It’s not every season that an NHL record falls. Some records carry more emphasis than others but it’s still a notable achievement to set an individual season record at the game’s highest level.
The “hits” statistic is a pretty controversial one. A hit is difficult to clearly define as opposed to a cut and dry statistic such as a goal, a shot or a penalty minute. Some nights you might see a player throw his weight around only to see that officially he only recorded one or two hits. By that same token, a player may appear to have a quiet night only to somehow lead his team with five or six hits. What counts as a hit and what doesn’t is truly anyone’s guess. Trying to dive into the logic behind it might cause a severe migraine – you’ve been warned.
With the subjectivity of the stat in mind, we dive in to the story that Cal Clutterbuck’s NHL hit record for most hits in a season is poised to be broken. The current record for hits by a player in a season is Clutterbuck’s 356 that he recorded in the 2008-09 season. Cluttberbuck’s mark, one that shattered the old record of 311 set by Dustin Brown, may not even survive three full seasons.
The potential record breaker, Matt Martin, is likely an unfamiliar name unless you are a fan of the New York Islanders or play in a fantasy hockey league that rewards hitting. The left winger, playing in just his second full NHL season, already has 284 hits in just 61 games for the Isles.
Currently, Martin is averaging just over 4.6 hits a contest. With 21 games left to play in 2011-12, Martin is on pace to record another 96ish hits before the season concludes. This would give the youngster a total somewhere around 380 – a mark good enough to topple Clutterbuck’s record. These are just some rough estimates but the fact remains that at his current rate Martin will easily find himself in the NHL record books barring a significant change in playing time or an injury.
Unfortunately this is one NHL record that we all have to take with a great big boulder of salt. As mentioned above, the hitting statistic is a severely flawed one and extremely subjective. If you don’t believe me, pick out a player from your favorite team and follow his play through an entire game, recording how many hits you think he had. After the game, compare it to the official total and odds are your total and the official total will be significantly different. Who is doing the official scoring, what arena the game is in and other unseen factors all impact how many hits a player “officially” throws in a given night.
Given all these factors that influence the statistic, it’s really no wonder we might see the NHL hit record change hands again. The human element of the statistic is a big reason why a lot of fans, myself included, barely recognize the statistic as even being a statistic. This element is so significant that we really shouldn’t be surprised to see the hit record fall this year and then likely fall again in the next season or two as scorers change the way they look at the stat or reward players for hits that might not have been recorded as a hit in previous years.
Personally, I’d be content with the NHL abandoning the statistic entirely. In my mind, the stat is so skewed and subjective that it isn’t even worth tracking as it doesn’t paint a factual picture. On paper, the hitting statistic is a really good one. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t translate well in the actual pace and speed of an NHL game.
This isn’t to say the Matt Martin isn’t a player that throws a ton of hits. He does and deserves some credit for it. The same can be said for Cal Clutterbuck. The league knows he is a big hitter and knows how he can change the pace of the game when he really starts throwing his weight around. It’s nice that the NHL attempts to recognize the players in the league that specialize in areas of the game that don’t directly influence the score. It’s just a shame that the only way to do it carries such a huge amount of confusion and subjectivity.