The Edmonton Oilers’ record when they fight

The Oilers are 7-2-2 when they play a game where they pick up a fighting major. That sounds impressive, but does it mean anything?

Leaving aside the obvious argument that if choosing to fight helped the Oilers win games, choosing to fight must necessarily have helped the opposition lose games, let’s look at the actual situations.

The Fights

Game Score Opp. Fight
Jan. 20 3-2 SOW VAN Ben Eager vs. Zack Kassian (Kassian), 2-2. Nobody else scored
Jan. 24 2-1 OTW L.A. Ladislav Smid vs. Jordan Nolan (Nolan), 0-0. L.A. scored a period later
Feb. 28 5-1 W DAL Sam Gagner vs. Brenden Dillon (draw), 2-0 EDM. EDM scored less than a min later
Mar. 5 4-3 SOL CBJ Jeff Petry vs. Matt Calvert (Calvert), 2-1 CBJ. EDM scored four mins later
Mar. 7 3-0 L DET Mike Brown vs. Jordin Tootoo (Brown), 0-0. DET scored less than a min later
Mar. 8 6-0 L NSH Mike Brown vs. Rich Clune (Brown), 1-0 NSH. NSH scored 12 mins later
Mar. 15 3-2 OTL DET Mike Brown vs. Jordin Tootoo (draw), 1-0 EDM. EDM scored four mins later
Mar. 26 3-0 W STL Mike Brown vs. Barret Jackman (draw), 3-0 EDM. Nobody else scored
Mar. 28 6-4 W CBJ Mike Brown vs. Jared Boll (draw), 2-2. CBJ scored eight mins later
Apr. 3 8-2 W CGY Mike Brown vs. Steve Begin (draw), 1-0 CGY. CGY scored less than a min later
Apr. 3 8-2 W CGY Ryan Jones vs. Chris Butler (draw), 5-2 EDM. EDM scored four mins later
Apr. 3 8-2 W CGY Ryan Whitney vs. Tim Jackman (Jackman), 6-2 EDM. EDM scored four mins later
Apr. 26 6-1 W MIN Mike Brown vs. Zenon Konopka (Konopka), 0-0. EDM scored less than a min later

Three of the fights above occurred in garbage time – situations where the game was out of reach. On March 26, the Oilers had a 3-0 lead when Mike Brown and Barret Jackman went at it, and on April 3 vs. Calgary two of the fights (Jones/Butler and Whitney/Jackman) came after the Oilers had 5-2 and 6-2 leads, respectively.

Throwing out the garbagetime fights, it really isn’t clear that the Oilers played better following a tilt; in five of the nine games, the next team to score was the opposition. Winning the fight didn’t help either; the two cases where the Oilers clearly own the fight (vs. Detroit on March 7 and Nashville on March 8) not only did the opposition score next but the combined score was a humiliating 9-0 combined.

In this specific case, this is an example of lies, damned lies and statistics: there’s a superficial case to be made that fighting benefits the team, but upon further examination it falls apart. There’s simply no reason to believe that fighting caused the Oilers to win these games.

Fighting in General

A little over a year ago, a guy named Terry Appleby generated considerable interest with a claim that fighting swings momentum in hockey games. Essentially, what he looked at was how frequently teams generate shots, and found that shot generation goes up after a fight; his conclusion, therefore, was that fighting swings momentum.

There were some problems with Appleby’s approach, but the biggest was this: there was simply no way to tell which team benefitted more from the fight; both teams tended to see a jump in performance after a tilt. Some of the other problems, as well as a statistical look at what actually happens after a fight, can be found here.

That is not to say there is no benefit to come from fighting; all else being equal a team with bigger and stronger players is going to be better, and a team with bigger and stronger players is going to be more prone to fighting. Intangible benefits, such as that caused by physical intimidation or increased confidence from having a tough guy on the bench should certainly also be considered.

