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Cal Clutterbuck: Worldwide Leader in Hits?

Cal Clutterbuck was credited with 356 hits last season, which set what some commentators are calling a "single-season record." Set aside for a moment that hits have only been officially collected in a handful of generally non-consecutive seasons, what exactly is a "hit"? We know what goals are - the NHL reviews every single one to make sure it gets called correctly - and we basically know what a shot on goal is - no one's claiming that the league-wide shot total are wrong.

But "hits"? Apparently, there were 36% fewer hits by both teams combined at Devils' home games than in their road games last season. Meanwhile, Rangers fans were treated to 39% more hits in home games than on the road. And in 2007-08, there were 18% fewer hits awarded than in 2008-09. The variance of team home hits was more than six times higher than that of team road hits last season, meaning, from rink-to-rink, year-to-year, nobody agrees on what a hit is.

So did Clutterbuck really set some kind of record? Did he even lead the league in hits last year?

First, it's clear that even with arena biases, Clutterbuck was way ahead of the next guy in total hits. He had 158 road hits, which put him well ahead of the competition:

Road Hits
Clutterbuck 158
Orpik 134
Cooke 130
Lucic 129
Ovechkin 128
Dubinsky 122
Artyukhin 115
Seabrook 112
Callahan 112
Brown 101

Looking only at road hits isn't a perfect solution since it doesn't account for an unbalanced schedule, but it reduces a lot of the error introduced by over- (or under-) zealous home scorers, like the ones in LA who credited Brown with nearly twice as many hits at home. But with Clutterbuck's commanding lead in road hits, it's clear that he led the league overall.

One interesting effect in the arena bias is that players who don't hit a lot tend to get credited with a lot more hits on the road. According to the data we have, Martin St. Louis, for example, has dished out twice as many hits on the road in his career as he has at home. The converse is also true - the top hitters in the league tend to have large and persistent home biases. Indeed, the top 200 hitters in the league, who account for half the overall hits, are credited with 17% more hits at home than on the road. For the other 627 players who were credited with a hit, it's just 3%. Whoever's in charge of recording hits at most arenas is padding the stats of the big hitters at the expense of the little guys.

Oh, and not to bury the lede, but who's the single-season leader in road hits? For the years we have data, it's "Lithuania's madcap gift to the NHL", Darius Kasparaitis, with 161 in 2001-02, and very likely an overall total that was just slightly higher than Clutterbuck's.