East Meadow, NY– Jean-Gabriel Pageau wasn’t aware his statistics were being viewed under a microscope.
Frankly, not many other people around the league were either. That’s why it came as a surprise when the NHL announced on Wednesday it had conducted a league-wide audit on its hit statistic, which resulted in a significant increase in the individual numbers for players like Pageau, Cal Clutterbuck and others around the league.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 7, 2024
“From what I understand, it’s the league trying to take away the bias with the human element of error and people’s opinions of what constitutes a hit and what doesn’t,” Clutterbuck said. “I think if the stat is going to be kept, it should be kept in a way that everything else is kept. Takeaways and blocked shots, those things all seem to be pretty accurate, so it’s a good thing that the league is taking steps to make sure that stat is legitimate as well.”
For a game that has always had a large physical element to it, the NHL only recently began tracking individual hits at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Compared to today’s day and age, though, where high-speed technology can keep track of advanced analytics of multiple players on the ice at once, that era was practically primitive.
“Well, I think back then, the only stats they really kept were plus-minus, assists, goals, assists and points,” Clutterbuck said. “I think 20 years from now; you’re going to be saying that you won’t believe people didn’t keep advanced statistics from 2000 to 2010. It’s just the way that it goes. Those things just evolve with time.”
It wasn’t much of a shock to see Clutterbuck, who had 33 hits added to his total, among the players whose stats were most affected. As the league’s all-time hits leader, he ranks second in the category this year. However, to see Pageau on the list as well was.
For the last two seasons, Pageau has hovered around the top 50 players in the league at throwing the body. This year, he’s 18th among his peers with 138 hits.
“It’s something that I’ve always tried to add to my game,” Pageau said. “It gets me going in the game. You throw a couple of hits, and you get emotionally involved right away.”
It’s not as if while they’re out on the ice, players are consciously thinking about racking up hits to pad their own stats. The art of hitting in hockey is about what can be created from it.
“It’s not about putting a guy in the third row,” Pageau said. “Sometimes it’s just letting him know you’re there on the forecheck, so the next time that he’s got the puck, he’s got to think about getting hit. It’s going to make him think that extra second, and that’s when sometimes you’re able to strip the puck.”
“I don’t do it for the statistics,” Clutterbuck said. “I do it because it’s an effective way for me to create turnovers, recover pucks and force people to make decisions quicker than they would if I wasn’t breathing down their necks.”
Audit or not, players take pride in racking up hits.
It’s a sign of their willingness to commit to their teams through the sacrifice of their own bodies, something very few statistical measures, whether in hockey or any other sport, can do.