The benefit, however, from fighting itself (as opposed to being bigger, stronger, etc.) is going to be pretty small as a rule. Gabriel Desjardins, after running the numbers, summarized the benefit this way:

Now before you get excited about your favorite team signing a new goon, remember that an NHL team needs to improve its goal differential by approximately six goals to win one additional game. So winning a fight is worth a little more than 1/80th of a win in the standings; given that the best fighters might win at most ten fights in a season, the direct benefit is probably on the order of having the equipment guys make sure nobody’s playing with an illegal stick. This is not to say that aggressive and physical play won’t win games but upgrading their main fighter from Colton Orr to Donald Brashear won’t do anything for the New York Rangers.

In other words: being willing to drop the gloves is a useful skill in the NHL, but one that should be well down on the priority list. No matter how often Don Cherry says otherwise.

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  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    You’re just trolling now JW.

    Fighting is part of the entertainment package. Let’s be honest.

    For that I love it.

    But let’s not delude ourselves that you can win anything with it.

    And the classic staged fight between two guys with less than 3 mins of ice time has to go.

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        Ha! Awesome!

        I agree with you too that fighting probably does create some kind of “win one for the Gipper” scenario.

        We all see huge momentum swings in games (whether bad or good teams) and I have no reason to believe fighting can’t be a catalyst toward such a momentum swing.

        it is interesting however, that it doesn’t show up anywhere in the data.

        That probably means that there is some kind of “saw off” in the aftermath, where each team rises to the occasion.

        At any rate, I love a good hockey fight.

        • Tikkanese

          Yea for sure. It does not guarantee a win and it doesn’t always guarantee that the rest of the game will be a better effort but we’ve all witnessed many games where it has. At the very worst, it can be the lone bright spot of a poor effort i.e. the mid 90’s Oilers “well at least Buchberger tried to get them going tonight!”.

          I think this data does show that there was a positive effect on the games. 8/11 of the games someone scored within 4 minutes of the fight. 6 times it was Oilers, 2 times it was the opponent. I don’t think that can be discounted. Also that the Oilers were 7-2-2 with a fight, plus the fact that goals were scored shortly after in most cases tends to say that the opinion of this article is incorrect. Any strategy that can make the Oilers go anywhere near a pace of 7-2-2 should be explored with no mercy, haha.

          Interesting data to look at would be the records with and without fights in games by the Broad Street Bullies and the Big Bad Bruins of the 70’s.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    In other words: being willing to drop the gloves is a useful skill in the NHL, but one that should be well down on the priority list. No matter how often Don Cherry says otherwise.

    Or what people that played in the NHL have to say…

    • Sure – and don’t forget, Don Cherry played in the NHL too. If you want to argue that the bigger/stronger/more physical element has a big benefit, I have all kinds of time for that. If you want to argue that fighting keeps the other team from taking liberties, I’m skeptical but don’t have any data to show one way or the other.

      But if you want to argue that fighting helps win hockey games, there’s a lot of data that shows it really doesn’t – in a close game, where you’re a little behind it makes sense, but in other situations there’s simply no way to know whether it’s going to help you or the other team. And fighting with a lead in a close game is crazy.

        • If it really had such a massive boost, wouldn’t we see that in the results? If not, why not?

          Mentality only matters insofar as it produces results; in the absence of results what reason is there to believe that this particular improved mentality matters?

          • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

            It’s not just about the fight in the game. It’s about the mentality that as a superstar I don’t have to look over my back and I can play my game.

          • So the argument you’re making is that fighting over the season as a whole can influence results even if it doesn’t impact results in a specific game? Do I have that right?

            Because, if so, from the article: “Intangible benefits, such as that caused by physical intimidation or increased confidence from having a tough guy on the bench should certainly also be considered.”

            I’m skeptical about the overall value of that, but I don’t have data one way or the other so I’m not in a position to argue it doesn’t exist.

            What I’m arguing is that the Oilers going 7-2-2 when they fight means nothing, that there was no appreciable benefit on the ice from a fight in a given game, and that because of this there is little reason to believe that fighting should be a priority for an NHL management group.

