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 Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 thashiznit
July 16 2009, 07:51PM
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it all somehow does not make sense...

Shocking!

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#2 thashiznit
July 16 2009, 07:52PM
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What about playoffs??

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#3 Librarian Mike
July 16 2009, 07:56PM
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Hitting does seem to be the stat that is used when Team Canada chooses plugs over talent (i.e. Rob Zamuner, Shayne Corson). I guess they still live in the 70s when it was possible to intimidate European players.

Very interesting stats. Thanks, Jonathan.

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#4 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 07:57PM
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@ thashiznit:

I haven't run the playoffs yet. That said, Detroit's been on this list for seven years running, so I don't expect to see any difference.

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#5 Hoss
July 16 2009, 08:05PM
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I think its hard to judge this type of stat, more or less hits doesn't neccesarily mean more or less wins. Is there a stat that can track results of a hit? Like if a player hits a puck carrier, that puck carrier loses possession and then the hitting team gets an offensive opportuntity? (doubt it) Maybe there should be a quality of hit stat... maybe teams that use there size and strength properly doesn't need to hit everything that moves, just hit at the right time. Maybe I don't know what Im talking about.

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#6 kurri_17
July 16 2009, 08:09PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Detroit is a special case who can sign whoever they want.. *almost* what does the overall pic of playoff success look like?

And what about hitting *in the playoffs*? :-)

Thanks for doing the post, good topic

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#7 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 08:11PM
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@ Hoss:

What I'd expect would be that players recording more hits are also recording more effective hits; i.e. there'd be no difference.

Of course, I don't know that but it makes sense intuitively.

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#8 Hoss
July 16 2009, 08:17PM
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I guess the law of averages would dictate the more hits overall would equate to more quality hits. The Oilers used to play a more physical game and it seemed much more entertaining than some of the low contact stuff of the last couple years. If we are forced to see the Oilers battle for a playoff spot year after year I almost wish they looked like they were in a 'battle' not a practice skirmish.

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#9 Vic Oiler
July 16 2009, 08:53PM
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Hitting is tough stat. Using only road games really skews things to, I understand your logic for going with the road only stat.... But many teams play a different style away from their own building.

On another note before the lockout the Oil used to hit a lot more. I hope we get back to that this season.

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#10 David S
July 16 2009, 08:56PM
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Very interesting. It seems we're discussing teams that rely on hitting more versus teams that rely on hitting less (versus non-hitting). To my mind, teams that rely more on physical play must do so to level the playing field against teams with superior talent, who (as you've shown) will in the long run score more. However, to say that teams are "non-hitting" might be a bit misleading.

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#11 99thoilerfan
July 16 2009, 08:56PM
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I guess we have to look at who is counting these hits, what a hit is ( open ice, or rubbing some one out along the boards, etc. ) BUT that said, I am surprised...

I guess I have seen a lot of hits, that impact a game..

1) Someone coughs up the puck, after a hit 2) Someone is out of position, due to a hit 3) Someone is out for good, due to a Scott Stevens hit.

I guess, it could come down to WHEN the hit is done.. Which end of the ice, Is the Energy line out?( and does it matter?), Are we Leading or Losing, How much time is left.....

Ugh! it spins my mind... I feel "funny"...

* Realizes I am a Hockey Fan! *

Me Like Hockey! Me Like Hitting! Fight! Fight!

I conclude with " GO OIL ".

Good Night and Good luck

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#12 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 08:59PM
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@ Vic Oiler:

David Johnson uses adjusted hits but they don't go back far enough. They're pretty much the same as using road only hits; 4 of the 5 top-hitting teams for last year are the same, with Boston dropping from 5th to 6th and being replaced in the top-five by Montreal.

The bottom five also feature four of the five same teams, with Minnesota dropping to 6th and being replaced by Carolina.

2007-08 and 2006-07 also feature 8 of the 10 teams using the adjusted hits metric. I feel confident that using road hits only does a good job of reflecting total hits.

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#13 99thoilerfan
July 16 2009, 09:00PM
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ps: Great topic! I Enjoy your work !

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#14 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:02PM
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Despite these findings, I don't view hitting as a negative. Here's what I do believe:

a) Hockey people consistently overrate the impact of hitting b) Employing players who add physical edge and nothing else (*coughRickRypiencough*) and aren't otherwise good enough to play a regular shift is a mistake

Again, I don't know this, but I'd guess that the reason that teams with more hits have an inferior record isn't because hitting itself is a negative, but because they employ more players with only one talent - physical play.

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#15 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:03PM
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@ 99thoilerfan:

Thanks :)

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#16 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:03PM
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And just for the record, these weren't the results I was expecting.

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#17 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:05PM
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Here's another article in the same vein that may be of interest, looking at the impact of winning fights on winning games.

The results are negligible.

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#18 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:08PM
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David S wrote:

However, to say that teams are “non-hitting” might be a bit misleading.

Oh absolutely.

Just so everyone has an idea what kind of numbers we're talking about, the top five teams this past year averaged 1852 hits, while the bottom five averaged 1394.

