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Cullen: Tracking the NHL hits leaders

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Scott Cullen
8/3/2011 2:48:32 PM
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After looking at real-time NHL stats like giveaways and takeaways, and acknowledging the possible inaccuracies that come with a judgment-based statistic, the next one to tackle is hits.

Scott Cullen looks at the numbers and comes up with the leaders and trailers in hits per 60 minutes of even strength play last season in the NHL.

To consider the challenges that exist when dealing with the hit statistic, allow me a brief story about my own experience.

Many (many, many) years ago when I was playing Midget AAA in Kitchener, I was on the shelf for a couple of months with a broken ankle. At that time, any one of the players that weren't in the lineup (due to injuries or suspensions), would often be charged with tracking hits for the team.

Our coach was hard-nosed and expected our team to win the physical battles every night, so he probably paid closer attention to hits than was probably necessary. Without having modern advanced stats to back it up, I can assure you we had the puck possession numbers to compare favourably with any team we faced and those would have been more important than our hit totals.

Nevertheless, during one of the games in which I was assigned to track hits, I handed the sheet to our coach at the end of the game, a disappointing loss, and he looked at me quizzically.

"Is this right," he asked.

"Yes," I said, unable to imagine that I would be assigned to track hits and not do it as accurately as I possibly could.

He then stormed into the dressing room and tore a strip off one of our defencemen -- who was eventually a first-round pick in the NHL -- for having zero hits recorded.

That wasn't ever this defenceman's style of game, so I didn't see it as much of an issue, but it was easy to stand out on a relatively physical team with zero hits and our coach jumped on it to make a point.

In much the same way, though, a player's hit total does not provide much correlation with a player's value, since one can't have the puck and deliver a hit, to say nothing about how there is always going to be a variance in how hits are recorded from one rink to another.

Even so, the numbers can be interesting for comparison purposes and, just look at this, we found something, aside from Tweets, Tatts and appearances on the Marilyn Denis Show, in which Biz Nasty leads the league.

Among players that played at least 25 games, then, here are the 50 forwards with the most hits per 60 minutes of even strength play:

Rank PLAYER TEAM POS ES HITS ESTOI HITS/60
1. Paul Bissonnette Phoenix LW 122 15069 29.15
2. Ryan Reaves St. Louis RW 86 11275 27.46
3. Matt Martin N.Y. Islanders LW 292 40582 25.90
4. Trevor Gillies N.Y. Islanders LW 43 7037 22.00
5. Cam Janssen St. Louis RW 95 15741 21.73
6. Darcy Hordichuk Florida LW 116 19436 21.49
7. Cal Clutterbuck Minnesota RW 300 56105 19.25
8. Jean-Francois Jacques Edmonton LW 111 21320 18.74
9. Ryan White Montreal RW 70 14060 17.92
10. Brad Staubitz Minnesota RW 133 27544 17.38
11. Derek MacKenzie Columbus C 153 33272 16.55
12. Jody Shelley Philadelphia LW 96 21324 16.21
13. Jay Rosehill Toronto LW 36 8097 16.01
14. Micheal Haley N.Y. Islanders C 55 12453 15.90
15. Tuomo Ruutu Carolina C 293 67086 15.72
16. Andrew Murray Columbus C 76 17415 15.71
17. Chris Neil Ottawa RW 255 58876 15.59
18. Jared Boll Columbus RW 144 33261 15.59
19. Patrick Kaleta Buffalo RW 125 28877 15.58
20. Arron Asham Pittsburgh RW 107 25127 15.33
21. Darroll Powe Philadelphia C 187 44018 15.29
22. Matt Bradley Washington RW 160 37865 15.21
23. Troy Brouwer Chicago RW 244 58702 14.96
24. John Scott Chicago LW 60 14600 14.79
25. Ryan Carter Florida C 130 31823 14.71
26. Scott Nichol San Jose C 107 26688 14.43
27. Mike Brown Toronto LW 100 25209 14.28
28. Krys Barch Dallas RW 53 13485 14.15
29. Justin Abdelkader Detroit LW 182 46307 14.15
30. Michael Rupp Pittsburgh C 172 43964 14.08
31. Brandon Segal Dallas RW 86 22002 14.07
32. Ryan Callahan N.Y. Rangers RW 199 51413 13.93
33. Maxim Lapierre Vancouver C 192 50353 13.73
34. Brad Winchester Anaheim LW 160 42284 13.62
35. Cody McLeod Colorado LW 146 38805 13.54
36. Troy Bodie Carolina RW 85 22661 13.50
37. Tanner Glass Vancouver LW 125 34142 13.18
38. Philippe Dupuis Colorado C 120 33145 13.03
39. Tim Sestito New Jersey C 77 21375 12.97
40. Derek Dorsett Columbus LW 189 52681 12.92
41. Craig Adams Pittsburgh RW 156 43541 12.90
42. Brian Boyle N.Y. Rangers C 232 64851 12.88
43. Matt Hendricks Washington LW 163 45778 12.82
44. Dustin Brown Los Angeles RW 262 74089 12.73
45. Steve Ott Dallas C 223 63183 12.71
46. Zack Smith Ottawa C 126 36733 12.35
47. Zack Stortini Edmonton RW 46 13500 12.27
48. Brian Sutherby Dallas C 69 20448 12.15
49. Alexei Ponikarovsky Los Angeles LW 132 39277 12.10
50. Matt Cooke Pittsburgh LW 163 48580 12.08