          • Hair bag

            Willis you are a geek. I would guess that you have never played really competitive hockey because there is a whole other side to the game that your metrics don’t measure no matter how hard you try. The great players are great because they are able to control their fear/anxiety/mental state – all of which come from an intimidation factor that someone is either going to hit you real hard, take a liberty/cheap shot or basically bully you. There is a reason that guys like Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke, etc, while despised by other teams, are welcome to have on you’re own team – because they scare people. Scared people are less effective because they have a distraction in their head – self preservation. The exact opposite is true as well, when you have big brother skating beside you, you play better because you know he has your back and that guys aren’t going to take liberties – it frees your mind to the skill part of the game. Don Cherry tries to iterate these sentiments but they they don’t come across the right way or are twisted by idiots like you and other main stream media.

      • Shawn Cronin

        Fighting may in fact win games but not always the game where the fight happens. Teams that stand up for each other seem to do very well. Earlier this year Ottawa felt they were missing that this year and brought in kassian. Immediately that team as a whole became much harder to play against. McLean is still utilizing him in the playoffs and they are taking Montreal out. He even has an assist. If a coach has a system and builds a culture that relies on grit and toughness like Ottawa and Boston, fighting is important

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I would think that the majority of fights happen when the less skilled lines are on the ice.

    This is more than likely followed by the skill lines coming on the ice after being rested.

    Skill lines produce more shots.

    I see no correlation between fighting and shots but more of a correlation of how personnel are used leading up to and after the event.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Like JW said, fighting swings momentum and there is no qualitatative stat to show for whom.

    Fighting is a statement, saying we will not be intimidated. It is also entertainment. You might find more qualitative arguments to suggest fighting brings in more revenue then it shifts momentum in a game.

    Those suggesting their is momentum changes are basing it solely on a non quantifiable arguement and subjective personal opinion. Big tough teams do win cups though at times and sometimes not.

  • crobar

    this team had 3 fights in their first 20 games. THE WHOLE TEAM had 3 fights in 20 games. at what point do you look in the mirror and ask ” are there any men in this room”?? if you don’t stand up for yourself, you get bullied, period. players on the first and second line have to be able to drop them IF THEY HAVE TO!! bringing in brown was great, but the players taking up the ice time have to set the pace. at least hall is willing to 2 hand a guy with a major. the only problem is, taking majors hurts your team on the ice. personally, if i were #’s 83, 10, 14, 93, amonst others, i’d be embarrassed!!

  • Spydyr

    Team toughness wins. Just watch the playoffs. The Oilers are a bunch of “Barbra Ann Scotts” to quote a former coach.

    Easiest team to play against for years now.

    Make it unpleasant to play against you.You might win more.

    • You may recall that coach’s solution to the problem was to put Jean-Francois Jacques on the top line, which IIRC wasn’t a smashing success.

      Anyway, you’ll note that I’m not at all opposed to the idea that it’s good to be bigger and stronger (exact quote: “all else being equal a team with bigger and stronger players is going to be better”), I’m simply skeptical of how big of a role fighting plays in this.

      The fact fighting always drops off in the playoffs suggests that it isn’t seen by teams as vital to post-season success.

      • Spydyr

        @Jonathan Willis

        Not making excuses for the coach but what other options did the GM furnish him with?

        You are right it has to be functional toughness not just a fridge like JFJ.Not players that fight but are tough to play against.That take the body, make you pay for making a play,win puck battles.Pop in 15-20 goals a year.

  • Ducey

    How sad is it that Edmonton only had 11 games where they got into a scrap? And only 2 of those guys (Eager and Brown) would scare anyone.

    Not enough jam in the lineup.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The Oilers could sure use a JF Jacques type to come in and possibly mesh with the new group of kids here. His back issues have probably been dealt with, and he’d certainly be on the affordable end of things. Most competitive teams have a guy like this on their roster far outperforming their contract. What would the Oilers have to lose, giving him another opportunity…

  • Jon!

