Hitting and Winning Games

Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009 07:30PM

datsyuk

It’s frequently stated that physicality and a strong hitting game lead to winning. With that in mind, I decided to look at how the five highest hitting teams each season over the past decade compared with the five lowest hitting teams.

To make things fair, I’ve ranked them using only hits recorded in road buildings, since the standards for hitting can vary widely depending on who is tracking them – by using only road statistics, each team is judged by a wide field and half the data isn’t coming from their home rinks. All information comes from NHL.com.

I also inserted the average point total for teams pre- and post-lockout..

Top Five Hitting Teams

  • 2008-09: TB, NYR, PHI, LA, BOS – Total Points: 455
  • 2007-08: ANA, NJ, BOS, PHI, OTT – Total Points: 484
  • 2006-07: ANA, NYI, WSH, TOR, NYR – Total Points: 457
  • 2005-06: ANA, OTT, TOR, PHI, CGY – Total Points: 505

Post-Lockout Average Point Total Per Team: 95.1

  • 2003-04: PHI, CAR, COL, ATL, CBJ – Total Points: 417
  • 2002-03: COL, SJ, EDM, NYR, CGY – Total Points: 423
  • 2001-02: CGY, COL, NJ, EDM, FLA – Total Points: 425
  • 2000-01: COL, NYR, SJ, BOS, LA – Total Points: 465
  • 1999-00: NYI, CAR, EDM, LA, ATL – Total Points: 363
  • 1998-99: NYI, BUF, VAN, EDM, CHI – Total Points: 355

Pre-Lockout Average Point Total Per Team: 81.6

Bottom Five Hitting Teams

  • 2008-09: COL, DET, MIN, FLA, VAN – Total Points: 463
  • 2007-08: MIN, COL, EDM, LA, DET – Total Points: 467
  • 2006-07: COL, DET, MIN, VAN, TB – Total Points: 510
  • 2005-06: TB, COL, DET, MIN, NJ – Total Points: 496

Post-Lockout Average Point Total Per Team: 96.8

  • 2003-04: MIN, DET, TB, SJ, DAL – Total Points: 499
  • 2002-03: CHI, MTL, DET, BUF, OTT – Total Points: 451
  • 2001-02: DET, TB, MIN, WSH, MTL – Total Points: 430
  • 2000-01: MIN, CHI, NSH, ATL, DAL – Total Points: 385
  • 1999-00: NSH, STL, DET, BOS, OTT – Total Points: 460
  • 1998-99: DET, NSH, DAL, BOS, PIT – Total Points: 451

Pre-Lockout Average Point Total Per Team: 89.2

Final Tally

  • Hitting Teams: 86.98 points per season
  • Non-hitting Teams: 92.24 points per season

To borrow a quote, who saw that coming?

As for what it means, I think the implication is obvious.

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 08:28AM
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I don't think we can argue that hitting has no impact on the game. That makes no sense, and like the rest of you I've seen enough hockey to know that hitting can be an effective means for getting the puck.

What I think is fair to argue is the impact of the so-called "big hit". We've already seen that a landslide victory in a fight has virtually no impact on winning a hockey game and I honestly believe a big hit falls into the same category.

I also think total number of hits is pretty irrelevant, because while a hit can be effective I don't see it as being any more effective than taking the puck away and shielding with the body (in some cases it's less effective, as throwing a hit can take a player out of the play).

Splitting this data up by conference is probably the next step, as jfry's point above is a good one and one I hadn't considered. I'm also going to look at playoff series and see what impact that has.

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#52 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 08:31AM
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SumOil wrote:

3>Now look at teams 6-10 and 11-15 in the hits. We can agree these are teams with a good mix of hitters and skill. I am sorry due to time constraint i am doing only the 08-09 season: 6-10: SJS, CGY, PITS(thats right ogden brother), ATL, MTL total points: 483 average points: 96.6 We can see here total points( and hence average points) is way higher than the bottom 5 for 2008 i.e: non hitters. 11- 15 ANA, NJD, WSH, OTT, DAL total points: 473 average : 94.6 Again this is higher than the bottom 5 teams for 08-09.