At the other end of the spectrum, no surprise, the skill level tends to be on a different tier.

Milan Hejduk and the Sedin Twins, for example, have never been the most physical players, so it's no great surprise to see them at the bottom of this list, yet it's not an indictment of their play in any way. Sure, it would always be better to have a player more willing to compete physically, but skilled players that have the puck on their stick a lot tend not to hit.

Here are the 25 forwards with the fewest hits per 60 minutes of even strength play (minumum 25 games):

Rank PLAYER TEAM POS ES HITS ES TOI HITS/60
397. Ryan Smyth Los Angeles LW 25 72706 1.24
398. Pierre-Marc Bouchard Minnesota LW 15 45820 1.18
399. Magnus Paajarvi Edmonton LW 21 64900 1.16
400. Loui Eriksson Dallas LW 24 74995 1.15
401. Tim Connolly Buffalo C 16 50431 1.14
402. Ilya Kovalchuk New Jersey LW 28 88649 1.14
403. Mike Modano Detroit C 7 23770 1.06
404. Michael Cammalleri Montreal LW 17 58763 1.04
405. Kyle Wellwood Vancouver C 8 27851 1.03
406. Linus Omark Edmonton RW 11 38902 1.02
407. Brad Richards Dallas C 19 69314 0.99
408. Marc Savard Boston C 5 19106 0.94
409. John Tavares N.Y. Islanders C 19 73853 0.93
410. Jason Spezza Ottawa C 14 54905 0.92
411. Patrick Kane Chicago RW 17 70030 0.87
412. Teemu Selanne Anaheim RW 15 63297 0.85
413. Henrik Sedin Vancouver C 15 76314 0.71
414. Niclas Bergfors Florida RW 11 56299 0.70
415. Erik Condra Ottawa RW 4 20505 0.70
416. Alex Kovalev Pittsburgh RW 11 60602 0.65
417. Daniel Sedin Vancouver LW 12 73005 0.59
418. Cal O'Reilly Nashville C 5 32615 0.55
419. Phil Kessel Toronto RW 11 77629 0.51
420. Kristian Huselius Columbus LW 4 31950 0.45
421. Milan Hejduk Colorado RW 7 63066 0.40

On the blueline, the guys that hit the most are really a lunch-bucket crew. That there are four Maple Leafs defencemen in the Top 25 might be neatly correlated to the fact that Toronto had three of the bottom 15 players overall when it comes to giveaways.

After all, when Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek or Keith Aulie turn the puck over, wouldn't their first reaction be to run into the player who just took the puck? Seems to make some sense, particularly when this list is juxtaposed with the defencemen who don't register a lot of hits.