It's a significant difference, but not the difference between 0 and 100.

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#19 ronaldo
July 16 2009, 09:14PM
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Great article J-Dub (can I call you that- because I think it sounds cool). I wish I had something clever to add as to why this is all wrong, because it goes against everything we were raised to believe, but I can't. I believe 99thoilerfan expressed my feelings well, 99thoilerfan wrote:

Ugh! it spins my mind… I feel “funny”…
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#20 knighttown
July 16 2009, 09:20PM
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To play devil's advocate, in order to throw a hit you need the other team to have the puck. If two teams are equally eager to throw a hit when the opportunity arises but team A has the puck 65% of the time while team B has the puck 40% of the time, Team B should outhit Team A by a huge margin.

It's like passing yards in football. Teams don't pass when they're way ahead. The QB who leads the league in passing yards probably just went 8-and-8.

Teams that are ahead do not attack and no attack means no forecheck means no hits.

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#21 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:32PM
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@ knighttown:

On one hand, this year we have Tampa Bay leading the league in hits which would seem to incline towards your suggestion, but on the other hand Anaheim has led the league for the three years prior and they certainly carried the puck a lot.

There's probably something to your suggestion, but I'm not convinced it's everything - and if anything would seem to indicate that players who chalk up a lot of hits are liabilities because they don't have the puck very much.

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#22 Hemmertime
July 16 2009, 09:41PM
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Detroit being a non-high hitting team slants your numbers. I understand legit to include them, but if they hit people 10 more times per game wouldnt make them lose more games.

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#23 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:42PM
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@ Hemmertime:

But if they scratched Jiri Hudler for Aaron Downey a few times they might lose a few more. And that's really the angle I'm driving at here.

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#24 Hemmertime
July 16 2009, 09:42PM
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As always, love the article.

Would love to see a hits vs goals scored thing too.

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#25 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:45PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Detroit being a non-high hitting team slants your numbers. I understand legit to include them, but if they hit people 10 more times per game wouldnt make them lose more games.

On the other hand, having Anaheim included on the hitting list works the other way. It's just as fair to say that if they hit people 10 times less per game they wouldn't lose any more either.

Neither conclusion is really fair; I'm trying to find a link and what I'm finding contradicts what I expected to find - so far, it looks like teams with a more aggressive bent are less successful.

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#26 Word
July 16 2009, 09:45PM
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I can't remember where I heard it, but aren't hits counted by an employee of the barn that the game is being played in, and considered one of the most inaccurate stats that is tracked?

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#27 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 09:48PM
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@ Word:

Not inaccurate, but highly subjective. That's why only road games were used - each team's numbers should be comparable, whereas if we included home games half of the sample would be coming from a single source.

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#28 David Staples
July 16 2009, 10:05PM
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JW, dude, you beat me to it! I was working on this exact same post today. What got you thinking about it? I just started digging around HockeyAnalysis.com and saw the adjusted hitting stats. Anyway, good post, good work.

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#29 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 10:13PM
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@ David Staples:

Sorry, David ;) I don't know what got me thinking about it; my mind was wandering and I thought 'hey, let's toss something together'.

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#30 Archaeologuy
July 16 2009, 10:21PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I don’t know what got me thinking about it; my mind was wandering and I thought ‘hey, let’s toss something together’.

Oddly enough, those words were also said regarding the creation of Poutine, Turducken, the last Transformers movie, MacT's line combinations, The Score television network, and Frankenstein's monster.

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#31 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 10:24PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

the last Transformers movie

Actually, I'm pretty sure the thought process was something like:

"Ooh, Megan Fox. Ooooh. I need to put her in a movie so I can watch her. I'll toss in some explosions - yeah that'll work - and giant robots. Can't go wrong with giant robots."

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#32 ronaldo
July 16 2009, 10:26PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

Oddly enough, those words were also said regarding the creation of Poutine, Turducken, the last Transformers movie, MacT’s line combinations, The Score television network, and Frankenstein’s monster.

The odd one out is Frankenstein's monster- he was thought out ahead of time.

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#33 Archaeologuy
July 16 2009, 10:28PM
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@ Jonathan Willis: Was there a sequence where Megan Fox ran in that movie where it wasnt in slow motion? I think not.

and honestly, you CANT go wrong with giant robots. Especially if they have spanish accents and jive talk a lot.

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#34 Zamboni Driver
July 16 2009, 10:39PM
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Well, personally I think this is complete crap as the hit stats are entirely subjective, but....I guess that the collection of figure skaters wearing copper and blue aren't completely hopeless.

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#35 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 10:44PM
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@ 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.

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#36 ScubaSteve
July 16 2009, 10:44PM
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Interesting where those stats led, but not totally surprising.

If you look at individual stats for hits by defencemen, they don't always favor players who are better defensively.

Nik Lidstrom for example, isn't even in the top 30 in hits, but I don't think anyone would argue that he is an elite defender, using body position instead of hitting to get the job done.

