Scott Cullen digs into the numbers to see which hockey fighters ranked among the best as overall hockey players during the 2010-2011 season.
The existence of the fighter in the NHL can be a contentious issue, as calls for stiffer penalties come up from time-to-time, all while the league promotes fisticuffs and violent play as part of the entertainment package.
When the team with the second-most fights in the league during the regular season, the Boston Bruins with 71, wins the Stanley Cup there is little reason to believe that teams are going to shy away from that style of play. Historically, teams in professional sports have been copycats, often adopting similar styles to recent champions in order to compete.
The Chicago Blackhawks, after watching the Cup get handed to the Bruins, went into free agency and signed three players that appear on this list -- Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and Sean O'Donnell -- in addition to Steve Montador, who only had three fights last season, but racked up 20 fighting majors in the two prior years.
Only one team, the Detroit Red Wings, didn't have one player with at least five fights last season.
So, if this style of play is not going away, it might be useful to know the most effective players that are also capable of dropping the gloves.
Since I'm into ranking pretty much everything, from time-to-time I attempt to rank fighters on their "other" productivity -- things like goals, assists, plus-minus etc. -- that are used to generate the TSN.ca Player Rankings.
Trying to be inclusive, I've set the minimum number of fights at five, which means there are plenty of players included that bring more to the game than just pugilism, but they're lumped in.
Nathan Horton, Ryane Clowe, Milan Lucic and Scott Hartnell are productive power forwards, capable of scoring goals and scrapping when needed, so they're not surprisingly at the top of the list, but there are a wide range of roles covered.
From agitators like Steve Downie, Steve Ott and Sean Avery, to heavyweights like George Parros and Colton Orr, to checkers Gregory Cambpell, Jake Dowell and Craig Adams, they're included here.
Even if a player doesn't rank highly in this measure, that isn't to say he's not doing his job.
Enforcers for example, aren't expected to provide offence, nor are they put in the position to score, so living down to those expectations isn't an indictment of their contributions. It's not a great revelation to unearth that some of the league's bone crushers aren't the most adept players.
If a player can provide the fisticuffs when necessary, then he's doing what he is supposed to in the handful of minutes of ice time he receives. However, there are tough guys that evolve and become more valuable players, capable of taking a regular shift and it's those players that may be of extra value.
Certainly, Shawn Thornton was a useful piece of the puzzle on the Bruins' Cup-winning team. The Rangers' Brandon Prust is another frequent combatant who has proven to be deserving of a more significant role. Tim Jackman performed well when given the chance in Calgary last season.
It also needs to be said, particularly for the fight fans, that there is no grading on the quality of a player's fights, or whether they are a heavyweight when the gloves come off. The number of fights just helps to serve as a guide that, yes, these are players that are willing to drop the gloves and tangle when the time comes.
Here, then, is my ranking of the fighters as players:
(Fight totals - FM - are taken from www.hockeyfights.com; teams are from the 2010-2011 season.)
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.