Columbus Blue Jackets: Historically Speaking, Do Hits Lead to Wins?

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 14: Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets checks Scott Mayfield #42 of the New York Islanders off the puck during the third period of a game on December 14, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 14: Boone Jenner #38 of the Columbus Blue Jackets checks Scott Mayfield #42 of the New York Islanders off the puck during the third period of a game on December 14, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Columbus Blue Jackets just clawed out of last place in the NHL in hits. Does thestatistical category have any impact on the team’s wins or losses? We look at a brief history of the CBJ and how they went from first in the league in 2013-2014 to last earlier this year.

Team physicality is contagious. It is more than bruising your opponent or racking up what some would consider an otherwise meaningless stat. A good hit can add fuel to a team’s emptying tank or bewilder the opponent. As the NHL continues to change, the Columbus Blue Jackets have certainly become less physical over the years.

Hits aren’t everything, but there’s no denying that they do two important things: Firstly, they generate energy and secondly, they encourage occasionally apathetic players to skate and get involved. The second one particularly applies to certain (not to be named) Blue Jackets players.

In a league that continues to get smaller and quicker, it could be argued that the art of the heavy-hitter is fading, but I would contest that it never will. Good teams hit. Good teams understand the value of punishing their opponent, not for the sake of being rough, but for the added layers of value that hitting bring.

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As a lifelong Columbus Blue Jackets fan, I watched the first dozen or so games of the 2018-2019 season disgusted by the team’s level of physicality. And let’s be clear here, just because you love a team, doesn’t mean you can’t hate parts of it. I’m all for the Jackets getting quicker and keeping up with the NHL trend, but not at the cost of becoming absolutely soft.

Things have changed of late and I’m excited about a more physical version of the CBJ. After coach John Tortorella’s October 25th presser where he referred to the NHL as a “big hug fest”, the Jackets have taken a slightly different tone in their play style and it’s slowly paying off.

In just three weeks, the Jackets moved up from last in hits in the league to 28th. Sure, it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. If last place doesn’t sound depressing enough, as of October 17th, the CBJ were posting an NHL low of 13.3 hits a night. For comparison’s sake, the Vegas Knights more than doubled that paltry figure with more than 28 per outing.

Of course, no sensible hockey mind would ever correlate hits directly with winning, but their impact is in many ways undeniable. For curious minds like my own, I wanted to look back at a history of the Jackets when it comes to the sport’s most physical statistic.

As Columbus gets younger, smaller and quicker, you might see a trend in the numerical decline. Thanks to, we share the evidence: below.

Year followed by hits per game (HPG) and league rank.

2013-2014: 31.8 HPG: 1st
2014-2015: 30.6 HPG: 5th
2015-2016: 26.1 HPG: 8th
2016-2017: 20.1 HPG: 22nd
2017-2018: 21.3 HPG: 17th
2018-2019: 15.7 HPG: 28th (through 15 games)

Call me throwback, but I’m in Torts’ club. I miss the days when the Jackets had a league-wide reputation for being hard to play against. You would hear that same theme echoed across the NHL for years. No matter what was said by opposing coaches and players, one message always surfaced: the CBJ were a rough outing.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets /

Columbus Blue Jackets

I chose to go back to the 2013-2014 season since that’s when the Jackets became a perennial playoff team. Also, I wanted to shut down the naysayers who contend that hitting teams are less competitive, always chasing the puck. Obviously for the CBJ this is nowhere near the truth.

Since the numbers debunk the myth that you can’t yield a winning team that also hits, I find myself in a fantasy world where the Jackets can once again be a punishing club that also competes in the postseason. Obviously, personnel are going to shape the statistic, but identity and effort can tilt the numbers upward.

I don’t expect the Jackets to make a run for that top spot with the current roster, but they can (and should) continue to climb the ladder after rising from the league’s hit basement. “Purists” might argue that the game is getting better with the addition of more speed and skill, with less punishing play. I would counter and argue that hitting is in hockey’s DNA.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets might not have the history of many of the NHL’s teams, but they can play like an old school franchise. Whether it’s because they’re afraid to lose, or they know they’re going home banged up – I want other teams to dread seeing Columbus on their schedule.

I would take wins over hits any day of the week, but if we CBJ faithful can have both, let’s do that.