How Often Do Hockey Players Fight? [Solved!]

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When it comes to hockey, many people think of tough, competitive players who just happen to play an obscure sport. But this isn’t always the case. Hockey can be a lot of fun, and it’s easy to find soft, skilled players who just happen to be on the feisty end of the rink.

So how often do hockey players fight? To find out, we turned to CBC Sports’ hockey statistics guru Trevor Pritchard to build us a whole fight scorecard.

How Many Players Fight Each Season?

Each NHL season, usually around the All-Star break, hockey fans get to enjoy a breath of fresh air in the form of the annual All-Star Weekend. The week-long event features some of the best hockey players in the world competing in exhibition games, as well as some fan-friendly entertainment on the outside. Most importantly, it gives Hockey Night in Canada fans a chance to see their favourite players in an action-packed environment that’s out of the ordinary for most people.

The most recent All-Star Weekend was one of the most memorable in NHL history. Canada’s Jonathan Toews, who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to hand the U.S.A. its first ever loss in the history of the IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships. It was a classic bout between two great North American rivals, and it was one that we won’t soon forget.

But before we dive into the details of that historic game, it’s important to establish how many players fight each season. For the answer, we went back over the last five seasons and tallied up the number of fights that took place each year. The results are displayed in the table below.

How Many Players Get Into Tumultuous Confrontations Each Season?

To put it simply, a “fight” in hockey happens when two or more players come to blows. Sometimes, these bouts can turn nasty and befoul the playing field. But that’s not always the case, and in some instances, a fight can be the culmination of a long, competitive streak without ever becoming physical.

To qualify as a fight, at least one of the players involved must pursue the other and commit an aggressive physical action, whether by connecting with a punch, a hockey stick, or an open hand. If a player throws a single solid punch, it’s considered a fight. The same goes for a player charging the other team with his arms raised in the air. But if a player aims a cheap shot or kicks a shin, it’s not usually considered a fight.

Some players try to play down the significance of their on-ice altercations. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the frequency with which they pop up on the score sheet. Over the last five seasons, there have been more than 150 fights in the NHL. That’s an average of more than three fights per week, or one fight every three games.

What About The Rest Of The Season?

Besides the annual All Star Weekend, the other part of the NHL season is made up of the normal schedules of the teams. As the NHL lockout continues to drag on, fans are getting a taste of what life is like without the excitement of actual games. But while we wait for the season to get back on track, let’s take a quick look at how the fight scorecard breaks down over the rest of the season. Beginning with the 2012-13 season and going through last year’s, we can see that there was a noticeable uptick in fighting activity in the final quarter of each season. That’s most likely a product of the All-Star break, which takes place in the middle of the season.

The 2014-15 Season

Last season turned out to be one of the most significant in NHL history. The 2014-15 campaign was the first ever with an eight-game-series between the Canadian and American teams, the Winter Olympics were held in Russia, and superstar Sidney Crosby suffered a major concussion. But despite all these changes, one thing remained the same: the amount of fights that took place on the ice.

To start the season, the two leagues met three times in 2014 before the Olympics, with the teams playing twice and Canada facing off against the U.S. in the opener in Buffalo. Despite all the geopolitical turmoil in the world, the NHL didn’t miss a beat as teams picked up right where they left off before the Sochi Olympics. In the first week of the season, there were four fights, which was a 50% increase compared to the previous season. The first of these occurred in the very first game that the Maple Leafs and the Bruins played against one another, a 4-3 win for Toronto. And just like that, the rivalry between these two teams was renewed. A short time later, the Colorado Avalanche joined the party with a massive brawl in which they beat the Minnesota Wild 9-5.

But things didn’t stay pretty much the same. Throughout the rest of the season, the amount of fights decreased, reaching a low of just two fights in the penultimate game of the season. The final game was a 5-1 win for the Anaheim Ducks, which secured the first seed in the Western Conference and a bye in the Western Finals.

Overall, there were a total of 159 fights last season, which is the lowest amount of fights since the 1997-98 season, the final year that hockey was played with four teams per conference. One possible contributing factor to this drastic decline in on-ice fracas is the fact that the NHL is one of the only sports leagues to have an explicit policy forbidding fighters from engaging in street fighting. But given the state of the world last season, perhaps we should be thankful that the hockey gods haven’t seen fit to inflict another painful bout of concussion on us yet.

The 2013-14 season was a lot like the one that preceded it, with a low number of fights taking place. But there were a couple of significant fights that occurred last season, including one that went viral thanks to an excellent comedic performance by Seth Rogan. The actor, who plays a roguishly charming sports agent on 30 Rock, was hired by the Nashville Predators to be the team’s public face and help them improve their image. During a game against the New York Islanders in October, Rogan’s character advised fellow Predators Kevin Miller and Jordin Tootoo, both of whom were fighting, to “keep your hands up.” With his hands raised in the air like an NFL quarterback, Rogan’s character then told Miller and Tootoo that they were “about to have a serious conversation about how [they’re] going to settle this.” The scene was an instant viral hit and helped improve the perception of the Nashville Predators in the eyes of the media and fans.

How Many Players Are Injuries From This Uptick In Fighting?

While the overall number of fights decreased last season, the total number of players who were injured in these scraps also decreased. Based on the data that we have, there were just 19 players who were sidelined for more than a week because of a fight-related injury over the last five seasons. This number is almost half the amount that there were in the previous five seasons combined (37 players). However, the total number of fights increased by 16% from 211 in 2011-12 to 250 in 2014-15.

But even more interesting is the fact that there were 23 serious injuries in the 2014-15 season, as opposed to 26 in the previous year. That’s a big decrease, suggesting that players are learning how to box out and avoid taking significant hits, even if those hits are in the form of a punch or a knee to the groin. Of course, the fact that the overall number of fights decreased last season could also be a factor here. If a player isn’t getting injured in fights, there’s no incentive to go looking for them. So perhaps coaches and executives around the NHL should take this into consideration when developing game plans for the upcoming season.

More Than Meets The Eye

If we look a little deeper into the numbers, we see that there’s more to hockey players‘ aggression than meets the eye. First, let’s take a look at the teams that tend to get the most involved in fights. As mentioned above, the Maple Leafs and the Bruins have a long-standing rivalry, and during the 2014-15 season in particular, they combined for more than 300 fights. But the fact that these two teams are involved in most of the NHL battles shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The same can be said for the Avalanche and the Wild, as well as the Blackhawks and the Canucks.

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