This is the question that is being asked, and Marc Appleby of Power Scout Hockey is trying to find out. He has been analyzing data from fights since 2009, and has quantified the momentum shift that a team receives after a fight.
He has developed the fighter impact list, and I asked him a few questions about the research that he has done.
What is the NHL fighter impact list is?
Using some unique data that we are creating in real time, one is the momentum meter and the other is the dominance curve. So starting with momentum, we track how hard each team is trying, so it is a measure of effort.
We started at the most fundamental level, using shots on goal. But it is not just shots on goal, it is the rate at which teams get shots on goal.
You should expect on average a shot every two minutes, so if they are doing better than that, then there momentum is going up, and if not there momentum is going down.
When we look at real-time shots per second, we can look at how a team was playing before a fight, and how they were playing afterwards.
When we look at the most impactful fighters, we can look at a fight and see what the result was after. This is being based on shots on goal three minutes after the fight.
We look at what the teams reaction was after the fight. The fighters that we consider most impactful had created the most amount of shots on goal after the fight had occurred.
We use shots on goal as a proxy for effort. If they get a shot on goal, they have to be in the other teams zone.
How great of an impact can a fight have on the momentum of the game?
It depends. The top fighters will produce three shots within the three minutes after the fight. You have to take into account the situation as well, whether it be powerplay or even strength.
The most impactful fight that was the Taylor Hall fight last March. He got in a fight with Derek Dorsett and hurt his ankle, and there was a powerplay for Columbus and they managed eight shots during the three minute period after the fight.
This was powerplay driven, but was Edmonton all of a sudden really shaken up after Hall went down? It was really apparent in that game that there was a spike in momentum.
We are going to continue to analyze the data and take a look at who actually won the fight as well.
How does this momentum shift compare to a successful shift or penalty kill?
We have not looked into this yet, but with additional research, being able to say that winning a fight is comparable in terms of momentum to killing a penalty early in the second period is something that we would like to be able to do.
Could this research save fighting in the NHL?
That is ultimately the question that everyone wants answered. We are on neither side of the argument, as we just analyze the data and show the results.
It is such a bigger issue that just the statistics though. It comes down to whether fans want it in the game, does it sell more tickets, does it protect your best players? There are a lot of considerations beyond just the numbers.
But the one thing that we have been able to do is provide the statistical impact of fighting. I suppose if we prove that you should be fighting or you are losing games, that may sway the argument one way or another. For now we just want to be part of the debate and let fans see for themselves and see how much a difference fighting makes.
My gut tells me that the league will not drop fighting. I think their issues with concussions seem to be happening with plays away from fighting.
Does fighting still have a role in the game today?
As a fan, personally I think it has a place in the game. I think that in a random moment when you are really trying to protect a superstar, it makes some sense. The staged fights may not be as necessary. It would be interesting to look at some of that data and see which were staged fights and which were spur of the moment.