    Pre-arranged fights aside, to me it shows high emotional involvement in the game. When, as a team, you’re winning battles along the boards, crashing the net hard, and maybe even throwing in an antagonizing slash or poke here and there, it gets frustrating for the opposition. When the emotion gets high enough, you get a fight. It’s not about winning or losing as a result of fighting alone. The fighting comes as a result of compete, emotion, and good play. It shows me that a team isn’t going to sit back and take a beating. They’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

      • Tikkanese

        You’ve never witnessed a game where a team is losing, going through the motions, then suddenly sparked by a fight(whether won or lost) and plays hard again? Or listened to countless interviews with players and management that have said that this is the case? I’m shocked.

        • If you click on the linked piece about fighting in general, you’ll see this:

          1. In some cases, it’s all but impossible for a coach to know if a fight will benefit his team or the other team more on the scoreboard – it’s always a double-edged sword.

          2. The impact of a fight on the scoreboard is generally pretty small – we all remember fights that were quickly followed by a goal, but tend to forget the ones that weren’t.

          3. Given the relatively low impact and the chance of a negative impact, a coach with a fighter at his disposal would be well-advised to use him if a) his team is already trailing in the game and b) he’s reasonably confident that his fighter will win the bout. A coach with the lead or a fighter outmatched by the other guy is probably better off leaving him on the bench.

          That’s my view.

          • Tikkanese

            Well forgive those of us who believe our own eyes from what we see happen and believe those who’ve actually played, coached and/or managed in the NHL over some picked over data to try to prove someone’s opinion.

            There are so many factors that cannot be included in the data. What happened before the fight? Were guys being run more on one team or the other? Was someone cheap-shotted? Did that stop after the fight? What happened in the next game? What happened the previous game? Did the small skilled player who’s honor was defended suddenly start playing “1 foot taller”/go on a hot streak/etc? It also doesn’t necessarily matter who won the fight either. So much happens and is said on the ice that the rest of us miss. That the mere act of the fight may have curbed from continuing to happen, change the outlook of the game, changed what may have happened in the next game and so on. None of that can ever been shown in data.

            There are many factors in the data being ignored, on purpose? After almost every fight a goal was scored right away? Well that must be coincidence, fighting is barbaric. The Oilers were 7-2-2 in games that they had a fight in? In 6 of those games the Oilers scored within 4 minutes of the fight and won most of those games? Well that is coincidence, fighting is barbaric.

            Stop trying to eliminate fighting from hockey. It is not going to happen. Your opinion will never be the majority. Get over it.

    • Pull out the Eager/Brown fights.

      Smid/Nolan – Smid was sticking up for someone.

      Gagner/Dillon – I don’t remember but I imagine Gagner was defending some liberties being taken

      Petry/Calvert – I believe Petry was more or less jumped.

      Jones/Butler – I don’t recall this one but good for Jones.

      Witney/Jackman – initiated by Jackman. Good on Whitney for peeing him off.

      I suggest these fights all have some benefit in relation to the game. And like Jon!, it shows some emotional involvement in the game. Now this can be from the Oiler point of view, or the oppositions point of view.

      Either way, I think that if you see the Oiler’s with more of these types of fights next year, you will see an improved Oiler team.

      The Brown fights, I don’t mind watching. The only benefit is that it may keep the other team’s ‘Brown’ occupied, which is a good thing.

      Then looking at the Leafs line with Orr, Maclaren and someone – they can be very effective/intimidating, not because they do fight but because the threat is always there.

  • crobar

    fighting does change the momentum of a game. sometimes in your favor, sometimes not. it affects every player differently. many times, it depends on the particulars of the fight. i’ve always thought that the emotional change either way is not as significant as how a fight changes the line matchups. this is especially true in multi fight games. 2 fights in one period changes the matchups for the whole exposes your depth or lack of it. what being in a fight does do is say to your opponant what you are capable of doing. “if i do something to this guy, might i have to fight him? if i go into the corner with this guy, is there any chance he is gonna bring his stick up in may face? if i pick up a puck awkwardly, if this guy likely to put me into the boards and separate my shoulder? yea he might…. i’ll just cough it up (robert neillson) instead.

  • Jon!

    The stat can mean whatever you want, I would argue most teams don’t take the Oilers seriously and play their B game. Maybe Oilers goalies was hot during those games.

    Too small of sample size.