Yes, and if you look at the top-five for 2007-08 and the bottom-five, the top-five do better. That's why the sample includes 50 teams - there's plenty of room for variation in a sample of five.

4> Norris trophy finalists 07-08 Lidstrom, Chara, Phenauf 08-09 Lidstrom, Chara, Green Except for lidstrom all three are known for their Hitting prowess.

I'm sorry, but the often farcical voting patterns of the PHWA doesn't do anything for me at all. There's a ton of sportswriters there, and for every guy like Brownlee who knows the game there's a Terry Jones too. Did you know that Jassen Cullimore got a vote for the Norris trophy two years ago?

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#53 Alon
July 17 2009, 09:06AM
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Enjoyed your article Jon, but I think you came to a false conclusion.

I don't think you can average the pre and post lockout numbers. Different times lead to different styles of play.

For example all the top hitting teams pre-lockout were what would be considered to be weaker teams (Minus Colorado). Now they could be weaker teams for several reasons (no parity, no payroll, bad personelle decisions), but wouldn't that explain the 13 point (6.5 game) difference? You could also factor in that in general, teams get more points post-lockout.

The conclusion should probably be, skill beats checking pre-lockout, but post-lockout the difference is negligible. Shouldn't it?

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#54 Dodd
July 17 2009, 09:16AM
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Very interesting article, Mr. Willis.

Makes me wonder if the "hitter" is left out of position / out of the play after delivering a hit - leaving the hitter's team vulnerable...?

We've all seen an awesome hit that basically took BOTH players out of the play... it appears that hits cost the team doing the hitting sometimes.

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#55 Harlie
July 17 2009, 09:23AM
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couldn't another conclusion be that the Teams with less skill goon it up with hitting & fighting and still lose to the skilled Team who use finesse? Coaches have to work with the deck of cards they're dealt. Looks like Toronto should suck hard again as they got tougher and Montreal should kick ass as they are loaded with skill. ??

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#56 Alon
July 17 2009, 09:24AM
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@ Harlie:

Bingo :p

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#57 Vaclav
July 17 2009, 09:25AM
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Too many other factors to rule out to be able to show statistical relevance between number of hits and wins but an interesting article nonetheless.

There are certainly individual hits that have likely changed the outcome of games and even playoff series'. I imagine Milan Michalek and the Sharks can attest to that.

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#58 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 09:42AM
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Alon wrote:

Enjoyed your article Jon, but I think you came to a false conclusion. I don’t think you can average the pre and post lockout numbers. Different times lead to different styles of play. For example all the top hitting teams pre-lockout were what would be considered to be weaker teams (Minus Colorado). Now they could be weaker teams for several reasons (no parity, no payroll, bad personelle decisions), but wouldn’t that explain the 13 point (6.5 game) difference? You could also factor in that in general, teams get more points post-lockout. The conclusion should probably be, skill beats checking pre-lockout, but post-lockout the difference is negligible. Shouldn’t it?

I don't think we have enough data postlockout to form any conclusions about the post lockout era specifically. I separated them because I knew this was an inevitable argument.

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#59 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 09:49AM
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I suppose that the one statement I could make is that the most important thing is to be better at scoring goals and preventing them - it's far more important than hitting.

If we can agree with that statement, we can get past the notion of running "energy" lines who have no discernible purpose other than to hit things.

The fact that so many successful teams pre- and post-lockout have experienced success despite the lack emphasis on hitting confirms this.

Detroit proves it, I think. People say that a less-physical team will be intimidated by a more-physical team, but Detroit has won in both the playoffs and regular season by being better at hockey and treating hitting as incidental. I'd be very disappointed to see my team get worse at hockey to get better at hitting (by, say, signing Chris Neil to a multi-year, big-money contract).

