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The truth about fighting

By Jesse Pantuosco, Fantasy Sports Writer

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Remind me not to get on John Tortorella's bad side.

When Tortorella saw that Flames head coach Bob Hartley was starting his fourth line Saturday against Vancouver, the Canucks coach almost lost his mind. He sent out his enforcers to start the game and within seconds everyone except for the two goalies had dropped their gloves. Two seconds had elapsed and already there had been eight ejections and 152 penalty minutes handed out.

The fun didn't stop there. Tortorella took a detour into the Flames' locker room after the first period and almost started another brawl.

Hopefully he got a good look because it's the last dressing room Tortorella will see for a while. The league hit him with a 15-day suspension earlier this week.

While Tortorella was unleashing his inner Richard Sherman, it got me thinking.

Isn't it a little baffling that the game still needs enforcers like Tom Sestito to settle beefs?

It's true. No other sport has embraced goons quite the way hockey has.

Heck, even the fantasy game has embraced it. Why else would leagues keep track of penalty minutes?

To the amazement of myself and others, penalty minutes are actually a GOOD thing in fantasy hockey. Somehow, whoever invented this thought it would be a good idea to reward players for putting their team at a disadvantage.

I get it. It's hockey. It's supposed to be physical. And though I don't share the same bloodthirsty motives as Tortorella or any of the league's other disturbed villains, I'm not in favor of eliminating fighting.

When I grew up going to games at the Hartford Civic Center (the Whalers had already moved on by the time I became a fan), my favorite players were always the ones who got into the most fights. I don't think they helped the team in any way by doing this, but I thought it was entertaining and ultimately, that's what sports are about.

But back to fantasy for a minute. The best explanation I've heard for why penalty minutes are used as a fantasy statistic comes from Matt Cubeta at NHL.com. He says "it allows every NHL player to potentially have value."

Fair enough. But does it actually work that way?

Not really.

In order to be taken seriously in fantasy, your fists shouldn't be your only asset. In ESPN leagues, only one player in the top-ten in penalty minutes is owned in more than 10 percent of leagues. Tampa Bay's Radko Gudas has made himself attractive to fantasy owners not because of his high penalty rate (his 96 PIM ranks seventh in the NHL this season) but because he has an impressive plus/minus (+7) to go along with 13 assists.

Vancouver's Sestito, who is essentially the Sidney Crosby of penalty minutes (167 this season), is owned in only 3.1 percent of leagues. Even Antoine Roussel, a Dallas Stars enforcer who does score on occasion (17 points this season), has mostly been a fantasy afterthought (3.5 percent ownership).

That's not to say that physicality and scoring don't always go hand in hand. In 2011-12, Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell produced 37 goals while spending a whopping 136 minutes in the sin bin (11th in the league). David Clarkson, then of the New Jersey Devils, was also able to supplement his scoring prowess (30 goals) with some hard-earned penalty minutes (138, ninth in the NHL).

Chris Stewart is one of the few players in the current 2013-14 season who has scored and fought a roughly equal amount (15 goals, 91 penalty minutes). His St. Louis teammate David Backes is another player who has turned his penchant for brawling (78 PIM) into a positive (35 points in 43 games).

The simplest way to look at it is, penalty minutes can help improve a fantasy player's worth, but they can't be your only source of value. Unless Sestito improves upon his measly 0.4 shots per game, no matter how many fights he gets into, he still won't be an option for owners trying to win their league.

So fight on if you must, Mr. Tortorella. Just remember to stay the heck out of Calgary's locker room next time.

01/21 17:15:10 ET


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