Evaluating the fighting of Chris Thorburn

I’m not the biggest fan of fighting in hockey. The game has changed and with all we now know in this day and age, the role of fighting and fighters in the league has greatly diminished. But that’s not to say it has completely disappeared. There comes a time when the gloves need to be dropped and some haymakers need to be thrown. But I absolutely detest staged fights for no apparent reason and I also really dislike a fight that stems from a good, clean hit. 

With that out of the way, it’s time we take a look at the NHL’s leader fighter (at least in terms of fighting majors assessed), Winnipeg Jets’ own, Chris Thorburn. 

Thorburn has accumulated 9 fighting majors so far this season and, when asked, doesn’t really have an explanation for it. “It honestly hasn’t really felt like that many fights. Obviously, there’s some bumps and bruises. But in terms of the sheer number (of fights) — nine — that’s not a really high number,” said Thorburn, when asked about it after his most recent tilt with Cody McLeod of the Avalanche. Coach Paul Maurice also wasn’t able to pinpoint why #22 is so ornery out on the ice: “I’ve certainly never felt with this lineup that you have to get out there and get the gloves off early,” Maurice said. “The game is going to youth and everyone has young players on their team. They have to get used to the physicality.”

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So, why is Thorburn fighting so much? Actually, IS Thorburn fighting all that much? I dug into the numbers over at www.hockeyfights.com and here’s what I found.

League Leaders

This season, in 29 games played, Thorburn has been assessed 9 fighting majors. According to the voting-based judgement scale, hockeyfights.com credits him with 2 wins, 4 losses, and 3 draws for a winning percentage of 0.22. As you can see below, the total number of fights for Thorburn, and the winning percentage, are about in line with what we’ve seen from the franchise leader in games played over the course of his career.

Thorburn Career Fighting Numbers

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What really jumps off the page is his fights per game (FPG). For his career, Chris Thorburn has been in 99 fights over 715 games, for an average of 0.14 fights per game. This season, he’s had 9 fights in just 29 games, or 0.31FPG. That is over double his career average. I don’t have the time or the inclination to go back and watch every single fight Thorburn has been in over his career, but I did go back and watch this year’s tilts. You can, too, if you’d like. Right here. But I wouldn’t recommend it. They’re super boring. Every single one of them is a staged wrestling match that either comes off of a faceoff, where they’ve discussed it beforehand, or it is two aging players looking for justification for being in the lineup. 

The only fight Chris Thorburn has been involved in this year that seems to have had any purpose whatsoever was when he fought Kyle Clifford of the LA Kings on November 13. Earlier in the game, Clifford put Kyle Connor out with a hit from behind and the argument can be made that Thorburn was retaliating. But Thorburn was on the ice when Clifford took his 5 minute major for boarding and didn’t drop the gloves then. They danced in the second period, long after the penalty had been served. But I digress. The point I’m trying to make here is not that Thorburn’s fights are boring or pointless, but that he’s fighting more than ever and he rarely wins.

Peluso Career Fighting Numbers

You have to think that the coaching staff has to have something to do with the fights, right? If they didn’t want the gloves continually being dropped, they could put a stop to it, but they don’t. If they want someone out there engaging in fisticuffs, what about Uncle Tony? Affectionately known as ‘The Nuclear Option’, Anthony Peluso has seen no NHL time this season, and I am not here to advocate that he does. If ( and this is a big if)  the coaching staff wants a fighter on the roster, I’ll argue that Peluso is the better option. He has an identical 0.14 fights-per-game in his career, but he wins 80% of his fights. 

I personally think Chris Thorburn has no place on an NHL roster these days. There are plenty of other options for Paul Maurice and his coaching staff, especially now that the Jets are healthy. But maybe there’s an argument to be made that a fighter or an agitator is necessary on an NHL roster. I don’t agree with that, but I’m not the coach. If Coach wants a fighter, though, perhaps Peluso would do a better job.