The incentives for violence in hockey

by on June 6, 2008 at 7:14 am in Sports | Permalink

Here is my source.  Here is the paper.  Here is the abstract:

The level of violence in the National Hockey League (NHL) reached its highest point in 1987 and has reduced somewhat since then, although to levels much larger than before the first team expansions in 1967. Using publicly available information from several databases 1996–2007, the incentives for violence in North American ice hockey are analyzed. We examine the role of penalty minutes and more specifically, fighting, during the regular season in determining wages for professional hockey players and team-level success indicators. There are substantial returns paid not only to goal scoring skills but also to fighting ability, helping teams move higher in the playoffs and showing up as positive wage premia for otherwise observed low-skill wing players. These estimated per-fight premia, depending on fight success ($10,000 to $18,000), are even higher than those for an additional point made. By introducing a “fight fine” of twice the maximum potential gain ($36,000) and adding this amount to salaries paid for the team salary cap (fines would be 6.7% of the team salary cap or the average wage of 2 players), then all involved would have either little or no incentives to allow fighting to continue.

In other words, there are substantial incentives for violence in hockey.

1 Anonymous June 6, 2008 at 7:40 am

There is very little genuine violence in hockey fights. After all, both participants are on skates, on ice: they grab on to each other to try to maintain balance and awkwardly try to flail away with one free fist. It’s impossible to put any significant body weight behind a punch, most of which miss anyway, or merely land a glancing blow. Sooner rather than later, one participant slips and falls and then the referee and linesmen move in to break it up.

Once upon a time, bench-clearing brawls were a genuine problem, but the league dealt with that quite effectively (by imposing harsher game penalties on anyone piling into a fight, rather than financial penalties).

Bottom line: this idea sounds a solution in search of a problem.

2 FXKLM June 6, 2008 at 8:44 am

Why would the NHL want to reduce violence? I suspect it helps ratings.

3 AnonymousLibrarian June 6, 2008 at 9:04 am

I just skimmed the paper, but I noticed what seems to be one big problem—they seem to have only counted fights that were penalized as fighting, which is a minority of all of the encounters that a non-hockey person would consider a “fight.” Five-minute major penalties for fighting are generally a “ticking off the referee” penalty. Most participants in hockey fights are penalized with two-minute minor penalties for roughing, unless they tick off the referee by refusing to stop the fight once the refs try to break them up or something similar. If the NHL really wanted to get rid of fighting, they could tell the refs to begin penalizing all fights as fights and not as roughing.

But they don’t want to get rid of fights, and not just because of what the first poster said about nobody actually getting hurt in hockey fights (which is very true), and not because the league thinks that fighting brings in fans (which may or may not be true). It’s because a lot of people believe that hockey fights are much safer than the alternative, which is an increased number of other, more dangerous penalties, like slew-footing (“accidentally” knocking another player down by sweeping their feet out from under them from behind, which at best ends in the player landing heavily flat on their back and at worst ends with them landing heavily on the back of their neck or head). I’ve been told that there’s little to no fighting in European hockey because of official crackdowns, but that there are a whole lot more penalties like that. I don’t know if this is true (I don’t watch much European hockey), but it’s another thing that I’d like to see an actual study on before the NHL tries to get rid of fighting.

4 Steve Horwitz June 6, 2008 at 9:22 am

Just echoing what others have said: fighting in hockey is a way of preventing worse forms of violence. Hockey fights are done with purpose and have certain norms that go with them. They are not usually uncontrolled brawls (see: baseball beanings). Hockey has a number of strong and tacit codes of conduct that players are expected to abide by and fighting often happens at very predictable times, frequently as controlled retaliation for dirty play by the other team or as a way to spark one’s own team. And fighting is normally the province of a small number of players for whom it is part of their role in their team (e.g. Georges Laraque on Pittsburgh or Aaron Downey on my beloved and Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings).

The league should NOT be trying to reduce fighting and Don Cherry is largely correct about the unintended consequences of the instigator rule. Fighting was never about violence but about preventing people from doing real damage in a high-speed game with sticks and skate blades and lots of protection.

Plus, if you’ve ever seen a good fight at the appropriate time in an arena where they understand hockey, you’d understand why the league has no interest in reducing it. It’s part of the game, not an aberration (again, see beanball brawls, or the Pistons/Pacers brawl).

The Stanley Cup is back where it belongs in Hockeytown!

5 meter June 6, 2008 at 10:00 am

The most violent acts in hockey have nothing to do with ‘fights.’ They come from hits at the knees, high-sticking, crosschecking, etc. when the victim is largely not expecting it.

6 FXKLM June 6, 2008 at 10:28 am

I’m sure the NHL wants give the appearance of trying to reduce violence and they might want to reduce violence to some extent, but I doubt the optimal level of violence from their perspective is zero.

