Washington Capitals: The Steady Decline of Fighting More Evident Than Ever

Posted January 22, 2017

Tom Wilson (Caps Outsider)

There is no denying that the game of hockey is changing. Gone are the days of teams filling the third and fourth lines with brutes that sole purpose was going out there and throwing punches at each other. Teams have opted to fill their lineup full of skaters who can skate and score, trying to win with skill as opposed to brute force.

That has shown in Washington as much as any other team in the league, as gone are the days of the Chris Simon’s and Brendan Witt’s filling the team’s bottom of the lineup, filled instead with more skilled players like Brett Connolly and Nate Schmidt.

Just because the game has changed, doesn’t mean that the Capitals aren’t completely void of fighting, as Tom Wilson is no stranger behind fisticuffs – leading the team currently with five. There are still rare cases of multiple fights, light Saturday night’s contest against the Dallas Stars in which the Capitals were charged with two majors for throwing punches, with Wilson and Daniel Winnik drawing the penalties.

Looking at the fighting numbers, though, it’s clear fighting has faded from the Capitals’ play. Last year they engaged in just 19 fights, and at their current pace, Washington is on pace for fewer.

This trend would make it four consecutive years they have seen a decrease in fighting majors, and quite the contrast from the 2010-2011 campaign that saw them fight 45 times.

Here is a look at the Capitals fights per game totals for the last ten seasons.

Over the last ten seasons, there have been over 5,000 fights across 11,260 games played, or a little less than half per game. The Capitals themselves, never being big fighters, have only topped that mark once in that span, falling just short another year.

You can see the drastic decrease in fights per game on Washington’s part, falling all the way down to a 0.15 mark this season.

The Capitals themselves have been in 262 fights in the same ten-year span, playing in 750 games for a per-game total of 0.34.

Another surprising total for the Capitals has been the low amount of fighters to actually get into scraps. To this point in the season, only Wilson and Winnik have engaged in fights this season.

Now a look at how many different players have received fighting majors over the past ten years.

As you can see, there are two lines going across the chart, one represents the average number of players that have engaged in fights, seen in blue. Then there is the green line, which stands for a number of players, per year, that have fought multiple times in a single season.

Over the last ten years, players like Alex Semin, Mike Ribeiro, and John Carlson have all engaged in fights. Are they considered fighters? No, but they have recorded fighting majors.

Even the players who aren’t known for dropping the gloves have lost it enough to throw down in the name of the team. While that hasn’t happened yet, it is still something that could, especially as the season winds down, things get closer, and tensions rise.

Looking at players who has engaged in multiple fights, tell a nice little story. While it is curious that the Capitals have only had two people fight, that isn’t too far off their yearly average and fits with the natural regression of scraps in general.

All the way back during the 2009-2010 season, Washington had ten different players drop the gloves, but only four of them did so multiple times.

The three teams that rank behind Washington in fighting majors, the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks, even have more people participate in fights than them. The Hurricanes, who have four fighting majors, have had a different person participate in each instance.

Even the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are tied with the Capitals with seven fighting majors, have had four different players drop the gloves.

Still, the Capitals have seen an oddly low amount of players fight, especially when you look across the league. This season alone, 214 different players have received fighting majors or about seven per team. The Capitals have seven.

One more look at the Capitals fighting in recent history, and that’s the total amount of fights that the team leader participated in overall.

This year’s total is a projection based on how many fights that Wilson has already partaken in. Bak in his rookie year, Wilson topped out at 14 fighting majors, a number that Matt Hendricks also hit back in 2010-2011. The average leading fighter for the Capitals gets in about ten fights a year, dating back ten years.

You can see the years that Washington didn’t deploy your typical enforcer, and went the way of by committee. The years with Wilson at his height, Hendricks and Donald Brashear you obviously see the increase in fight totals, as expected.

An interesting tidbit, the year that the Capitals’ fighting leader saw the fewest amount of bouts was also the season they won the President’s Trophy for the league’s best record. That is on you to determine whether it is a coincidence or not.

The Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Penguins a year ago won the Stanley Cup without engaging in many fights. Although the Anaheim Ducks led the entire league in fighting majors the year they won back in 2007. It all depends on personal preference, and how well you execute it when the game is on the line.

There is no shame in enjoying a good fight. Take a poll around an NHL arena and odds are there is a good chunk of people who are there to see a fight or got into the game because of it. With it slowing fading out of the game, it will be up to the NHL to find other ways to keep those fans interested, which they have attempted with things like the 3v3 overtime and shootout.

Fighting is at its second worse pace over the last ten years, with only last year being worse. Currently, we are getting a fight about once every 0.31 games. Games like the Capitals and Dallas Stars where there are multiple fights are even rarer.

You may not need to look any further than the Capitals to see just how rare fights in hockey have become, as the total amount of people who actually participate in them are just two.