Nothing But The Hits
I know you're wondering "What does that picture of Dennis' favourite band have to do with the Oilers?" Well, bear with me for a second...
If you watched the Oilers in the late 1990's under Ron Low, you'd swear they were more interested in wearing out the boards than actually worrying about the puck. Obviously Ronny Low loved the hitting and figured that was how the Oilers were going to win hockey games back in those days. I always thought Low was a little crazy, or drunk, or both.
MacTavish, on the other hand, seems to have a very different view of the bodycheck and how it should be used. His teams have never been hit happy. I can recall more than a few Oiler fans pointing out that the Oilers under MacT tend to shy away from finishing their checks vigorously. Well, who's right?
I have no idea.
This was brought on by a totally sidetracked discussion over at LT's site about Bryan Young of all things. (If you're talking about anything over there, it usually starts with a hockey dinosaur or a hockey zit-popper, there is no in-between) A couple of posters over there (PDO and Bruce) think hits have particular value to winning hockey games. The idea being that somehow the total number of hits a team has is somehow a partial indicator of how good they are. (To be fair to these guys, they're not going to the wall over this one, but I get the impression they do think hitting is important. I'm sure they'll comment if they think I'm being unfair.)
Personally, I think hitting is a means to an end. Some players find it to be a very useful part of their toolkit, while others tend to find it a waste of time. It's interesting to me that players like Zetterberg and Lidstrom are wildly effective without going out of their way to hit anybody. Heck, even Chris Pronger picks his spots pretty carefully in my honest opinion. So do hits have any real universal value to winning hockey games?
As Bruce pointed out over at Lowetide, the Oilers are last in the league in number of hits according to the NHL's RTSS stats. On the current roster, Shawn Horcoff is an effective defender and all-round hockey player who is not afraid to block shots with his face. How come he has posted a paltry 47 hits in his last 173 games since the lockout? On the flipside, his bash brother at centre Jarret Stoll has had 182 hits in 147 games since the lockout and his number is is only on the rise. Stoll's a much more physical player the past two years than I remember him and the totals seem to bear that out - 71 in 82 games in 05/06, 89 in 51 games last year and 22 in 14 games this year.
This is going to be a truly unsatisfying post because I don't have any answers but I think I have a pretty good question:
What if you track shots that closely follow hits on the NHL play-by-play?
(First, the assumptions: The RTSS stats measured by the NHL are independent of the building in which they occur and the record keepers generally do a good job of recording them. This is a whopper and pretty much not true, but c'est la vie)
You could choose goals, actual shots, or the IOF darling "shots directed at net", whatever, just as long as it happens within 5-10 seconds after a hit. I choose 5-10 seconds because you have to cut it off somewhere.
If hits are of particular defensive value, you won't find many shots against immediately after a hit in the defensive zone by a defender. If they have particular value for forwards, then we should see a decent number of shots for/goals for immediately following hits by attackers on the forecheck.
If it works we can get together and write Zetterberg a heartfelt email to "man up" and perhaps "grow a pair." Maybe I'll send Ron Low a bottle of scotch as an apology.
Personally, I think the whole thing is a red herring, but does this sound like a reasonable way to get closer to a real answer? Has someone like Alan Ryder or Gabriel Desjardins already done it? Does anyone want to check it out?