The Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks absorb more body checks than any other Stanley Cup contenders in the league. With the high-intensity post-season around the corner, will the league’s most-hit teams be at a disadvantage against fresher, less beat-up competition?
The NHL’s 82-game season can be hard on players. No matter how tough a guy is, getting hammered into the boards on a nightly basis by 190-pound opponents takes its toll in the form of injuries and fatigue. And with the game faster and the players stronger than they’ve ever been, the number of hits a player sustains can really add up.
They certainly seem to have added up for the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, all recent Stanley Cup champions who have been hampered by injuries or fatigue this year, and who have been hit more often than any other potential playoff team in the league.
So what do hits against mean?
Well, let’s take a look at the data first.
Here are the numbers, collected from ESPN and current to before Sunday’s games.
- Arizona Coyotes – 2,402
- Philadelphia Flyers – 2,317
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 2,290
- Carolina Hurricanes – 2,230
- Los Angeles Kings – 2,221
- Boston Bruins – 2,201
- Chicago Blackhawks – 2,220
- Pittsburgh Penguins – 2,190
- Montreal Canadiens – 2,189
- Florida Panthers – 2,188
- Washington Capitals – 2,145
- Anaheim Ducks – 2,133
- New York Islanders – 2,098
- San Jose Sharks – 2,021
- Ottawa Senators – 2,020
- Edmonton Oilers – 1,974
- St. Louis Blues – 1,949
- Detroit Red Wings – 1,895
- New York Rangers – 1,866
- Vancouver Canucks 1,847
- Columbus Blue Jackets – 1,836
- Winnipeg Jets – 1,835
- Tampa Bay Lightning – 1,790
- Dallas Stars – 1,757
- New Jersey Devils – 1,751
- Colorado Avalanche – 1,647
- Nashville Predators – 1,640
- Buffalo Sabres – 1,565
- Minnesota Wild – 1,553
- Calgary Flames – 1,503
Based on the numbers, there’s actually little correlation between the number of a hits a team sustains and the length of time they possess the puck. In fact, the top three most-hit teams in the league are non-playoff squads that rank in the bottom 10 in puck possession.
No team gets hit more than the Arizona Coyotes, who have been hammered 2,402 times this year. Philadelphia is the second most-hit team at 2,317 hits against, followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs (2,290) and the Carolina Hurricanes (2,230).
But once you get past those mostly bottom-feeding franchises, the next pack of hit-absorbing teams are some of the best in the league.
The Kings, Bruins and Blackhawks sit fifth, sixth and seventh on the list, ahead of so-called “heavy” teams like the St. Louis Blues and the Winnipeg Jets. The Kings, Bruins and Blackhawks get hit the most out of all the potentially playoff-bound teams, and when you consider their issues this year, you can see the toll that punishment has taken.
Patrick Kane. David Krejci. Zdeno Chara. The Blackhawks and Bruins have dealt with some significant injuries that resulted from collisions, and while the Kings have been relatively healthy, they’ve also been slowed from all the hockey they’ve played in recent years.
The Kings and Blackhawks lead the league in puck possession stats, so it’s understandable they take a beating for carrying the puck that long. As for the Bruins, they’re not as hard to push around as they once were.
The Kings have taken 2,221 hits, the Bruins 2,201 and the Blackhawks have absorbed 2,200.
Compare that to the league’s average of 1,975, and these guys have absorbed about 245 more hits than most other teams take — or about 10 more hits per player.
The Kings and Blackhawks have been among the healthiest teams in terms of man-games lost this year, but hits aren’t just the cause of injury. They also wear players down, and that exhaustion can build up over an 82-game season and a deep playoff run.
The Kings play a punishing, physical style of hockey that puts them near the top of the league in hits made, so clearly their style cuts both ways. The Hawks, on the other hand, are one of the least physical teams in the league, yet they routinely get hammered.
Will all those hits catch up with these guys?
In a way, they already have. The Kings have struggled to assert their dominance this year after their second Stanley Cup win and third deep playoff run in as many seasons. They’re getting worn down, and while it’s foolhardy to doubt them, you’ve got to wonder if they’ll have the gas to make another run here.
As for Chicago, you could argue the Patrick Kane injury was a case of the statistics catching up with the Hawks. Take enough hits and one of those hits is going to land awkwardly — like, say, the awkward board hit that put Kane out for two months.
The Blackhawks are just lucky that’s the only significant player injury they’ve had to overcome this year.
The Bruins have not been so lucky with the Chara and Krejci injuries, which were both sustained in collisions with other players.
At the other end of the hits taken scale are the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild, who are top-two in the league in terms of fewest body checks against. That didn’t protect Calgary from losing Mark Giordano to injury this year, but on the whole, Flames players don’t get hit that often.
Neither of those teams are real Stanley Cup contenders, but again, the hits-against numbers could be telling when it comes to that fourth round of the playoffs. Tampa Bay has taken 1,790 hits against, which is significantly fewer than the hits against the Hawks or Kings, and a far cry from the hits against St. Louis (1,949), Anaheim (2,133) or the New York Rangers (1,866).
This is, of course, simply another stat. Does it mean anything? Perhaps not on its own. But it can help us see which teams have paid the highest physical price to be where they are at the end of this season.
And it can help us predict, to some degree, which teams could be more injury-prone come the playoffs.