I like a good knock-down, drag-out scrap in the heat of the battle as much as the next guy, but I am not a fan of the staged fight where two tough guys whose job depends on throwing fists dropping the gloves and wrecking the flow of the game just so they can show that they serve a purpose to have on the roster.
Fighting does still have a place as a deterrent for cheap shots, but there are enough guys who can actually play the game while also dropping the gloves on occasion to act as the player to have in the back of your mind to make a player think “should I hit this guy from behind or not, and what will the consequences be?” Besides, the rats that run around recklessly are almost never tough guys who would be able to stand toe-to-toe with a heavyweight anyways.
If you look at the fighting stats since the turn of the century, it seems very cyclical in terms of fighting, with peaks being reached in the early 2000′s followed by a period of decline before ramping up again to reach another peak in 2009-10. Fights per game were up a little in the shortened 2013 season from the 2011-12 season, but we will see if that was an anomaly due to the increased importance of each game. And really, fights per game haven’t changed much on the whole.
That’s fine to look at the overall numbers, but let’s see who is doing the fighting. How many true “goons” are there left in the game? For the purposes of this article I will use the following 3 criteria to define “goon”: 1) 10 or more fighting majors in a season (*6 for 2013); 2) Scoring 10 points or less in a season for forwards (*6 in 2013) and less than 7 for defensemen (*4 in 2013); and 3) Less than 10 minutes of average ice time per game forwards, 13 minutes for defensemen.
So, as you can see, while the number of fighting majors hasn’t changed that much, it appears that the makeup of those doing the fighting has. Players that are dropping the mitts in the past three years seem to be those who are contributing in other areas as well.
Obviously this isn’t an exact science as quite often the players considered “goons” don’t play enough games to get to 10 fighting majors, but that is a good thing in my books. The league seems to be slowly coming to the realization that a player just there to chuck the knuckles isn’t a wise use of a roster spot or salary cap space. By my definition, there were only 14 players who qualified as “goons” last season, after having only 10 the previous season. 2012-13 will forever have an asterisk because of the number of games played, so that season can’t be taken as gospel.
We will have to see what 2013-14 brings us, and if the trend of “goonery” continues downward.
Here is a list of the players who fit into the “Goon” category for 2013:
Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Fraser McLaren, Zenon Konopka, George Parros, Chris Thorburn, Tim Jackman, Ryan Reaves, John Scott, Tom Sestito, Kevin Westgarth, Aaron Asham, Krys Barch and Patrick Bordeleau. Of those 14, Konopka, Jackman, Reaves, Barch, Parros and Brown were among the players on the 2011-12 list as well.
By the way, Parros showed up on my list for every season since he entered the league in 2005-06 for the honor of biggest goon in the league!