Charlton's NHL: A Hit By Any Other Name

Rick Charlton

January 1st, 2002

Things could be worse for Denis Gauthier.

He could be an Edmonton Oiler.

Gauthier, one of the better bashers in the NHL, has been thumping the table lately on hit counts, saying there needs to be a uniform standard by which all players of his ilk can be judged fairly.

In short, a hit in one building may not qualify in another, in turn giving some players a statistical leg up on others in contract negotiations and potentially, post-season awards. "Not everyone cares, but guys like me, Robyn Regehr and Bobby Boughner depend on those stats for a lot of reasons -- like, comparisons to other guys when it comes to arbitration or contract talks," Gauthier told the Calgary Herald last week. "Playing in this building, you almost have to kill guys to be awarded hits. I don't think it's a fair stat. I don't think it should be there because there's so much judgment involved.

"You try not to pay too much attention to it, to not get too frustrated by it. But the bottom line is that it's going to cost some guys some dollars."

A quick (okay, it took me three hours) survey of the last ten home games for all 30 NHL teams through to the end of action last night reveals Gauthier may have a point, although maybe not in his own case.

The off-ice officials counting hits at the Saddledome were below the statistical average for the test period in question, but not so much so that you would raise alarm bells.

The guys who should really be ticked off are Eric Brewer and Jason Smith in Edmonton where the hit count is significantly below the league standard.

On average in the NHL through 300 home games sampled - the last ten home games for each team - there were an average 24.1 hits per game for the home side and 21.7 hits for the visiting team.

The Saddledome count is 22.9 hits per game for the home side and 18 hits for the visitors.

In Edmonton, the count is an average of 14.3 hits per game for the home team and only 12.1 per game for the visitors.

Contrast that with the count in St. Louis where the Blues average 32.6 hits per game and their opponents 31.8.

No wonder Chris Pronger is up for the Norris Trophy every year.

The difference between the Oiler numbers and that of St. Louis is remarkable given, in reality, there is little to distinguish between how the two teams approach the game.

Only nine NHL rinks through the test period gave the opposition more hits than the home team, suggesting off-ice officials, employed locally, do offer up some favouritism. It is a statistical fact in our sampling that there is a 69% probability the home team will end a game having outhit its opponent on the night. On the other hand, it is also a fact in the NHL this season that the home side has a 63% probability of winning or tying a game on their own ice, lending support to the hit count numbers as a whole.

In most locales, however, the difference between the numbers for the home team and their opponents is actually fairly narrow. Carolina and Florida were the only locations where the home side, in the ten games surveyed, were never outhit by an opponent.

A critic would look at the numbers in Miami, as one example, of favouritism run amok where the Panthers, who don't look particularly hit happy on paper, somehow managed to annihilate their opponents an average of 34.6 hits versus 23.6.

Across the Florida panhandle in Tampa, the Bucs, with a better record than the Panthers, managed only 15.4 hits per game while giving up 14.8.

In Toronto, where anything to do with the Leafs seems to smack of homerism, the opposite appears to be the case with hit counts. The Leafs, in fact, rarely get the benefit of the doubt in their own rink, apparently being outhit 29.3 per game versus their own total of only 25.7.

Yet another Ontario team, the Senators, averaged 30.9 hits per game while surrendering 25.8.

Are there cost conscious owners out there deliberately finding a way to generate lower than average hit counts in places like Edmonton and Calgary to deprive more aggressive fellows like Gauthier extra contract money?

Probably not.

One of the lowest hit count arena's in the NHL is in fact Washington where an owner run amok - Ted Leonisis - has hardly been shy with his wallet, running a deficit this year that could approach $30 million U.S., greater than the entire Flames payroll.

Yet the Capitals average only 15.9 hits per game while giving up 14.9.

Gauthier - who actually singled out Washington for padding hits - could be working for Leonisis and still find himself getting stiffed at contract time.

The Flames defenceman also mentioned LA (24.9 versus 23.3 for opponents), Carolina (26.5 and 17.3), Buffalo (21 hits versus 17.7) and Boston (22.3 versus 21.1) for special attention.

In actual fact, none of those cities proved to be particularly remarkable in our sample.

An equal opportunity hit happy place is Long Island where the Islanders average 30 hits per game but their opponents manage 30.2.

The Edmonton situation, however, stands out far more than Calgary. In their last ten home games, the Oilers managed to cross the 20 hit plateau only once as did their opponents. A recent 3-2 win over Minnesota saw a 10-5 count favouring the Oil.

In Miami, the Panthers had less than 30 hits only once in our ten game sample.

Gauthier is correct to point out that not all hits are apparently equal and for a sturdy fellow such as himself it must be irksome to see some lesser lights ahead of him on the hit-meter.

It's clear there is no uniform standard being practiced and, more importantly, no review system in place for off-ice officials who probably want to do no more than a good job in the end.

This is a clear case of the NHL needing to step up and help its employees in their jobs while simultaneously giving relevance to one of the more entertaining statistics it can offer.

The NHL has aspirations to become the statistical equivalent of baseball, a sport which can provide mind-bending but always interesting quirks to occupy the attention of the numerically inclined.

But statistics are only interesting if they are relevant.