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#60 Alon
July 17 2009, 10:28AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I don’t think we have enough data postlockout to form any conclusions about the post lockout era specifically. I separated them because I knew this was an inevitable argument.

Normally I would agree with this, but a 13 point difference is fairly significant (read incredibly) and I doubt that waiting an extra two years would make up that difference. Besides even if you were to assume that the two years would close some of that gap, what does that new number become? 10 points? 8? Those are still fairly significant differences.

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#61 Jason Gregor
July 17 2009, 10:56AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

As for what it means, I think the implication is obvious.

It means Detroit doesn't need to hit, because they have a sick amount of skill.

And the one factor you have to account for is that HITS are the most subjective stat in the NHL. IT is sad that what is deemed a hit in Edmonton, isn't in LA or other places, and vice versa.

That makes it even harder to classify how important they are. Good study though. I do think that more hitting generally means a more entertaining game though.

It would be great if the NHL could get more consistent marking of what a hit actually is. It probably won't happen, but it sure would be nice.

I also find it interesting that over the four year span, 75% of the top hitting teams are from the east, and that 80% of the non-hitting teams are from the west.

Is that why the east has more offence, because guys are out of postion more often going for hits? Or is it because they have better top end skilled players in the east. Or are west teams just less physical?

Curious what the rankings are across the league JW. Is the east that much more physical from top to bottom?

I would guess yes, since many of the Oilers most entertaining games the past few years have come against the east. And it's probably because they are more physical games.

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#62 Ducey
July 17 2009, 10:57AM
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Willis, Any correlation between top hitting teams and the teams that have the most PIM?

It wouldn't change the gross results, but maybe the real cause of hitting teams having a poorer record is that they give up more powerplays than their non-hitting counterparts?

I guess the PIM's are likely skewed by a few typically irrelevant guys getting majors for fighting etc so it may actually be tough to get the proper data for PIM.

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#63 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 11:03AM
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@ Jason Gregor:

The East/West thing really is critical here, I think. The other thing that it may indicate (aside from one conference just being far more physical than the other) is that what's considered a hit in the East isn't neccessarily considered a hit in the West.

If I were to re-run this study, I think I'd use the top five teams from each conference and show conference-specific results.

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#64 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 11:04AM
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Ducey wrote:

Willis, Any correlation between top hitting teams and the teams that have the most PIM? It wouldn’t change the gross results, but maybe the real cause of hitting teams having a poorer record is that they give up more powerplays than their non-hitting counterparts? I guess the PIM’s are likely skewed by a few typically irrelevant guys getting majors for fighting etc so it may actually be tough to get the proper data for PIM.

I'll look into it - I had the same thought that you did.

Fortunately for us, the NHL splits minor penalties and major penalties, so I'll take a look.

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#65 Ducey
July 17 2009, 11:12AM
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"Detroit proves it, I think. People say that a less-physical team will be intimidated by a more-physical team, but Detroit has won in both the playoffs and regular season by being better at hockey and treating hitting as incidental"

I think there is a difference between hitting and playing physical. There is a lot stuff that goes on in front of the net that doesn't involve actual hits. Detroit excels at putting guys in front of the net and causing issues for the goalie. They also have some guys who will go in the corner, take a hit, or risk taking a hit, and still come out with the puck.

Detroit may not be a hitting team but they do play physical.

This is why I think Penner is underrated. He is one of the few Oilers who know where the front of the net is and he can win battles along the boards.

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#66 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 11:19AM
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Ducey wrote:

Detroit may not be a hitting team but they do play physical. This is why I think Penner is underrated. He is one of the few Oilers who know where the front of the net is and he can win battles along the boards.

Absolutely. I'm not under any illusion that a team doesn't need physical play - I just think there are a lot of times where making a hit isn't the right way to do things.

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#67 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 11:21AM
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Ducey wrote:

Any correlation between top hitting teams and the teams that have the most PIM?

