Expansion, Contraction and Brian Burke Part 1

Yesterday, the Toronto Maple Leafs sent Colton Orr down to the American Hockey League.  In the aftermath, Leafs general manager Brian Burke aired his own views about how the game had changed and that there was no longer a place for the “enforcer” type player.   You can find the article at TSN.ca.

This is not an uncommon opinion.  You will often hear variants of it being put forward by Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner or by Mike Milbury and others.  Often they will draw a line back to the tough players of bygone eras.  Those who were contemporaries of them or were coached by them in the seventies and eighties, such as Dave Schultz, Tiger Williams,  or Bob Probert or they’ll go back even further to tough guys such as John Ferguson, Lou Fontinato, etc.

I would like to contend that Colton Orr doesn’t belong to this line of enforcers, but rather is as much a product of the expansion era as 50 goal seasons were from the mid 70’s to 80’s.  Firstly, I want to look at Orr’s own production.  Secondly, I want to take a look at the production of enforcers pre and post expansion.  Thirdly, I want to look at the possible effects contraction might have on adjusting those numbers.  I’m making use of hockeyreference.com and dropyourgloves.com for most of the raw numbers here.

I found it interesting to note that the TSN article include the number of games that Orr had played and number of penalty minutes he had accumulated in his career, but left out the number of points he had scored.

Now points aren’t everything, but in the case of Orr they are far less than that.  In 378 NHL games he has collected a grand total of 20 points.  To put that into perspective, with the season about half over, Mr. Orr’s career total for points, which were earned in about 4.5 seasons, would rank him in a tie for 155th place among NHL scoring leaders this season.  Mr. Orr collects points at rate of approximately .053 a game, or roughly 1 point every 19 0r 20 games.

To put that into perspective I went to hockeyreference.com and went through the top 250 players for career penalty minutes.  Only one player on the list has contributed at the same rate.  That was Stu “the Grim Reaper” Grimson.  Only 8 of the 250 even contributed points at less than .1 per game.  Grimson also had the longest career of those under .1 points per game, playing for a total of 729.

To put it another way.  Only three times in the 83 years since the NHL went to a 40+ game schedule has the player who led the league in penalties contribute less than .1 points per game to his teams offense.  The first time was in 1930-31 when Harvery Rockburn of the Detroit Falcons led the league in penalties while producing a grand total of 1 point in 42 games played.  The second in 1998-99 when Rob Ray produced 4 points for the Buffalo Sabres over the course of 76 games.  The third time was in 2002-03 when Jody Shelley of the Columbus Blue Jackets produced 5 points in 68 games.

While the numbers I’ve given certainly aren’t conclusive I believe they suggest that Orr’s career offered very little to the NHL game other than his willingness to fight.  What I hope to show in the next post, is that such a situation came about largely as a result of expansion.  It may take me a few days to get that post up, as I want to make sure I can find a statistical analysis model that accurately reflects the rise and fall of scoring in the NHL.  If anyone knows of such a model, or the presence of the NHL equivalent of Bill James, please feel free to leave a comment below, or to ask for clarification.


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