Image courtesy of Dustin Bradford/Getty Images.
The recent injury to Sam Gagner has some Oilers fans once again clamoring for a “tough guy” to ride the pine for Edmonton during the 2013-2014 season.
I’ve long been of the belief that having a George Parros or a Brian McGrattan on the bench won’t deter the other team from being physical with your star players. I also have a hunch that having a fighter around doesn’t make your team any less likely to get injured over the course of a season.
Man Games Lost
The following table is the same list, sorted according to the number of majors taken per team.
Number of Majors
I’m no statistician, but it seems like there is at best a very weak correlation, if any at all, between the number of fighting majors a team took and the number of man games they lost in 2012-2013.
We can take a more qualitative approach to answering the same question. During the 2011-2012 season, the NHLPA conducted a series of player poll’s. One of the categories players were asked to provide an answer to was “who is the NHL’s toughest player?”
The results for the top five were as follows:
- Milan Lucic (17% of votes) (played for Boston Bruins in 2012-2013)
- Shawn Thornton (11%) (Boston Bruins)
- Brian McGrattan (7%) (Calgary Flames)
- Matt Carkner (4%) (New York Islanders)
- George Parros (4%) (Florida Panthers)
Note that I’ve included the teams they played for in 2013-2013 for the purpose of applying the results to the table above. At the time of the survey, McGrattan played for Nashville, Carkner for Ottawa, and Parros for Anaheim.
When we look at how the team’s these players played for in 2012-2013 fared in terms of man games lost, we find an interesting split.
The list of four includes both the team with the least man games lost (Boston), as well as the team with the most (Florida). The other two, Calgary and New York, ended up in the middle. It appears that having some tough guys around could be working for Boston, but having a player like Parros in the lineup didn’t make the Panthers any less likely to get injured.
I unfortunately don’t have the data to look at the nature of the injuries that caused the man games to be lost—they could have easily been accidents, entirely unrelated to the other team taking physical liberties with opposition players. But I think it would be tough to make the argument, based on the tables above, that being willing to drop the gloves or rough it up makes a team any less likely to lose games to injury.
Gagner’s broken jaw is incredibly unfortunate. The team came into training camp exceptionally thin down the middle, and now with their top two centremen most likely out for at least the month of October, the team will have to rely more heavily on Taylor Hall to generate offence up the middle, and potentially a player like Arcobello to provide some secondary firepower—something I doubt his capability to do at the NHL level. Boyd Gordon is going to see lots of minutes as well, and will anchor the bottom six.
The bottom line is that another face-punching coke machine on the Oilers bench probably wouldn’t have prevented the injury to Gagner, and probably won’t prevent unfortunate injuries to key players in the future either.