    Sometimes people have the answer they just need to pose the question.

  • Aitch

    Willis, I think you basically said it, but let’s put it in real simple language. It takes a person from each team to fight – (if you ignore the odd instance of only one player getting a fighting major.) Only one of their teams can win the game. Therefore, the overall record of teams that fight is .500. Not .499 or .501. But .500.

    End of story.

  • I will continue to argue that the biggest effect that fighting has is psychological. As each individual will process a fight (or the act of a teammate risking imminent physical harm) differently based on their own experiences, the best way to determine effect would be less through statistics and more through a thorough interview process.(As a side note, my background in Anthropology makes participant observation preferable to me but I dont like getting punched in the face so I wont be participating any time soon)

    That said, as Hockey players they should all be conditioned to respond to a fight similarly. It doesnt surprise me that who wins the fight has no major effect on either team. The only thing, I would guess, that could sway that would be if one of the fighters blatantly broke one of the many unwritten rules about fighting. Example: Stortini turtles in his last fight instead of standing up and exchanging blows. Perhaps a scenario like that would affect one team negatively, but they would be so rare that the data would be pretty useless.

    It’s all but impossible to chart “Intensity” or “Momentum” as these are things that are perceived.

  • Spydyr

    I hope Oilers seriously take a look at AV if he gets fired. He would be a great coach for Edmonton.

    I think Kevin Lowe ( 6 Stanley Cup rings if you have forgotten) would probably not consider it because of a potential power struggle.

  • People have to remember that both teams are fighting. I would agree that both teams get a little adrenaline rush from watching a good fight and both teams probably come out a little more pumped and energetic. Obviously both teams can’t get the next goal, the same as both teams can’t go on to win.

    Where fighting can be useful is when the momentum from a game has moved to the other team, and there were lots of games where our Oilers looked uninspired. That little adrenaline boost can sometimes reinvigorate the team a little.

    I would guess that the reason our winning record coralates that strongly with games we fought in is more of a result of our team lacking passion in general. The games there were fights the team was showing some kind of passion. We have a skilled linup and if they are playing inspired passionate hockey they are going to win more than they lose.

  • Tikkanese

    I think that this is a useful discussion and should be encouraged. I remember when we use to have three legit goons and other who would fight bacause the game called for it.

    Now we have no goons and no one ( Brown especially) that scares anyone. This discussion without mentioning any highly skilled players ( Gretzky) will tell you that the team played with confidence when they knew someone was protecting them.

    Fast forward we have no one protecting our skilled players and they play accordingly………that being a safe game where they do not take any chances physically speaking.

    Writer can write about this using whatever metric they want (analyze the advanced stats if you like) and it still comes down to how the players feel. If you really want to know anything about this area talk to the smaller skilled players and ask them the question? I would love to see the poll results on this!

  • PlayDirty

    The best thing that came out of these fights? Oiler fans had something to get excited about! Rexall seemed much less morgue-like when there was one.

    The game wins when there are fights. The fans get pumped, the players get pumped. There is just as much, if not more, talk the next day about a good fight as there is about a nice goal.

    What do people look up more frequently on you-tube? Great fights or great goals?

  • PlayDirty

    I don’t think having a good fight or good fighters has much of an “in game effect”. What we need to be looking at is the effect of having able fighters on the roster and the accumulation of fights over time. It is in the mindset of the opposition and how tough the team sees itself and how tough the rest of the league sees them. It isn’t the effect on momentum in a single game that matters but the mindset of your opposition, your reputation and intimidation factor over a month, a season, an era…

  • PlayDirty


    I’ve thought about this subject a lot and my conclusion in respect to fighting and the Oilers record this year is this. The Oil seem to have trouble setting the tone of a game due to inexperience. When there is a fight it gets the skill guys more engaged in the game and gives them a much better chance of winning. As the core gets older and more professional they should be able to bring there best on a more regular basis and not need a fight to get engage in the game and set the tone.


  • I used to think that every team needed a heavy weight. Very old school mentality.. I love a good fight, and still do.. however for me it’s a bit of a side show now.

