Many fantasy hockey pools have already added or are starting to add hits as a category (including the DobberHockey Experts League, which conducts its draft on Wednesday, October 3rd). What is a GM to do if your league goes ahead and adds hits, leaving you to suddenly scramble to figure out how to draft, retain, and trade for players with this category in mind? Or what if your league already has hits as a category, but you seem to keep finishing near the bottom in that category every year? Here are a few useful hints for those looking for some added insight into this category and to help give you the edge over your fellow GMs.
Forwards tend to out-hit defensemen, and wingers tend to out-hit centermen
If you look at the guys who've finished in the top 30 in the NHL for hits over the past five seasons, you'll notice there tends to be a lot more forwards than defensemen. In fact, in each of the last three years there have been exactly 19 forwards and only 11 defensemen in the top 30 for hits. What's more, if you look at the team-by-team stats for the 2011-12 season, 19 teams had three or more forwards in their top five for hits, with one team (Washington) having only forwards in its top five. Plus, just three teams (Detroit, Boston and Anaheim) had four defensemen in their top five for hits, and no team had only defensemen in its top five. For fantasy purposes, what this means is defensemen who get you hits are all the more valuable, since they are harder to come by. But if you need to gain points in hits via the draft, a trade, or the waiver wire, you'll probably be better served by focusing on forwards.
Looking also at the last three years, among the 19 forwards in the top 30 in hits, only seven each year were centers - which means the other 12 were wingers. And there were two or more wingers in the top five in hits for more than 20 teams in 2011-12. This is of interest because in many leagues if you don't get one of the top wingers you often think that you have to settle for guys who won’t contribute a lot to your team. But this shows there is value to be had in terms of hits, so be sure to consider that factor when looking at wingers. And similar to what I said above about defensemen, since centers who give you hits are more rare, be sure to place extra value on the ones who actually do well in the category.
Hits are actually a reasonably predictable stat
Despite the fact that Hits are not absolute - that is, what might count as a "hit" according to statisticians in one arena wouldn't be considered one in another (gotta love arena bias!), the reality is that if a guy gets 150+ hits for several years in a row, it's a good bet that he'll likely continue to reach that milestone in the coming years. In fact, 10 of the guys in the top 30 in hits for 2011-12 were in the top 30 for both 2010-11 and 2009-10 as well, and another nine guys were in the top 30 for two of the three years. But be careful about guys who are recovering from an injury. Look at Mike Green for example; in 2010-11, he had a very respectable 100 hits in 49 games, but last year he had only 27 hits in 32 games. With his litany of past injuries, he might be a longshot to return to 100+ hits for at least this season in order not to risk reinjuring himself.
What's also nice is hits are not highly dependent on a team's performance. With +/-, you could have a guy who played just as well from one year to the next, but because his team either greatly improved or got much worse, his +/- might end up fluctuating quite a bit. In fact, if you look at the top 30 in +/-, only three players made the list for each of the past three years (Alex Burrows, Zdeno Chara, Henrik Sedin), versus 10 for hits.
Overall, Hits seems to be a very player driven stat that is not tied to the year to year performance of a particular team, which gives a big advantage to GMs who do their homework and act early to lock down good hits guys in their keeper leagues (more on acting early below).
200+ hits in a season is quite rare, but 75-100+ is not
In the past five seasons, the number of players who ended up with 200+ hits was: 26 (2011-12), 20 (2010-11), 17 (2009-10), 21 (2008-09), and 12 (2007-08). But in each of those years, between 120 and 190 players finished with somewhere between 100 and 200 hits. And for each of the past three years, an average of about 300 players finished with 75 or more hits.
So what does this mean? Well, it makes Hits somewhat analogous to PIM (and possibly explains why Hits are taking the place of PIMs in many leagues) in that guys who give you 200+ hits but don’t contribute much in other categories can be of value, although you also can get similar (or even greater overall) value by instead picking a good number of other players who instead give you 75-100+ hits and contribute more in other categories. The best strategy will be based to how much weight your league gives to the Hits category versus other categories. And of course, if you find a player who gives you 200+ Hits and also contributes a lot of points, then he’s all the more valuable. On the flip side, it also means that if you draft a guy who might only get you 50 or fewer hits, he’d better make up for that shortcoming by adding value either in core categories like goals and assists, or in other secondary categories that your league might count, like +/-, shooting %, or blocked shots.
Young players are valuable
Many rookies and younger players cracked the top five in hits for their respective teams, including Andrew Shaw, Gabriel Landeskog (top 30 overall), Luke Schenn (top 30 overall for two years in a row), Erik Gudbranson, Justin Falk, Alexei Emelin (top 30 overall), P.K. Subban, Nino Niederreiter, Colin Greening, Kyle Clifford, Zac Rinaldo, Ryan Reaves, Colton Gilles, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Evander Kane. This is not entirely surprising, since among the best ways for younger players to show their teams they belong and to make an impact is literally by throwing their weight around.
So if you’re a fantasy GM and you see a player with offensive upside who already provides you with Hits (which, as discussed above, is a pretty consistent category), you could assign him a higher keeper value than a player who projects to have a similar upside in points but without the added benefit of a lot of Hits or other peripherals. Here’s an example to put this in perspective - if you’re a GM who focused on the fact that Nino Neidereiter only put up one measly point last season, you might be able to justify keeping him because of his respectable 129 hits while averaging often 10 minutes or less of ice time per game. Or perhaps you can use this knowledge to try to pry him away from a frustrated owner who might not be aware of his hitting prowess.
Guys who get a lot of hits are at risk to miss some games, but not too many
Here are the 10 guys who appeared in the top 30 in hits for each of the past three seasons, along with the average number of games they played over those three seasons:
Cal Clutterbuck - 74.66
Steve Ott - 76
Ryan Callahan - 71
Chris Neil - 73.33
Troy Brouwer - 79.66
Matt Greene - 76
David Backes - 81
Alex Ovechkin - 76.33
Brent Seabrook - 79.33
As you can see, none averaged fewer than 71 games played over the past three seasons, and most averaged 76 games or more. This is good to know, since if you do invest in one of these guys specifically to get the benefit of their hits, you’re probably not taking a big risk in them missing a large chunk of the season.
Hopefully you now know more about hits, and how to position yourself to do well in this category. Maybe you can even convince your league to add hits as a category, and use some of this knowledge to get an edge from the start. Good luck!