ILWT Audition 2012: This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race

Earlier this month, I put out the call looking for new writers for In Lou We Trust to write about the New Jersey Devils. I've opened up the audition to the community at large in order to get some new perspectives and additional voices on the front page with regularity. Since then, I've received eleven entries. Regardless of how they're received, I thank the writers of each and every one of them - you know who you are - for stepping up and submitting an entry.

Throughout the next two weeks, I will post each one under an anonymous name so you can discuss and critique the post without regard to who actually wrote it. I can ensure you that I did not change any of the content outside of formatting it in to the SBN platform. To that end, please note that I don't necessarily agree with what the posts actually say. I'm just letting them stand on their own. Please be constructive in any criticism and do offer your thoughts about whether you liked (or disliked) the post in addition to discussing it's content. Don't be mean, but be fair.

This tenth entry comes from Writer J Alamoth, who made their submission on July 20. This submission is about fighting. The New Jersey Devils re-signed Cam Janssen and signed Krys Barch in this offseason. Those two, like other players like them before, are known for their fists instead of their hands. Writer J Alamoth wondered about the signing of those two and so this submission looks at whether the fights have had a positive impact on the team and whether they are making these signings because of their division among other points. Please read on after the jump to see what Writer J Alamoth wrote.

Amongst the many hot topics in the NHL this year was the role of fighting in the game. With the rise of concussions and new studies on the long-term effects of head injuries in professional sports, there is more scrutiny than ever on dropping the gloves. In the season that just concluded, there were a total of 546 fights. The average number of fights that any team participated in was 36 with a median of 35, both numbers around 6.5% of total fights. The Devils finished just above the mean with 39 total fights, led by Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton with nine fights apiece.

Fighting is a topic of great concern to Devils fans these days. When Lou Lamoriello bought out Eric Boulton there was a collective sigh of relief felt throughout the fan-base, especially here at ILWT. However, that relief quickly passed when Cam Janssen was re-signed to a 1-year two-way contract ($575k per www.capgeek.com) and relief turned to panic when Krys Barch was inexplicably signed to a 2-year one-way contract ($750k/year).

Is fighting that critical to the Devils' success? The management certainly thinks so. Before Barch, Boulton and Janssen we were treated to the talents of Pierre Luc-Letou rneau Leblond and Andrew Peters. This trend is a clear sign that the team puts a lot of importance on this role. The question is why? Do the Devils need these players to win? Is this just life in the Atlantic Division these days? How do other teams handle this reality?

The Devils finished the 2011-12 regular season with 102 points, good enough for a fourth place finish in the Atlantic Division and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They did this with a record of 48-28-6, a point percentage of 0.622. The important question is whether or not fighting played a significant factor in their success in the regular season. A simple way of answering that question is to compare the point percentage of games in which the Devils had a fight against games in which they didn't. The long standing argument is that fighting is a momentum-changing factor. It energizes players on the winning team (according to EA Sports, at least) and can revitalize a losing effort. By looking at the point percentage of games in which a fight occurred we will discover whether or not fighting has a positive, negative or neutral impact on the outcome of the game.

The Devils' 39 fights this season took place in 28 distinct games. Thirteen of these games resulted in wins while 12 ended in a regulation loss and three ended with a consolation point. That's a total of 29 points in 28 games, a point percentage of .518. Compared to the Devils' overall percentage, the drop-off is a full point per ten games, eight points over the course of the regular season. What's more astonishing perhaps, is the revelation that in the 54 games in which the Devils did not record a fight, they had a record of 35-16-3 accounting for 73 points, a point percentage of .676.

The obvious conclusion is that fighting has a negative impact on the Devils' success. Extrapolating the two percentages out to a full 82-game season would provide point totals of 85 if the Devils fought in every game and 111 if they didn't. Both of those numbers are staggering since the former would have resulted in another season missing the playoffs and the latter could have won the Devils the President's Trophy. The sample size of 28 games in which the Devils had at least one fight may be too small, but the 54 games in which they didn't represents more than half of the regular season. While a compelling argument could be made that these findings are inconclusive, it is difficult to argue with the .676 point percentage over the games in which there were no fights at all.

Perhaps the signing of Janssen and Barch is a result of the environment the Devils play in. The Atlantic Division is one of the NHL's most difficult to succeed in, with four of the five teams posting 100+ points this season. In fact, Our Hated Rivals were the most prolific fighters. With 65 total fights they nearly double the average value per team. Is it possible that the division in which we play necessitates the role that Lamoriello insists on filling?