There is some correlation, but then there are exceptions. For instance:

-Vancouver ranked 26th in total hits, but had the 5th most PIM in the NHL. -Boston ranked 5th in total hits, but had the 6th fewest PIM in the NHL.

Still, this is almost certainly part of the reason that teams with more hits don't seem to be more successful; the increase in PIM certainly weighs against any intimidation advantage.

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#68 Future_GM
July 17 2009, 11:26AM
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Not sure if anyone has already asked this, since we're on page 2, but why wouldn't you do all the gaems even if the home seem to be a bit skewed to the home team. You don't think that the road games are skewed as well? I really don't see any relevance to this at all unless you taking into account all 82 games.

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#69 Chris
July 17 2009, 12:13PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

More fuel to the fire: Who did most consider the “toughest teams in the league”? - Boston - Philly - Calgary - Ducks - Van Who did those teams lose to? - canes - Pens - Hawks - Wings All “soft” teams. Conclusion: Though physical play is important, it’s severly overated.

Completely disagree. The Penquins completely reversed their fortune in the final through solid physical play. The Oilers, in 06 climbed back into the San Jose series when Torres crushed Michalec. (Could Nilsson have made that play?)

Look, simply amassing the most hits during the regular season doesn't guarantee success. To me, a high hit total is a marker that your team is playing without the puck. Having a physical edge on your opponent is like having a hammer at a bar fight... You only bring it out at times of desperate need.

There is no way a team can expect to go deep into the playoffs if they spent 82 regular season games smashing everything they have come accross. Ideally, you play hard; maintain control of your season; and bring out the hammer occasionally: in response to unwarrented aggression, or during a must win game, or to break out of a slump. To me, it is inexcusable that the Oilers seem to lack the ability to impose their will physically on the opposition. This needs to change. It's all about balance.

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#70 Prop Jay
July 17 2009, 12:28PM
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Kp on heatley:

"I think we've given up hope on the Heatley scenario; but, I guess it's not dead in the water. But, at this point, it looks like we'll go to camp with the same team we finished with last year outside of a new goaltender."

http://www.630ched.com/Channels/Reg/LocalSports/Story.aspx?ID=1116219

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#71 Archaeologuy
July 17 2009, 12:33PM
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Totally unrelated, minor trade between the Flames and Washington. Washington just traded Brent Seabrook's brother (2nd rounder 06) to the Flames for "future considerations". Is there something wrong with that kid that the Caps would give him away for essentially nothing after just a few years?

I only bring it up because I think if the Oilers gave away one of their prospects after such little time then ON would be pissed off.

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#72 ScubaSteve
July 17 2009, 12:37PM
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@ Archaeologuy:

Yeah, I don't get this trade unless it's a precursor to something bigger between the 2 teams.

Could be a number of things, though, personality conflict, money, contracts, ect.

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#73 Dallas
July 17 2009, 12:46PM
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Is the kid any good how big is he I think Brent is huge if I'm not mistaking.And I think he played for the Hitmen could it be that Calgary thinks he will be a better player than the Caps do?

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#74 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 12:49PM
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Future_GM wrote:

Not sure if anyone has already asked this, since we’re on page 2, but why wouldn’t you do all the gaems even if the home seem to be a bit skewed to the home team. You don’t think that the road games are skewed as well? I really don’t see any relevance to this at all unless you taking into account all 82 games.

Look at it this way. I'm a lazy bum who shows up to work late and leave early. I work six days a week. Three days a week, I punch in and out on the time clock. The other three days, I fill out a time ticket.

The time clock and the time ticket show radically different results, even though I'm working the same amount of hours every day, the time clock is a much better reflection of what I'm doing because when I write out my time tickets I'm cutting myself a ton of slack.

It's a similar situation in the NHL. Teams post radically different hit totals home and away because every arena counts hits differently. Using only road games, all teams have a relatively similar spread of counters (or at least within the same conference). If we include home games, half of the sample is coming from one place - a place that's different for all thirty teams and makes the results completely useless.

