Thursday, 14 July 2011

Are These Guys Really Fighters?

Of all the talent that TSN has working on the website, I like to read what Scott Cullen, pictured to the left, has to say. Scott is the resident "number cruncher" for TSN as he delves into fantasy projections and productivity. The latter caught my attention when he looked at "Which NHL fighters are the most productive players". With the reduced role of the enforcer in the NHL, I wanted to see which of the heavyweights came out on top in Cullen's examination. What I found, however, left me questioning who Scott Cullen considers as a "fighter".

While all of the players listed in Mr. Cullen's examination CAN fight, I'm pretty sure that a vast number of them are discouraged from fighting because they do more good when on the ice rather than when they are sitting in the penalty box. The first two players that Mr. Cullen has at the top of his productivity index - Milan Lucic and Ryan Clowe - are prime examples of this. Sure, they CAN fight, but do the Bruins and Sharks want them fighting?

Instead, I looked at only players who had 200+ PIMs or 15+ fights last season. These are the top-ten guys who do their best work while their gloves and stick are lying on the ice, and they shouldn't be compared with legitimate power forwards who can throw down with the enforcers. After all, Lucic and Clowe probably get a lot more ice time than a player such as Zenon Konopka or Jared Boll, and are certainly more productive based on their roles. Here's how the list of true "fighters" stacks up. The last number in yellow is Cullen's rating based on his variables.

  1. Brandon Prust (NYR) - 13G, 16A, +2, 160 PIMs, 18 fights. 64.65
  2. Cody McCormick (BUF) - 8G, 12A, +2, 142 PIMs, 16 fights. 62.62
  3. Derek Dorsett (CBJ) - 4G, 13A, -15, 184 PIMs, 17 fights. 61.74
  4. Chris Neil (OTT) - 6G, 10A, -14, 210 PIMs, 12 fights. 61.45
  5. Jared Boll (CBJ) - 7G, 5A, -2, 182 PIMs, 23 fights. 60.50
  6. Kyle Clifford (LAK) - 7G, 7A, -10, 141 PIMs, 18 fights. 59.46
  7. BJ Crombeen (STL) - 7G, 7A, -18, 154 PIMs, 17 fights. 59.45
  8. Brad Staubitz (MIN) - 4G, 5A, -5, 173 PIMs, 15 fights. 58.48
  9. Zenon Konopka (NYI) - 2G, 7A, -14, 307 PIMs, 25 fights. 58.36
  10. George Parros (ANA) - 3G, 1A, -4, 178 PIMs, 27 fights. 56.91
Now those are the guys who represent the true fighters and agitators in the game. Players like Steve Downie, Shawn Thornton, and Sean Avery rank higher than the majority of these players, but these players are also relied on to take a regular shift where they must contribute. Steve Downie played the least amount of games of these three players with 57 appearances, but he was ranked fifth by Mr. Cullen. Does Downie do his job well? Absolutely, but he's also expected to score. He is, by trade, not a fighter first as he plays more of a power forward role.

While it's easy to pick out George Parros, Jared Boll, or Zenon Konopka as the most active fighters in the NHL, I found it very interesting that Brandon Prust and Cody McCormick were the two players who got their teams the most bang for the buck. Both had 20 points or more while playing on either the third- or fourth-line for their teams, and both had a healthy number of fights.

When teams are looking for a guy to protect their stars, they need to dig a little deeper than a name or reputation. If a team like Washington makes the playoffs and Alexander Ovechkin finds himself being shadowed a little too closely for Bruce Boudreau's liking, throwing a guy like Brandon Prust or Cody McCormick out there who can score as well as throw a few jabs when needed might make teams think twice about assigning a shadow to Ovechkin.

While there's no guarantee that Prust or McCormick will turn out to be the next John Druce for Washington, these two guys have shown that they are the best of the best when it comes to maximizing scoring potential while being an enforcing threat.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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