7 Steve Horwitz June 6, 2008 at 10:54 am

AnonLibrarian:

I think you’re wrong. In particular, I’m not sure that the majority of roughing penalties involve trading punches in any case. At best, it might be a push to the face with a glove that gets you the roughing penalty, as opposed to a genuine punch. Every once in a while, a cheap shot punch will get a player a roughing penalty, but no one would confuse that with a fight.

8 Steve R June 6, 2008 at 11:17 am

To put into econ-speak, the Pareto optimal amount of fighting in the NHL is not zero.

9 John Koetsier June 6, 2008 at 3:30 pm

To anonymous:
There is very little genuine violence in hockey fights. After all, both participants are on skates, on ice: they grab on to each other to try to maintain balance and awkwardly try to flail away with one free fist. It’s impossible to put any significant body weight behind a punch, most of which miss anyway, or merely land a glancing blow.

Response:
Interesting. I play hockey, and I assure you that people who know how to skate can put significant body weight behind punchs.

After all, if they couldn’t do that, how on earth could you put significant body weight behind a slapshot or a bodycheck? This accounts for the occasional KO, bloody nose, etc.

The real impediment to punching is all the equipment, and the fact that most hockey fights are in-close, grab-on, and wrestle with the opponent rather than trading blows toe-to-toe. It’s more MMA than boxing.

10 anonymous June 6, 2008 at 4:45 pm

Let me just point out (for those who are interested), there are similar studies regarding violence in NASCAR (i.e. the number of crashes).

Also, it seems like everyday there are “bench clearing brawls” in baseball, which always perplexes me since it seems to have very little relevance to the sport (unlike contact sports such as hockey, etc.). And of course, there seems to be very little hoopla surrounding it…when fighting happens in basketball though, it’s an entirely different story.

11 Anonymous June 6, 2008 at 6:05 pm

John Koetsier,

We’re not really disagreeing. I was indeed referring to the in-close clutching-each-other phase of hockey fights, which is what every hockey fight turns into after a few seconds. Under those circumstances, they’re punching only with the power of the muscles of one arm and can’t put much if any body weight into it.

PS, meter was right that the most violent acts in hockey have nothing whatsoever to do with ritualistic fighting. Some are even perfectly legal. A well-timed hip check, for instance…

12 Will June 7, 2008 at 10:20 am

Meter,
I would argue that the difference between hockey and other major sports is that, rules wise, it is far easier in other sports to distinguish between types of players. I don’t know precisely how a player in football is defined as “the quarterback” (although ‘roughing the passer’ penalties suggest that a player isn’t considered the quarterback until making a pass attempt). Although the intent of putting a player like Tie Domi onto the ice is pretty obvious, there’s no real way to distinguish his function in the game itself from that of another player.

13 Kostoglotov June 8, 2008 at 3:16 am

“We’re not really disagreeing. I was indeed referring to the in-close clutching-each-other phase of hockey fights, which is what every hockey fight turns into after a few seconds. Under those circumstances, they’re punching only with the power of the muscles of one arm and can’t put much if any body weight into it.

PS, meter was right that the most violent acts in hockey have nothing whatsoever to do with ritualistic fighting. Some are even perfectly legal. A well-timed hip check, for instance…”

Youtube

Kimble Laforge
Twist Ray
Grimson Simpson
Kocur Kyte
Gilles Hodspdar
Wilson Hillworth
etc

And then comment

14 Kostoglotov June 9, 2008 at 11:06 am

“Yeah, whatever. Show me a fight that resulted in a Todd Bertuzzi-like outcome and then we can talk parity between squaring off and hitting someone from behind at more than standstill velocity.†

That wasn’t your initial claim which was

“We’re not really disagreeing. I was indeed referring to the in-close clutching-each-other phase of hockey fights, which is what every hockey fight turns into after a few seconds. Under those circumstances, they’re punching only with the power of the muscles of one arm and can’t put much if any body weight into it.†

Again look at those fights and then talk about how much power can be generated. As for damage inflicted – In the Bertuzzi/Moore incident was from Moore’s head hitting the ice, not the punch.

As far as damage – Twist broke Ray’s orbital bone. Boogaard broke Fedoruk’s jaw, Playfair broke Ruskowski’s jaw, etc, etc, etc

15 Cyril Morong June 11, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Phil Birnbaum has an interesting look at this article at

http://sabermetricresearch.blogspot.com/2008/06/hockey-fighting-study.html

16 Whit March 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I have played hockey for a long time and bottom line is that the sport is violent and when you put the gear on and step out onto the ice you know what you are getting yourself into. Ive seen quite a few kids get seriously injured from knee to knee contact, hits from behind, fighting, ect…If dont like the game watch it from the stands, and if cant handle that then I suggest ballet, still athletic but no balls

17 aion money May 12, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Is it realistic ?

18 Str8er February 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

The violence in hockey is pretty funny.You can’t fight very well during the match because you are wearing ice skates.I once went to a hockey pool to play some hockey and I must say that when I saw the tribunes although they were empty, I had a strange feeling of happiness combined with strength.

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