    I will say that I can’t stand to see someone like Clutterbuck take a liberty with one of our players and not have to own up for it. I take some satisfaction in seeing a player stand up for a teammate. I’m sure players do too. It’s possible that not having that vengeance can be a distraction. But in the end, you and Desjardins and others are right.. in the grand scheme of things, it likely makes little to no difference.

    I also don’t think that Cluttererbuck or Torres or Tootoo or others can be intimidated out of doing their jobs. It’s not going to happen.

    However, I do think those guys (the dirty hitters like Clutterbuck) play an important role in the game… so for me, it’s not all about having a team of guys that can react to that kind of play in a game, but it’s about having guys that can instigate that kind of crap and get other players off their game. We need our own Clutterbucks and such.. we need Mike Brown or someone to hit the opposition’s top six guys in a borderline way and get them and their teammates worried about him more than the score. I think that’s what the game has evolved to in a way. It’s not the MAIN swaying factor in a game, but it’s one.

  • yawto

    I just have to say the message is a little contradictory JW. You say fighting does little to nothing to win a game but emphatically say a fight with a slim lead is a bad idea. So that means that fighting when you are behind helps you win games. Why doesn’t every team get a fight going when they are down a goal late in a game then.

    The truth is, as much as I do love and respect you statistical analysis of the game, I think that certain things can not be measured by stats and trying to prove they have no effect.

    You just can’t say a fight has no effect on a game and then say it is silly to fight with a slim lead late in a game. It either has an effect or it doesn’t.

    • yawto

      It seems like in today’s NHL a good clean hard hit is not tolerated and most teams send someone out to try to fight with the player that threw the hit.
      The Oilers don’t hit and they only have Brown and Smid who will defend their team mates.You can put up all the stats you want,The only team I can think off that have won a cup in the last few years with out it was Detroit and when they were a really dominant team they had McCarthy that would look after things.”The Oilers need more toughness”.

      • yawto

        You need passion to fight and accept it internally.

        All competitors are fighters.To win they will fight.

        How many posters online would back their passion with their fists?And how many would be smashed for their efforts?Willingness vs ability huh?

        It is no different in a locker room,the personality spectrum is the same in any group.

        Maybe the oilers room is like the internet,no one can feel anything tangible so no one polices their attitude.No leadership because there is no room for it when every peanut in the room thinks they have a right to chirp.

        Union mentality is eating the boys from the inside out right Horcs.

        The Oilers brass snuff out anyone with balls or a voice,it is sad.The attitude in the office belongs on the ice . Old men wont let go of the reins,and Lowe and the rest rewrite rules to keep themselves living vicariously through the players and it is killing the Franchise.

        Most men find it easier to fight to defend something when they are old and to gain things when they are young.its not rocket science,we just have to listen to to many old men yapping all the time.Old men with nothing to defend anymore.Its time for a fresh attitude organisationally.

  • Tikkanese

    I’m late to this party but for the two of you still reading – hockey is an emotional sport (as are most sports). Emotions are highly volatile and can be triggered by any number of variables. And a positive trigger for one person may be a negative trigger for another – even if they are on the same team. For instance, a big hit may get most of a team riled up. But there may be some players on the team with previous concussions therefore the sight of seeing someone get run over actually causes a negative effect on his affect. Same with a good goal. Most players are ecstatic but there may be a couple that have been snakebitten therefore seeing a teammate succeed is actually a negative. So, in a nutshell, fighting is just one of many emotional triggers during the course of a game and it can cause both positive and negative effects for each team. There is no possible way to correlate the effects of a fight. Or a big hit, or big save…

  • Tikkanese

    On a mostly unrelated note, for those that hate the “nuclear heavyweight staged fights”, ask yourself this: Would you seriously rather watch the Lennart Petrell and Chris Vande Velde of the world be absolute pylons out there for 6 minutes; aka The Craig Mactavish dubbed non-factors? Or see two consenting adults play 0:30-6:00 having a staged fight once every few games and score 2 of the most memorable goals of the year, simply because of who scored them? Not to mention the “on the edge of your seat” staged fights + regular fights + hits.