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#75 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 12:52PM
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Dallas wrote:

Is the kid any good how big is he I think Brent is huge if I’m not mistaking.And I think he played for the Hitmen could it be that Calgary thinks he will be a better player than the Caps do?

Keith is listed at 6'. He had his first good WHL season last year at the age of 20 on a stacked team after posting okay results in Denver and lousy results in Calgary last season.

He's very much a fringe prospect at this point. Not Tim Sestito fringe, but probably Cody Wild fringe.

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#76 Dallas
July 17 2009, 12:54PM
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Awsome thanks Jonathon

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#77 Dallas
July 17 2009, 12:57PM
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That being of note what is Alex Plantes chances of making the team this year a few players like him and I bet our hitting stats would go up

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#78 Archaeologuy
July 17 2009, 01:30PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: I just think that 20 years old is too young to give up on a Defenseman. I mean, was Tom Gilbert considered that great of a prospect when he was 20? I dont recall that he was.

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#79 DK0
July 17 2009, 01:33PM
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TGIF random talk time: Would someone hurry up and sign Claude Lemiuex in our conference so that we can watch a few more Theo Peckham rematches? I could watch that all day. Especially the PPV version where you got to see Claude grind his helmet into Theo's face which is why the refs let them go for a tilt. I couldn't find that version last time i hunted on Youtube.

Well... FFS it appears he has retired now that i look.. lame.

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#80 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 01:40PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

@ Jonathan Willis: I just think that 20 years old is too young to give up on a Defenseman. I mean, was Tom Gilbert considered that great of a prospect when he was 20? I dont recall that he was.

I don't disagree at all. It's aweird move, and if I had to bet I'd guess there was a personality ocnflict or off-ice issue somewhere along the line.

I have no proof of that, mind you, but that would be my guess.

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#81 Ender
July 17 2009, 01:41PM
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@Willis

I seem to remember you being a history buff, so correct me if I'm wrong, but can't a small victory (like a fight or a "big" hit) turn morale around on a team who feels nearly defeated?

The thing your stats don't take into consideration (and honestly, I'm not sure how I'd work these numbers out if I tried to myself) is how "down-and-out" the hitting team is when the big hit happens. No, I don't think a big hit or fight will change anything in a moderately lopsided game. If the ice is tilted heavily, but the scoreboard is not, there's a good chance that it *will* have a big impact psychologically. Also, a big hit or fight will also likely have some level of impact in a game that's effectively a stalemate.

All of these things have been shown to be militarily/psychologically true, and while the study you cite about fights says the opposite, it's answering a different question than (I think) you're asking: "Does it ever make a real difference?"

The long and short of it is that you're using a very broad measure to say a very specific thing about psychology (sure, you can dress it up as "who wins more games" but given team schedules and conferences I'm not sure the argument holds water) and I think it's a stretch. In general, I think you're right, and that it doesn't make a difference. That doesn't mean it doesn't make a difference in certain cases and reducing the "big hit," "big goal," or "big fight" to "it doesn't lead to more points" is doing a disservice to your own analysis.

Besides, it's sure to be skewed in an Ice Hockey way - some teams like 3 fat guys, some teams like 3 skinny guys. Are the skinny guys fast enough to get around the fat guys? Is the coach compensating for that? And besides, Detroit has classically been enough of a point outlier that I don't think you can just add their points to Florida and call it a wash IMO.

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#82 Jonathan Willis
July 17 2009, 01:42PM
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Dallas wrote:

That being of note what is Alex Plantes chances of making the team this year a few players like him and I bet our hitting stats would go up

I think Plante's got at least a year in the AHL ahead of him, and I like the guy. I think we should be looking at a progression like Theo Peckham's - next season he might get one callup, followed by a cup of coffee stint in 2010-11, and then a shot at a regular role in 2011-12.

That's just off the top of my head.