AS MUCH AS THE FLAMES WOULD WANT TO DOWNPLAY the recent brew-up with centre Marc Savard the fact remains the player did ask for a trade then escalated the issue by taking that trade demand public. The solution in recent days seems to have been to give Savard the benefit of the doubt, to let him prove he deserves the ice time he's demanding. For a shining moment last night the Flames actually had two offensive lines, a Savard/Jarome Iginla combination and Craig Conroy centering Dean McAmmond, which is probably what they envisioned on day one. For all the hugs and kisses between various parties in the last week Savard's ultimate future as a Flame has probably not been decided yet. While Savard has been particularly useful on the powerplay with the Derek Morris injury, it will be his ability to play "The Gilbert Way" five on five which will be his ultimate undoing . . . . . or the cementing of his future in Calgary. When Morris comes back in four weeks, Savard will be judged not on his powerplay production, but on his overall game. Meanwhile fans should be happy both sides jumped away from the Val Bure comparison like rats diving out of a rattlesnake infested hole. Because the Bure fiasco was a freaking disaster for everyone, something this team can easily do without.

"IT WAS BACK AND FORTH. The two teams were pretty evenly matched. I'd like to see more games against rivals like that, against people in your own division. It builds more rivalries and it might be more fun for the fans." - Conroy, in USA Today, after the 2-2 tie with Edmonton last night.

SOME PUNISHMENTS CAN LAST A LONG, LONG TIME. St. Louis still owes New Jersey a swap of first round draft picks from the Blues 1994 tampering with Devils defenceman Scott Stevens. Eight years is a life time in pro hockey. The exchange option can be used last in 2003 and the Blues have one option to defer which means the Devils have this season and next to finish ahead of the Blues or risk losing their advantage for good.

"WIN, LOSE OR DRAW, I'M GOING TO GO HOME WITH MY HEAD UP." I have a (mentally handicapped) daughter who feels pressure every day. My life is pretty balanced, whereas some people's back home maybe aren't. This is very important and we want to do well, but if we lose a game I don't expect 22 players to jump off a bridge." - Team Canada coach Stan Butler at the World Junior Championships prior to a sudden death game with Sweden.

"BRIAN (SUTTER) WAS A GOOD COACH IN CALGARY. He did a good job in Boston, too, but his best was in Calgary. He wasn't appreciated in either place. But he has a proven record and he was a great player on a mediocre team (the Blues, 1976-88).'' - Scotty Bowman discussing the success of the Sutter-coached Chicago Blackhawks, probably the surprise of the season as the NHL approaches the halfway mark. The Hawks are 23-12-8 on the year, good for 54 points and second overall in NHL standings behind only front-running Detroit. There were many alarm bells ringing two summers ago when Sutter failed to have his contract renewed in Calgary then seemed to be in the bizarre position of being one of the three finalists for his old job back only a few months later. But a Calgary penalty killing unit that was terrible under Sutter was also terrible under Don Hay and now with Greg Gilbert as well. Many Flames players credit Sutter with giving them the base work they needed to survive their early years. The riddle, however, is how he has managed to revive the careers of Eric Daze, Alexei Zhamnov and Boris Mironov, all with well-deserved reputations as slackers. There was not a lot of doubt the Hawks actually had talent but the biggest challenge Sutter faced in Chicago has been to convince these guys to play to their abilities where countless others before him had failed. It hasn't hurt as well that Kyle Calder and Mark Bell have also emerged as promising young forwards. Sutter, beat up in this space before, deserves the credit he's getting now. But he could never have come back for a second stint as head coach in Calgary. Bad timing. 

"THE WAY THE LEAGUE HAS GONE, YOU REALLY HAVE NO CHOICE. Everybody is sitting back and waiting for mistakes, so you can't just try to skate the puck through anymore. If you want to win, you have to learn to play this way." - Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote on the state of today's NHL.

"WE BELIEVE THAT WITH GOOD DEFENCE you create great offensive chances and that's what we, as a team, are trying to do right now. It takes players a little while to adapt to that, but you can see now it's working." - More from Foote. Do you think Flames coach Gilbert would like Foote to give his team a seminar on this topic?

"WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SOME UPS AND DOWNS. "It's a really tough style we play every night, bumping and grinding. But that's our identity and we've got to stick to it." - San Jose captain Owen Nolan on coach Duane Sutter's dump and chase game.

"IF YOU WANT TO BE AN ELITE TEAM AND STAY THERE, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GOALTENDERS." - Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock, perhaps wistfully remembering the good old days when Ed Belfour was weaving his magic in the Stars net. These days Belfour, a mysterious pick for Team Canada's Olympic team, is rapidly evolving into Marty Turco's backup. Meanwhile the Stars are living down to Hitchcock's prediction, barely hanging on to eighth place in the Western Conference in spite of bumping their payroll in a huge way in the off-season.


Nashville - 19.8/22.6 

NYR - 23.4/19.1 

Vancouver 23.9/21.7 

Calgary 22.9/18.0 

Dallas - 28.1/28.4 

Phoenix - 26.7/27.8 

Columbus - 27.6/21.2 

Detroit - 22.6/24.8 

Tampa - 15.4/14.8 

Ottawa - 30.9/25.8 

Buffalo - 24.9/18.3 

San Jose - 29.8/26.8 

Edmonton - 14.3/12.1 

St. Louis - 32.6/31.8 

LA - 24.9/23.3 

Minnesota - 15.3/16.9 

Boston - 22.3/21.1 

Anaheim - 26.6/20.4 

Carolina - 26.5/17.3 

Pittsburgh - 23.0/14.8 

Florida - 34.6/23.6 

Washington - 15.6/14.9 

Philadelphia - 22.2/20.1 

Islanders - 30.0/30.2 

New Jersey - 27.0/24.5 

Montreal - 18.2/18.6 

Toronto - 25.7/29.3 

Colorado - 23.0/23.2 

Chicago - 24.9/22.5 

Atlanta - 19.0/18.3



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