who are not big point producers. But I figured PPG — although a somewhat crude measure — was a decent indicator of the importance of the players to their team. This first table examines the average trade-off in points per game SJHL teams made when engaging in fights this past season.
|Team||Average opponents’ PPG/fighting major||Average PPG/fighting major||Difference|
Average Points Per Game of SJHL Players Who Fought, 2016-2017 Season
So when it comes to who drew the players with the highest average PPG out of the game in fights this season, Melville and Weyburn were the best. It turns out the Red Wing players who fought had a high average PPG themselves, so the net benefit was minimal for Weyburn — but not for Melville. The Millionaires enjoyed the best trade-off in average PPG when fighting this year, followed by La Ronge. Of course, it’s no real surprise that the two lowest-scoring teams would perform well here, but both were also good at drawing talented players from other teams into scraps. Interestingly enough, Flin Flon and Estevan gave up the most average PPG in fights this season. Part of that was due to the fact that the players doing the fighting on those teams were no slouches in the scoring department — but some of it was also due to taking off opponents with lower-than-average PPG.
Of course, the real question is who is benefiting from these types of trade-offs when fights occur in more meaningful parts of the game. So we are going to do a similar exercise as above, but only count the fights that happened in close game situations (when teams are within two goals of each other).
|Team||Average Opponents’ Close Game PPG/Fighting Major||Average Close Game PPG/Fighting Major||Difference|
Average Points Per Game of SJHL Players Who Fought in Close Game Situations, 2016-2017 Season
Strangely, there are quite a few teams whose overall numbers are very close to their close game numbers. But there are some differences. Melville’s advantage on the rest of the league is even more pronounced. Meanwhile, Flin Flon suddenly turns into the second-best team in getting favourable trade-offs when you count only close game fights. And the quality of Nipawin’s typical opponent in average PPG takes a jump here, too.
My last table on the average PPG of SJHLers who fought this past season looks at how much players at the bottom end of the roster accounted for each team’s fights. I basically established two admittedly arbitrary thresholds. I isolated the number and percentage of fights that were handled by players with a PPG of less than .25, as well as a PPG of less than .10. Teams are listed in order of raw fights handled by players with less than .25 PPG.
|Team||Fights||Fights by Players with PPG < .25||% of Fights by Players with PPG < .25||Fights by Players with PPG < .10||% of Fights by Players with PPG < .10|
Proportion of SJHL Fighting Majors Earned by Low-PPG Players by Team, 2016-2017 Season
So from a raw fight total point of few, Kindersley got the most mileage from low point-producing players. However, from a percentages standpoint, no one was close to Notre Dame in terms of fights handled by players with less than .25 points per game. And Nipawin got a surprisingly high percentage of its fights from players who couldn’t manage .10 PPG. Meanwhile, three teams (Weyburn, Flin Flon and Humboldt) didn’t have anyone fight who wasn’t at least managing .10 PPG. And one of them, Weyburn, had a very low 7.7% of its fights handled by players with less than .25 points per game.
I mentioned earlier how I chose these thresholds arbitrarily. Now I did it in advance of seeing the data, but now that I’ve seen the numbers, I want to point out a couple of things about where the Klippers got a lot of their fights. If I had made the lower threshold includes all players with a PPG of .10 and less, suddenly Kindersley has five fights that were taken care of by players in this group. And of the 15 fights supplied by players with a points per game average of less than .25, nine of them were courtesy of Klippers with a PPG of .15 or less.
In case you’re wondering, players with a PPG of less than .10 accounted for only 8.8 per cent of the fighting majors league-wide this past season. However, players who couldn’t manage a .25 PPG were responsible for 41.2 of the fighting majors. And the league average points per game for players responsible for fights in the SJHL this season was .39 — which is a little higher than I expected. Again, I’m not sure how the league feels about these numbers, but they have to be much lower than even 10 years ago — and certainly 20 years ago.
Just finally, I want to explore what happened when teams started a fight this past season. When you think about it, teams and players have always had to weigh when is the right circumstance to instigate a scrap. In another words, is it worth defending a teammate, sending a message or taking out some frustration in the face of the likelihood you will be giving the other team a power play?
Let’s start with when teams were more apt to instigate a fight. Of the 32 instigator penalties assessed in the SJHL this past season, 23 came in the third period — while 12 were incurred in close game situations. In 14 cases, the other team received a penalty for a play that preceded the fight. Of those 14 penalties, 10 were minors. So that’s an interesting finding. Of the 32 fights where a player was identified as the instigator this past season, only four of those scraps were preceded by a play that earned a double minor or a major penalty.
Now, I’ve mentioned the risk that teams take when starting fights — but this past season, a team instigating a scrap surrendered a man advantage only 62.5 per cent of the time. I say “only” because I was expecting a much higher percentage. But the reality is 12 of these 32 fights saw no power play awarded or the instigating team left with the man advantage.
In terms of what followed instigated fights, there was actually a slight net positive for the instigating teams in plus/minus within five minutes of the fight, in important goals within those five minutes and in terms of favourable lead changes later on in those games. Put another way, there was a neutral or positive outcome on the scoreboard for the instigating team 81.3 per cent of the time. I realize we are dealing with small numbers with a high degree of randomness attached — but that is still quite surprising.
Of course, the cost/benefit tension teams and players have when deciding whether it’s worth instigating a fight really only applies in situations where the outcome of the game is still in doubt. So what happens when we isolate just the fights that were started when the teams were within two goals of each other? It turns out it was pretty similar to our previous results — a slight net positive in all of the above mentioned categories for the instigating team. Or if you prefer, there was a neutral or positive outcome on the scoreboard for the instigating team in 75 per cent of those fights. Again, surprising. So, in other words, it was much more likely that SJHL teams were not punished on the scoreboard for starting a fight this past season. I would love to see what happened in other seasons, especially since the way the SJHL has dealt with instigators has changed twice in recent years.
I apologize for the novel. This is without question the most work I’ve thrown into any one post. Still, I hope to do something like this every season to see if any trends emerge or anything changes.
Thanks for reading.