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#83 Jason Gregor
July 17 2009, 01:47PM
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Dallas wrote:

That being of note what is Alex Plantes chances of making the team this year a few players like him and I bet our hitting stats would go up

He is not close. He will probably go to Springfield this year. Plante isn't overly physical just yet, so I don't see him coming to the NHL and being a brusing D-man.

He will need a few years to mature and learn the pro game. He probably plays at least two full seasons, maybe more, in the AHL before he is close to being a regular in the NHL.

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#84 GLoKz0r
July 17 2009, 03:07PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Archaeologuy: I’m not going to say anything else about the Transformers movies. People either loved them or hated them, and I’m on one end of the scale. Alright, one thing. I’m on the Roger Ebert end of the scale.

I'd just like to say that I fall into neither category. I enjoyed it for what it was (a balls out action movie with lots of eye candy), but I still found the writing and plot delivery to be some of the worst seen on a big screen in awhile. So I'd be right between love and hate.

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#85 DanMan
July 17 2009, 06:20PM
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Great job, Jonathan.

I think the key here is what kind of hockey do you want to see? Pu$$y euro-hockey or good hard-nosed Canadian hockey?

I wholeheartedly agree that hits do not result in goals, or prevent goals against. Hits are about pride. And being a man.

When the Hockey News named Niklas Lidstrom as the 2nd best defenceman of all time, I almost puked in my soup.

Defencemen shouldn't be able to play at that level at 39 years old, i get it. But when you shy away from physicality your entire career, you could probably play into the early 40's.

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#86 PaperDesigner
July 17 2009, 09:04PM
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Okay, there are two possible issues that could be affecting this. One is PIM; Ethan Moreau types, the kind who aggresively play a physical game and presumably rack up hits, also rack up short-handed opportunities for their team. Is there any correlation between teams that throw the most number of hits and put up the most amount of non-coincidental PIM (remember, if an enforcer puts up five PIM on a fight, it doesn't hurt his team, because they keep playing five on five)?

The other is your theory. Maybe teams that are more physical employ more purely physical players who are liabilities in both ends of the rink are also the ones that put up the hits, but tend to ice some weak lines. That would be a much harder theory to prove, because you would have to go through the third and fourth lines throughout the league, and determine with players you've possibly never heard of whether they have a tangible defensive game or not.

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#87 Jonathan Willis
July 18 2009, 10:00AM
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DanMan wrote:

I think the key here is what kind of hockey do you want to see? Pu$$y euro-hockey or good hard-nosed Canadian hockey?

Hockey where my team wins?

Yep, that's my answer.

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#88 Jonathan Willis
July 18 2009, 10:01AM
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@ DanMan:

How many Cups has Lidstrom won as a number one defenseman?

You may not like his physical game, but it's brought him and his team success - and that's the most important thing.

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#89 LOIL
July 19 2009, 02:44PM
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I noticed there is a very obvious trend when you sorted the hitting vs non-hitting teams. It looks like, for the most part, 4 out of 5 "top hitting teams" are from the east each year and 4 out of 5 "top non-hitting teams" are from the west each year. That surprised me a little bit considering most of the "top end talent", who generally hit less (minus Ovechkin), are in the eastern conference.

LOIL

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#90 LOIL
July 19 2009, 02:47PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

He is not close. He will probably go to Springfield this year. Plante isn’t overly physical just yet, so I don’t see him coming to the NHL and being a brusing D-man. He will need a few years to mature and learn the pro game. He probably plays at least two full seasons, maybe more, in the AHL before he is close to being a regular in the NHL.

I hope he is improving. Because I will never forget when I went to a Rebels/Hitmen playoff game the year the Oilers drafted Plante and watched in horror as he was benched for the entire second and third periods of a must win game for his team. Not what I would hope to see from one of our first round picks but not surprising given the Oilers history at the draft haha.

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#91 A look at last season’s games - OilersNation.com
July 20 2009, 11:47PM
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[...] had an interesting take on how hits relate to success, and while some of the top teams can get away with not being as physical, a team like the Oilers [...]

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