Tough to Play Against

Updated: January 10, 2018 at 7:04 pm by Travis Yost


It’s that time of the hockey year when every young forward who sits above league-average size bills himself as the next Milan Lucic. Derek Zona has already talked about this plenty. Over at LeafsNation, Cam Charron was forced to do the same.

What drives me absolutely batty about the obsession with developing and acquiring toughess is the tangentially-related obsession with hitting. For every David Backes and Scott Hartnell type, there are a litany of forwards who are more or less hitting because they’re never in possession of the puck. We already know that at the team-level, teams win far more often when they’re getting out-hit. Which, of course, makes looking at individual data fun!

There’s a thousand ways to spin around the garbage RTSS-data provided by the league in a way to effortlessly poke holes into the hit-parade arguments trumpeted by Nick Kypreos and the lot. The latest: I decided to compile twenty-five of the league’s best hitters on a per-season basis [08-12], then look at their Goal% and Corsi% [zone-adjusted] in that specific year. If the idea is that hitting is such a prominent and important part in winning hockey games, it stands to reason these players do well to keep teams from dominating the shot-clock and, more importantly, do well to keep teams from scoring.

And, on the other side of that coin, the comedic part: I compiled another twenty-five guys [08-12] who were most guilty of giving the puck to the other team on a per-season basis, then looked at their Goal% and Corsi% [zone-adjusted] in that specific year.



The hit squad is generally responsible for ensuring that goals stay out of their net. It seems .. ineffective. Again, unless you have a Milan Lucic, David Backes, or Dustin Brown at your disposal, you’re basically shit out of luck. And signing Steve Ott or Matt Martin because he’s hitting at a comparative rate to one of those guys doesn’t fill the void. It just adds a crappy player to the lineup for the sake of physicality. Seems to me that the data suggests grown men aren’t really scared of other grown men who make their living smacking bodies around. Funny, that.

Moving on to the turnover crew.:



No new ground being broken here, and this barely passes for any kind of actual statistical analysis. And yet, there’s something particularly hilarious about guys who are going out of their way to give the puck to the other team performing significantly better as a unit than the grit/soul types who are laying their body on the line, looking for any reason to separate body from puck.

The reason, if it’s not bloody obvious at this point: the list of giveaway leaders is generally synonymous with the league’s best players, in that they’ll turn the puck over from time-to-time because they always have it. When they’re not turning the puck over, they’re scoring goals.

And your hit squad, save a few ultra-rare breeds, is a run of bottom-six forwards [at best] who almost spend as much time retrieving the puck from their cage as they do locking in on the opposition for a center-ice kill shot.

Ergo: Perennial-repeat Cal Clutterbuck, not so tough to play against. Perennial-repeat Joe Thornton, a brutal-draw for even the best of hockey players.

Thing is, we never hear prospects bill themselves as the next Joe Thornton. Why? Who knows. Squaring off against him seems like one hell of a futile effort, though.