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  • Marcus Foligno Is Too Important To Be Fighting

    Tony Abbott

    On Tuesday, the Minnesota Wild dropped more than their first regulation game since Jan. 1 in their loss to the Winnipeg Jets. They also lost their composure. Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway took exception with an Adam Lowry hit, and both picked up fighting majors in the first period. Tempers flared again late in the third period, and Foligno and Lowry fought once more. Foligno kneed Lowry in the head while Lowry was vulnerable on the ground, earning himself a two-game suspension.



    Twitter erupted into debates surrounding the offending collision and pending suspension when the hit happened. Was this an indictment of Foligno being dirty, or was this an anomaly? Should Foligno's clean record with the Department of Player Safety give him the benefit of the doubt? Did the referees, or even Lowry, contribute to a situation that kept getting out of hand as the game went on?


    Those debates were fierce but had little bearing outside this incident or game. Dirty or not, what's done is done. Foligno got disciplined by the league, and that's pretty much that. In two games, this incident won't matter.


    A more critical question with farther-reaching implications is: Why is Foligno even fighting at all?


    That question will sound ludicrous to many Wild fans. Foligno is many things, a stingy defensive player and an odds-defying scoring threat. But the aspect of his game that brings most members of the Foligno Fan Club in the door is his old-school toughness. In a hockey world where fighting is declining, Foligno's capable of heavyweight-caliber fisticuffs. That alone will make a player a fan favorite. But getting that element from a guy who can play? Yeah, everyone loves that.


    Foligno's signature moment of the season isn't even one of his 17 goals. It's his Superman punching of Brenden Dillon in Minnesota's home opener.



    So why should Foligno take that element out of his game?


    The value of fighting in hockey is an old debate that will never be resolved. Its detractors say it's a pointless spectacle that causes injuries, concussions, and eventually CTE. Its proponents argue that standing up for your teammates against other players taking liberties gives teams an edge.


    For the purposes of arguing, let's concede that there's an intangible benefit to fighting. Even then, Foligno should hang up his boxing gloves for good. Because you know what's a bigger edge than being able to fight? Marcus Foligno. Specifically, having him on the ice.


    Over the past four years, few players have been more valuable on a per-minute basis than Foligno. Out of all NHLers with 1000-plus minutes in that span, he ranks 23rd in Evolving Hockey's Standings Points Above Replacement per hour. For every hour Foligno plays, the Wild can expect about .22 points in the standings. Throughout an 82-game season, that adds up fast.


    Through 42 games, Foligno is third in the NHL with seven fights. He's never had a year with more than four bouts in a Wild sweater. He's now on pace for about 14 of them, carrying at least five penalty minutes a pop. That's a lot of time to not even have the option of putting Foligno on the ice. Especially in a one-goal game like Tuesday night, where getting a few more minutes to pot goal No. 18 could've earned them a point on the road.


    A point might sound minimal in the grand scheme of things. Still, Minnesota's chasing the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators while hoping to keep the St. Louis Blues at bay in the Central Division. One point could easily make the difference between winning the division or not. And of having home-ice advantage, or not.


    But the Wild don't just lose value by him being off the ice. Fighting always lands two players in the penalty box. Both participants leave the ice. Since stars like Artemi Panarin, Nathan MacKinnon, or Mark Stone don't fight, Foligno's opponent will almost always be a worse player than him.


    Put it another way: If you offered Winnipeg the opportunity to exchange 10 minutes of Lowry (eight points in 43 games) in the box for Foligno (27 in 40 games) getting 10, they'd take it every time without thinking.


    And that is without considering the worst-case outcomes. Foligno's exercised enough self-control that suspensions shouldn't be an issue. But what about injuries? No amount of caution can prevent those in a fight.


    In fact, that's happened to Foligno with the Wild before. He fractured a cheekbone in a fight in 2017, and while he only missed a handful of games, it illustrates only some of what could happen. A concussion or hand injury could really hurt Minnesota if it happened in a playoff run. Being on track for nearly as many fights this year as he's had in his Wild career prior (14) exposes him to a lot more risk.


    Maybe you can run that risk with a player at the bottom of the lineup. But given how important Foligno is to this club, Minnesota shouldn't run it any longer. Losing him for 5-17 minutes because of a fight hurts the team. It almost always gives the opponent an edge and opens the door for injuries. Foligno is a Selke-caliber defender, a power forward scoring threat, and a heart-and-soul captain. The Wild need him on the ice as often as possible, and fighting is antithetical to that goal.

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