I think this has more to do with what kind of team the GM has built as opposed to how successful hitting is. E.g. Anaheim (built to hit) vs Detroit (built to not hit)

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#37 Jonathan Willis
July 16 2009, 10:46PM
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Zamboni Driver wrote:

hit stats are entirely subjective

Do you think those lists above fail to reflect hard-hitting and non-hard hitting teams?

Speaking simply as a fan without numbers, my lists would have looked very similar for this past season - they just make sense.

Besides, we're cutting the subjectivity by using 29 different arena numbers; this would seem to give us an accurate view.

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#38 Archaeologuy
July 16 2009, 10:53PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Alright, one thing. I’m on the Roger Ebert end of the scale.

You made me google Ebert and Transformers. I am a better person for reading his entry regarding that movie.

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#39 Shifty203
July 16 2009, 11:07PM
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@Jonathon Willis

Just for fun, can u remove Detroit from the equation, and the similar ranked team from the heavy hitters side. I have a feeling as well that Detroit is an anomaly in the statistics. I also have a suspicion that lower goal scoring teams win more games because of their hitting, but I wouldn't know which stats to use to compare goals for and against with hits and total points compared. For example, San Jose finished first last season I believe, did they score less goals but hit more than Detroit?

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#40 Ogden Brother
July 16 2009, 11:12PM
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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.

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#41 Doogie2K
July 16 2009, 11:37PM
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I also posted this on JW's other site, but for the benefit of those here, I would suggest that only looking at the extremes doesn't tell you much, because a single team, like the Red Wings, will severely skew the sample. I'd be curious to see what the correlation is for all 30 teams before even beginning to speculate about whether there's a causal relationship there (remembering as always that correlation != causation).

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#42 Traktor
July 16 2009, 11:47PM
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Bottom Five Hitting Teams

13 out of the 20 bottom hitting teams in the past 4 years have been from the NW, yet the NW is regarded as the most gritty of the divisions.

That doesn't add up at all and ruins the credibility of the experiment IMO.

It doesn't really matter though as Anaheim and Detroit have shown us that there is more than one way you can win the game. Unfortunately we have 1/4 the skill of the wings and 1/4 the toughest of the Ducks.

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#43 SumOil
July 17 2009, 02:15AM
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@ Ogden Brother:

Boston was going through ton of injuries. If you watched the playoffs, Pens werent soft at all. Lets see players who were physical. Malkin Kunitz Guerin Dupius Talbot Orpik Scuderi Gill to name the few.

Hawks won only because they were able to out-muscle both flames and the nucks. Those two series established Seabrook and Byfuglien.

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#44 SumOil
July 17 2009, 03:15AM
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Also JW the following to be considered:

1> Cal Clutterbuck throwing 300+ hits is still less than Lucic dishing out 150 hits. Tell me that Lucic hit on Van Ryan did not shake up the Leafs team! There is a saying in Hindi. " 100 sonaar ki, 1 lohaar ki." Simply translated, it means 100 hammer hits by a oldsmith(sonaar) is comparable to one(lohaar) by a blacksmith.

2> A lot of hitting does not one any good and many times puts the hitter off position. However great hitters are those who know when to dish out big hits. Classic example would be from our southern neighbors. Reghier and Phenauf are both big bruising D-men. However, Reghier is smarter. He knows when the appropriate moment is for a hit and when good positional play would suffice. And we know how much trouble he gives our skilled players.

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.

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.

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#45 SumOil
July 17 2009, 03:16AM
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@ SumOil:

Goldsmith* for sonaar Blacksmith for lohaar

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#46 SumOil
July 17 2009, 03:22AM
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One last point. If you take away 05-06 season from your consideration as the difference(point-wise) between top5 hitting teams and bottom 5 hitting teams is huge.

Top 5 hitting team: total points- 1444 , avg: 96.27 points per team per season

Bottom 5 hitting team: total points- 1426, avg: 95.07 points per team per season

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#47 jfry
July 17 2009, 06:42AM
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i think it's really tough to cull any sort of data from these stats other than teams that play most their games in the east record more hits and teams that play in the west (particularly the NW) record fewer hits.

i think this is more a study in stat tracking from conference to conference as opposed to a thorough look at hitting results on points.

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#48 Death Metal Nightmare
July 17 2009, 06:48AM
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what are the PIM's for the teams that had high hitting rates vs. the ones who didnt? thats all that matters. the actual hitting stats dont. the one anomaly year is probably the Ducks cup year where they "bossed" the league to a cup.

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#49 Lofty
July 17 2009, 07:25AM
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Its one thing to make hits its another thing to get slapped around

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#50 #13 The Rat
July 17 2009, 08:05AM
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At the end of the day I think there is a very important point to draw out of the stats; as Jonathon implied it is not so much the NUMBER of total hits that are dished out, but more importantly WHO is landing those hits.

Using Anaheim as an example of a "big" hitting team, look at who does their scoring AND hitting...Getzlaf, Perry, The Human Rake, etc.

So long as your "hitters" also play a complete game you are going to have an edge...if they can do nothing but run around looking for the big hit, you are at a disadvantage.

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