Here are the Top 25 defencemen with the most hits per 60 minutes of even strength play (minimum 25 games):

Rank PLAYER TEAM POS ES HITS ES TOI HITS/60
1. Mark Fistric Dallas D 165 44564 13.33
2. Matt Greene Los Angeles D 208 60864 12.30
3. Matt Smaby Tampa Bay D 41 12632 11.68
4. Andrew Alberts Vancouver D 104 34007 11.01
5. Mark Fraser New Jersey D 57 19674 10.43
6. Mike Weber Buffalo D 151 52949 10.27
7. Luca Sbisa Anaheim D 157 56974 9.92
8. Theo Peckham Edmonton D 184 68045 9.73
9. Milan Jurcina N.Y. Islanders D 108 40194 9.67
10. Brooks Orpik Pittsburgh D 170 64424 9.50
11. Francis Bouillon Nashville D 121 46353 9.40
12. Douglas Murray San Jose D 192 75116 9.20
13. Nicklas Grossman Dallas D 141 55703 9.11
14. John Erskine Washington D 148 58976 9.03
15. Deryk Engelland Pittsburgh D 119 48503 8.83
16. Steve Eminger N.Y. Rangers D 132 55433 8.57
17. Luke Schenn Toronto D 218 91749 8.55
18. Mike Komisarek Toronto D 127 54138 8.45
19. Cory Sarich Calgary D 165 72643 8.18
20. Ryan O'Byrne Colorado D 158 69921 8.13
21. Keith Aulie Toronto D 91 40380 8.11
22. Dion Phaneuf Toronto D 170 76898 7.96
23. Mark Stuart Atlanta D 93 43779 7.65
24. Tim Gleason Carolina D 180 84747 7.65
25. Brent Seabrook Chicago D 198 93427 7.63

Finally, to the defencemen with the fewest hits, it's not surprising that the list comprises more skilled, puckhandling defencemen.

Much like the forwards, it would always be nice to have a defenceman that can make a physical contribution, but when Nicklas Lidstrom and Duncan Keith rank among the defencemen with the fewest hits, there is an easy argument to be made for defencemen not needing to hit to still be great.

Here are the 25 defencemen with the fewest even-strength hits per 60 minutes(minimum 25 games):

Rank PLAYER TEAM POS ES HITS ES TOI HITS/60
198. Willie Mitchell Los Angeles D 33 62606 1.90
199. Lubomir Visnovsky Anaheim D 49 95784 1.84
200. Brent Sopel Montreal D 28 54781 1.84
201. Andy Greene New Jersey D 47 92285 1.83
202. Cam Fowler Anaheim D 42 82671 1.83
203. Joe Corvo Carolina D 45 88819 1.82
204. Matt Carle Philadelphia D 46 90858 1.82
205. Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit D 41 82391 1.79
206. Andrew MacDonald N.Y. Islanders D 32 64691 1.78
207. Paul Martin Pittsburgh D 40 81227 1.77
208. Jonas Holos Colorado D 17 34876 1.75
209. Dan Boyle San Jose D 43 89783 1.72
210. Chris Tanev Vancouver D 10 22890 1.57
211. Tomas Kaberle Boston D 34 87367 1.40
212. Duncan Keith Chicago D 40 104617 1.38
213. Kent Huskins San Jose D 17 45203 1.35
214. Brian Campbell Chicago D 26 74918 1.25
215. Erik Karlsson Ottawa D 27 82722 1.18
216. Mike Lundin Tampa Bay D 23 71761 1.15
217. Tobias Enstrom Atlanta D 25 79301 1.13
218. Trevor Daley Dallas D 28 91992 1.10
219. Anton Babchuk Calgary D 18 65283 0.99
220. Filip Kuba Ottawa D 17 61861 0.99
221. Keith Yandle Phoenix D 25 96202 0.94
222. Sami Salo Vancouver D 5 25260 0.71

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Trevor Gillies hits Cal Clutterbuck (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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