A couple weeks ago on Pass it to Bulis, I wrote a post exposing the “Soft Sedins” narrative as a myth by tracking how they played in games where there were a higher than average number of hits recorded. It got me thinking about a statistic that is not being tracked at all: hits received.
When a penalty is called, both the player who takes the penalty and the player who draws the penalty are recorded in the game’s play-by-play. Likewise, when a hit occurs, both the player who delivers the hit and the player who receives the hit are recorded. There are people in the blogging world who track penalties drawn, but no one tracks hits received. In fact, those interested in advanced statistics generally ignore hits altogether.
There are several good reasons for this. Drawing a penalty is seen as a legitimate skill, whether it is done deceitfully or through skill, speed, and size. Drawing a penalty also has an immediate positive impact for a team in the form of a powerplay, which can be easily calculated into goals. A drawn penalty that results in a powerplay is worth approximately 0.18 goals, so if you draw more penalties than you take, you provide a tangible benefit to your team.
Hits are much more difficult to quantify. While it’s clear that a hit can impact a game in a multitude of ways, such as creating a turnover, preventing a player from joining a rush, or changing the ever-nebulous “momentum” of the game, it’s remarkably difficult to draw a direct correlation between hits and goals. Making it even more difficult is the variance in how hits are recorded from arena to arena. Hits, along with other real-time statistics like giveaways and takeaways, are susceptible to arena bias. Bruce McCurdy, for instance, has noted that the scorers at Rexall Place in Edmonton hand out giveaways like candy at Halloween, resulting in the Oilers recording 715 giveaways at home and only 257 on the road.
For an example of how poorly hits are sometimes recorded, note that the following was recorded as a hit for Darcy Hordichuk on Keith Ballard. He was injured on the play and missed over a month of action.
I do, however, think there is a benefit to looking at hits received. First of all, we are limited in what statistics are available to us to track the physical aspect of hockey. The only two statistics that fit the bill are hits and penalty minutes, and as established above, taking penalties can actually be detrimental to a team’s success.
With that, we are left with just hits, and it seems foolish to limit ourselves to just one half of the equation. It’s easy enough to look on NHL.com and see what players are recording the most hits – currently Matt Martin, with 88 hits in 19 games – but what players are getting hit the most? At the very least, it’s worth looking to see if something can be learned from hits received.
Secondly, by looking at hits received rather than hits delivered, we can partially evade arena bias. For the most part, scorers tend to be biased towards the home team. It’s most likely unintentional, but ultimately unavoidable. What might be a minor collision that doesn’t result in a change in possession might get a louder reaction from the home crowd if it’s their player initiating the contact, subconsciously affecting the scorer’s decision whether or not to record a hit. Hits received would be less subject to this home bias.
With all the preamble out of the way, let’s look at who received the most and fewest hits last season. I was able to get the numbers on hits received for the entire league in 2010-11 from Eric T. of the Flyers blog Broad Street Hockey, who is a gem of a human being who you should follow on Twitter. Unfortunately, I don’t have current totals for this season; as I said, no one appears to be tracking this.
Here are the 20 players who were hit the most in the 2010-11 season, with HR standing for “Hits Received” and HR/60 standing for “Hits Received per 60 Minutes”:
|The 20 Most Hit Players in 2010-11|
|Michal Rozsival||NYR, PHX||D||65||100||194||8.53|
It’s not surprising to see this listed dominated by defencemen, who are frequently on the receiving end of hits from forechecking forwards. It’s also not surprising to see the names of several players who tend to deliver a lot of hits: Dustin Brown, Stephane Robidas, Douglas Murray, Tumou Ruutu, and Luke Schenn play a physical game that finds them on both sides of collisions.
A couple names, however, stand out. David Booth being the forward with the highest number of hits received likely speaks to him constantly carrying the puck for the Panthers last season. He doesn’t seem to fear being hit, despite being on the receiving end of two hits to the head in his career that caused concussions. Sean Avery is another interesting name: he makes himself a bit of a target on the ice. Most interesting of all, in my opinion, is Jason Blake, who at 5’10″ tall and 37-years-of-age received the 27th most hits last season despite delivering only 76 himself.
Let’s narrow things down to the forwards and look at HR/60. Here are the top 10 forwards:
|Top 10 Forwards in Hits Received per 60 Minutes|
|Jack Skille||CHI, FLA||R||62||113||9.18|
Here is where we start to see the fourth-liners show up. Paul Bissonnette spends the bulk of his time on the ice hitting people and getting hit and the same is true of Kyle Clifford, Jody Shelley, and several other players on this list. In fact, the only player in the top 10 who averaged more than 13 minutes of ice time per game is Danny Cleary. Jason Blake is just outside this list at #11.
Here are the bottom 10 forwards in hits received per 60 minutes, with a minimum of 40 games played:
|Bottom 10 Forwards in Hits Received per 60 Minutes|
|Rob Schremp||NYI, ATL||C||63||24||1.63|
Of course, this side of the scale can be read in two ways: these players could either be remarkable at avoiding hits or they could simply be avoiding areas of the ice where they might get hit. Rob Schremp is well known as a perimeter player and it appears to be for good reason. Shawn Horcoff, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to shy away from the physical side of the game and Henrik Sedin is frequently a target of physical play but is often able to spin off of checks while retaining puck possession. The same is true of some of the other players on this list.
Now for the defence, once again excluding players with fewer than 40 games played:
|Top 10 Defencemen in Hits Received per 60 Minutes|
|Michal Rozsival||NYR, PHX||D||65||194||8.53|
The common trait here would appear to be defencemen who are not exactly fleet of foot or particularly good with an outlet pass, with Michal Rozsival and Dmitry Kulikov being exceptions. Of note, Chicago defenceman John Scott was just out of the top 10 at number 11. These are not bad defencemen, necessarily – Douglas Murray is an Olympian, after all – but I would still find it concerning to see them on the receiving end of so many hits if they were on my team, particularly Keaton Ellerby. That guy gets hit a lot.
On the other end, the defencemen who received the fewest hits per 60 minutes:
|Bottom 10 Defencemen in Hits Received per 60 Minutes|
|Bryan McCabe||FLA, NYR||D||67||49||2.24|
Adrian Aucoin is remarkably adept at avoiding hits, being on the receiving end of only 24 in 75 games last season. It isn’t too surprising to see most of the players at the top of this list, particularly Nicklas Lidstrom, who seems to have a preternatural sense of when a hit is coming so he can step aside at just the right moment. The defencemen on this list are all good skaters who played big minutes for their respective teams and can make a good breakout pass.
6 of the 10 players on this list were in the top-30 in scoring from defencemen and only Kuba and Gleason scored fewer than 20 points last season.
This is just a preliminary exploration of the possibilities of this statistic, but it provides confirmation of the ability of a player like Lidstrom to avoid hits, something that is frequently talked about, but rarely proven quantitatively. It also provides confirmation of negative qualities, such as Rob Schremp’s tendency to be a perimeter player. It’s possible that this statistic could provide other useful information with some more development.