Friday, January 12, 2007

Is The Donald Doing His Job?

A comment by Rink Reader Pete got me thinking (dangerous, I know). Pete basically asserts that when Donald Brashear drops the gloves it ends up giving the opposing team a boost because, as The Donald is one of the most feared enforcers in the League, when an opponent drops his gloves with the big guy and lives to tell about it, it pumps up his teammates (and in some cases a home crowd). Is Pete right?

First, the raw data:
  • The Caps are 3-6 in games in which Brashear has at least one fighting major.
  • The Caps have outscored opponents 16-14 in games after Brashear fights.
  • Only once has Brashear fought in a game that was tied at the time of the fight, and the Caps went on to win that game.
  • The team leading the game at the time of the Brashear fight(s) went on to win each of those games.
From the above, it's hard to draw any conclusion at all about Brashear's ability to change a game with his fists. Individual game stories, of course, tell more.

In the December 23 game at Toronto, the Caps had a 3-0 lead early in the third when Mats Sundin struck for two quick goals. Momentum had clearly swung, and soon thereafter, The Donald fought Wade Belak. The fight gave the Caps a chance to regroup, and they went on to hold on to that 3-2 win. That's the good.

In the December 30 game against the Rangers, Brash dropped the gloves twice, but it was what he did after the second fight - his sucker-punch to Aaron Ward that resulted in his ejection - that is noteworthy. Soon after the ejection, Ranger goon Colton Orr took a head-hunting run at Alex Ovechkin, a move he likely wouldn't have tried had Brash still been around. I was quite critical of Brashear at the time (still am), but it was the sucker punch and not the fight itself that was the subject of my ire (though I recognize that the two aren't completely separable). That's the not-so-good.

Each of Brash's fights has its own story, but what does this quick glance at The Donald's fight card tell us about the impact his fights have on a game? Not much, really. Ask AO, however, how having Brashear around impacts a game and I bet you'll get an earful. And at the end of the day, that gets more to the point of what Brashear's job is. It's not to fight (or make ridiculously sick passes like he did on last night's Ben Clymer goal), but rather to protect the team's most valued assets. Sure, sometimes a fight can change the momentum of a game (as it did in Toronto), but if a team needs to watch one of their own get his head soaked with haymakers in order to decide to start trying, there's something wrong with the team. Brashear has been around a while and he knows when to fight and when not to, and thus far this season it looks like, for the most part, he's making the right decisions.

Table 1 - Donald Brashear's 2006-07 Fight Card
[Date vs. Team (opponent, win/loss/draw per; time of fight, score at time of fight (Caps' score first); final score (Caps' score first)]

Nov. 11 vs. New York Rangers (Colton Orr, win); 2:34 of the first, 0-0; 3-1
Nov. 22 vs. Atlanta (Vitaly Vishnevksi, win); 18:58 of the third, 2-4; 2-4
Dec. 6 vs. Ottawa (Danny Bois, win); 12:18 of the second, 2-1; 6-2
Dec. 8 vs. Anaheim (George Parros, win); 1:48 of first, 0-1; 1-6
Dec. 23 at Toronto (Wade Belak, loss); 4:45 of third, 3-2; 3-2
Dec. 26 at Buffalo (Andrew Peters, loss); 10:19 of first, 0-5; 3-6
Dec. 27 vs. Montreal (Aaron Downey, win); 2:57 of second, 0-2; 1-4
Dec. 30 at New York Rangers (Orr, win; Brendan Shanahan, win); 19:14 of second, 7:39 of third, 0-3; 1-4
Jan. 11 at Tampa Bay (Andre Roy, draw); 2:15 of second, 1-2; 4-5


The Peerless said...

Ah, what to make of this. Another way to look at fighting is from the summary information. With respect to fighting majors over the course of the year, the top-ten teams in majors incurred have a collective record of 200-187-49. And, only three of those clubs are in the top eight of their respective conferences.

For clubs in the bottom ten in fighting majors, their collective record is 226-171-43. Six of those clubs are in the top eight of their respective conferences.

I'm of a mind that fighting serves a policing purpose -- to preserve a sense of normalcy -- but as a contributor or determinant of success? . . . no.

JP said...

Ah, what to make of this....

...fighting serves a policing purpose -- to preserve a sense of normalcy -- but as a contributor or determinant of success? . . . no.

Bingo. The biggest problem I have with the "a fight sparks your team" argument is, wouldn't it spark both teams?

But when the sky was starting to fall in that Toronto game, the surging Leafs certainly lost some momentum or rhythm or whatever after that Brash/Belak bout. Maybe it was no different than a t.v. timeout or a broken pane of glass needing replacing, but it certainly did the job.

TLW said...

St.Louis,Lecavalier and Prospal after the fight, skated over to the penalty box and tapped glass for Roy. Crowd was pumped and so was the team.

Before Tampa had Roy back, you could sense a shoulder slump when they would be out muscled.

Can't quantify emotion, hockey is an emotional game and a game of swagger. I believe fighting can be a contributer to success, depends on the team and situation.

The Peerless said...

Well, that gets to a point that I think JP was addressing in his look at Brashear. Brashear is a pro -- he's been doing this for a while and knows how and when to pick his spots, for the most part. There are guys in that kind of situation who might have a beneficial impact (at least more so than would be suggested looking at the overall statistics). Those guys are the pros, the ones who might have the hardest job in all of hockey.

TLW said...

I guess my point is not what benefit a fighter may bring, but what drawback not having one brings.

Besides the emotional jump, I think fighters will soon realize one way of not losing your job will be to take liberty's on teams better players. Especially ones that don't have tough guy's. Not a good thing, but these guy's are fighting for their professional lives. Goes full circle.

JP said...

While Roy may provide Tampa with some sort of lift or confidence or whatever, I have trouble giving much respect to a "tough guy" who takes diving penalties. That's not a very "tough" thing to do (get it?).

TLW said...

I'd be with ya, but I honestly thought his feet slid out from under him. I know you don't believe that, it just looked like he was losing his skates the whole time. A very is a punk not a tough guy, hated him in the Winged Wheel.

JP said...

I actually do believe you - half the dives they call in the League now aren't and 90% of the actual dives go uncalled.

TLW said...

Speaking of the wheel, guess I'll have to give Cason some noise about doubling Red Wing ticket prices in the desert to keep out the riff-raff.

Pete said...

Thanks for the stats, seems like they don't show any difference.

If I am wrong, that's fine with me.

I was happy for a big man when he scored his first goal as a Cap.
He had a real nice smile, looked like it was more in it for him than winning a fight.

JP said...

I certainly didn't post this to prove you wrong (really, I was kinda hoping to be able to prove you right and be on to something).

Apparently he's loving playing in D.C. and being a part of this team, so good for him.

Bonus tidbit: Brashear is a classically-trained pianist, believe it or not.