Teams play their division rivals 24 times in the season, but they play the other teams in their conference a total of 40 times and teams in the opposite conference 18 times. If fighting is evenly distributed then I would expect it to match this 1-2-1 ratio fairly closely. The Devils don't even come close. They logged 16 fights against division rivals, 17 against conference rivals (Southeast and Northeast) and only six fights against teams in the Western conference. The fighting within the Atlantic division seems to be occurring at an alarming rate.

Or is it? A closer look at the 16 divisional fights reveals that 11 came against Our Hated Rivals. Only three came against Our Second Rate Rivals and two came from the Brooklyn New York Islanders. In six games against the Penguins we had no fights. The problem, it seems, is not in the Atlantic Division, but in the Rangers and Flyers, who had 65 and 57 fights each -- good enough for first and fourth place in the NHL, respectively.

The Atlantic Division is not an arms race, but the New York Rangers would certainly like to turn it into one. Looking at the same comparison performed above for the Devils point percentage in games with fights versus games without reveals the following information about the teams in the Atlantic Division:

New York Islanders: The Islanders are terrible at fighting. Outside of Matt Martin they don't even have that many fighters left. They were last in the division with only 27 fights and only won five of the games in which they fought. In fact, the Islanders are an above-.500 team in the 59 games without fights. Good thing they signed Eric Boulton so they can stay in the division basement.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers may talk a big game with Zac Rinaldo, Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito on the books, but they are in a similar position to the Devils by posting a better record when not fighting by a .06 margin. This isn't as significant as the Devils' margin but enough that they should consider fighting fewer than 57 times next season. They should be okay giving up some of that since I hear Shea Weber can take care of himself.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins posted a .660 point percentage when fighting (25 games) and a .658 point percentage when not fighting so I guess they can just keep doing what they're doing. Unlike the rest of the division though, the Penguins haven't committed any considerable money to goons, so maybe Ray Shero has the right idea. They're pretty good too.

New York Rangers: The Rangers want to fight. I don't care what Tortorella may say about it but this team put up a .678 point percentage in the 45 games in which they fought, compared to a .649 point percentage in the rest of the season. Perhaps, like the Penguins, the Rangers are just good no matter what the fighting conditions are, but it certainly isn't a hindrance like it is to the Flyers, Devils and Islanders.

Outside of the Atlantic Division the picture is very similar. There are no consistent trends to be found in regards to fighting and success. While the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, two very successful teams, led the NHL in fighting majors, they were followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are a very unsuccessful team. The upper third of the league in fighting also contains the Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres, all of whom missed the post-season. The bottom third of the league includes the Phoenix Coyotes, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings.

Of the NHL's six division winners, three were amongst the top ten in fighting (New York, St. Louis and Boston), two in the middle ten (Vancouver and Florida) and one in the bottom ten (Phoenix). Of the 16 playoff teams the split was 6-6-4. This implies a slight inclination towards success amongst the top fighting teams in the NHL, but not a trend by any means.

The Devils do not need to fight to win games. In fact, it might be detrimental to their success. The Atlantic Division is not an arms race. This is a perception skewed by the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers and it is one that I would like to see the Devils stop helping to perpetuate. Looked at from the broad spectrum of all thirty NHL teams across two conferences and six divisions, there are no clear trends to be found. There are unsuccessful teams that rack up fighting majors and successful teams that rarely drop the gloves and the same goes for the reverse.

Now I want to hear what you think given the stats. Is Lou warranted in keeping Cam Janssen and Krys Barch on-board? Are there facts I'm overlooking that validate the almost $1.5M that the team will pay out to Cam Janssen, Krys Barch and Eric Boulton (via buyout)? Let me know in the comments, I look forward to answering all your questions!

Editor's Note: Now that you read Writer J Alamoth's thoughts on fights and the Devils, I want to know what you think about it. Do you agree with the conclusions that Writer J Alamoth came to, namely that fighting doesn't help the Devils win games? What did you think about how Writer J Alamoth came to those conclusions? Would anything else explain the signing of Janssen and/or Barch? Based on how it was written and what was it about, is this the kind of post you would want to see regularly at In Lou We Trust? Please leave your answers and other comments about this post in the comments. Thanks go to Writer J Alamoth for the submission and thank you for reading.

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