Any real NHL fan knows that goals, assists, plus-minus and PIM can't tell the full story of a player. Hockey is such an intricate, relatively low-scoring sport, and the smallest detail of body position or stick placement can account for the difference between a stick salute and a silent trudge to the locker room.
As fantasy tends to imitate reality, fantasy hockey players who see the real-life value beyond points on the board have increasingly been adding other stats to their fantasy formats. Chief among those are two defensive stats: hits and blocked shots.
That's right. Hits are a defensive stat. You can make a body check on offense or defense, but a hit is a very specific kind of check � one that separates an opposing player from the puck. It's the physical counterpart to the takeaway, substituting personal violence for handy stick work. Hit masters need not just physical strength, but the willingness to throw their bodies around, the timing to do so accurately and the courage to bear retaliation.
The block is an act of more direct courage. Yes, hockey pads are built pretty tough, but no pad is going to fully muffle the physical pain of being hit by a six-ounce chunk of frozen vulcanized rubber whipped at 90 miles per hour. It's kind of like being shot with a bulletproof vest on: Just because the bullet doesn't make a hole doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. The fortitude required to take hundreds of those pucks to your arms, legs, chest, back, hands, face and groin over the course of a hockey season is simply mind-boggling. You're probably better off being a boxer.
The masters of hits and blocks may be underappreciated by the general public, but fantasy hockey players are not the general public, and we celebrate the men who are willing to lay their bodies on the line for the team.
Let's take a look at some of the ones who do it the most.
Dan Girardi, D, NYR � Some players pile up hits; some players pile up blocks. Dan Girardi piles both into one giant stack of defensive domination. Over the last three years, he's gotten in the way of a whopping 601 pucks (the most in the NHL by a significant margin) and laid 584 hits. He's the definition of a warrior: Despite all that contact, he's missed just two games in three years. Girardi was fifth in blocked shots last year with 185 (and first the year before with a whopping 236), but precious few players on that list contribute as many hits as the one-time undrafted free-agent signing. You've got to go all the way to No. 40 on the blocks list to find a guy who outhit Girardi, and that guy is�
Brooks Orpik, D, PIT � The second-most-prolific defensive hitter last year, Orpik bodied 259 opposing puck carriers while blocking 139 shots of his own. Unlike Girardi, though, Orpik's physical style has led to repeated injuries � he's never reached 80 games in a season, though he's come close three times. Still, from a defensive standpoint, Orpik is almost as good as it gets. Almost as good as�
Luke Schenn, D, PHI � The Flyers have long been famous for their rough-and-tumble play style, but last year, they largely forgot to give their blueliners the memo. Only two Flyers defensemen (Braydon Coburn and Andrej Meszaros) exceeded 100 hits last year, and the Flyers' D was generally soft and giving, especially come playoff time. They addressed that with the trade of James van Riemsdyk for Schenn, who led all defensemen in hits with 270 last season and tacked on 115 blocked shots for good measure. We're sure his brother, (and now teammate) Brayden, is glad to be out of the crosshairs.
Cal Clutterbuck, RW, MIN � When it comes to hits, few can reckon with Clutter, who's put up a whopping 942 over the past three seasons, though he's coming off a down year ("just" 288). Like a few of the other big-time hit artists, Clutterbuck also contributes on the offensive end � the 24-year-old has scored 19 and 15 goals the past two seasons. At 5-10, 209, he's a bowling ball on skates who's not afraid to mix things up along the walls, in the corners or, well, wherever.
Matt Martin, LW, NYI � At just 23 years old, Martin is making his own case as the best hitter in the league. The evidence: his astonishing 374 hits in 80 games last year � an NHL record. He's more or less useless on offense, he doesn't really block shots and his plus-minus is consistently horrid (that'll happen when you play for the Isles), but Martin has laid 688 body checks in just 153 NHL games, a spectacular rate, and he'll certainly contribute some good ol' PIM as well.
Josh Gorges, D, MON � Last year, Gorges was almost to blocked shots what Martin was to hits, utterly dominating the field (though short of the record) with 250 blocks � Brett Clark was second with 199. Like Girardi, Gorges was undrafted and played through a lot of pain, not missing a game last year despite 250 welts. The result: He broke out for arguably his best season, picking up 14 points with a plus-14 rating despite playing for the worst team in the Eastern Conference. He also threw down a career-high 131 hits, making him one of the more well-rounded defensive-stat providers.
Dustin Brown, RW, LOS � Arguably the most offensively productive hitter, Brown regularly delivers close to 300 knocks a year (he was second � though well behind Martin � with 293 last year) while averaging more than 20 goals and 50 points a season. In leagues that count hits, he's a borderline-elite player � there's just no other forward with his size, strength and skillset. Fittingly, he captained the Kings to the Stanley Cup, scoring three points in the clinching game � and adding four hits and a blocked shot.
Ryan Callahan, RW, NYR � Brown's not the only hard-hitting right wing serving as captain. If there's a next-best thing to Brown in the NHL, it's Callahan, who's an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Brown, and yet almost as productive in the hits department, collecting 780 over the last three seasons, including 271 last year � tied for fifth. While Callahan doesn�t have as much of a scoring history as Brown, he cleared 50 points for the first time last year (with 29 goals!) and he has a dimension to his game that Brown doesn't: blocks. It may not surprise you to learn that most forwards don't block a lot of shots; no forward has cleared 100 shots blocked since Ryan Johnson put himself in the path of 105 pucks in 2007-'08. For his part, Captain Cally stopped 88 last year, third in the league, but his willingness to sacrifice his body has led to, well, real sacrifice: He's missed 33 games in the last three years with a variety of injuries, including a broken ankle that knocked him out for the entirety of the 2010-'11 playoffs.
Steve Ott, C, BUF � Ott helps out all over the place, always chipping in solid point totals (39 last year) along with a whole boatload of hits � his 278 in just 74 games last year were fourth-best, and he's cleared 220 in each of the last four seasons. On top of that, he's always a big-time PIM contributor and he posted his best career plus-minus last season. The definition of pesky, he's a great deep rotisserie player. Now he's on a new team, the Sabres. The Eastern Conference is going to be a fun place for Ott to practice his brand of hockey.
More big hits/blocks contributors on defense: Ladislav Smid, EDM (186/184); Maxim Lapierre, VAN; Niklas Kronwall, DET (133/177, plus big offense); Eric Brewer, TAM (1967/176); Brent Seabrook, CHI (198/165); Niklas Grossman, PHI (164/152); Shea Weber, NAS (177/140, plus massive offense); Ryan O'Byne (180/141).
Hits upside guys: Brayden Schenn, C, PHI (my love for him is well known, as big offense is coming too); Ryan McDonagh, D, NYR (lots of blocked shots already; hits and offense will grow); Zach Bogosian, D, WPG (hits are already there when healthy, and decent blocking numbers too); Jamie McGinn, LW, COL (started to look like Dustin Brown Jr. last year); Nino Niederreiter, RW, NYI (kid can hit; if only he would score); Mike Blunden, RW, MON; Tommy Wingels, C, SJ; Andrew Shaw, LW, CHI.