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Defining "grit", Part I

Before the Raffi Torres signing, there were some red flags out concerned if Mike Gillis has done enough to address the "grit" of the third and fourth lines in particular. So far the biggest changes have come as much by addition (Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres along with bubble guys like Jeff Tambellini, Joel Perrault and Victor Oreskovich) as by subtraction (Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson and Michael Grabner). Bigger, hard-nosed guys in, smaller guys out.

That doesn't answer the grit question because there's no singular definition of what the hell grit is. Hockey players have plenty of normal grit, laughably more than many athletes in other sports. One man's gritty player (Matt Cooke, Dan Carcillo, Ulf Samuelsson) is another person's dirty cheapshot who should be tossed out of the league (so sayeth perhaps all of Boston or, in Carcillo's case, his immediate family). They may not be guys who sell tickets (Darren Helm, Andrew Ladd, Mike Grier) but sometimes bloom into the face of a franchise (Cam Neely, Dale Hawerchuk, Ken Daneyko, Mark Messier). Grit isn't always physical; you can cite a player's heart, drive or "never say die" attitude that earns them accolades from generations of fans decades after their career ends (check the list of Masterton winners for more).

I'd argue Vancouver needs grit blended with defensive responsibility. Without the latter, you're left with a player who will be prone to actions that put the Canucks shorthanded (and with a poor PK, you know how that ends). A line that frees up the Sedins and Kesler lines, can also be counted on for some production and brings the sandpaper to both ends of the rink. Kyle Wellwood (defensive responsibility) and Steve Bernier (grit) offered a good mix on paper that never clicked in reality. In contrast Chicago's third line from the playoffs - Ladd/Versteeg/Bolland - could wear down the opposition's best while also scoring and never put Hawks on the PK. Can't ask for much more.

In this post we'll focus on a few of the gritty individuals you all suggested. From there we'll have a baseline to start with before looking at Vancouver to see if they've improved when compared with league averages.

Many of your comments were similar: a gritty forward is perhaps short on scoring talent but willingly to stick up for teammates, play through pain, absorb the hits, own the corners, be a pest, perhaps occasionally cross a line. From there I pulled together stats that serve as a jumping off point for quantifying grit & defensive responsibility: 

  1. The basics (Games played, TOI/60 and points)
  2. The paycheck (Hits, Blocked Shots, Takeaways, Penalty +/-)
  3. The opponent (Qualcomp)

There are obviously other variables that can be considered and I'd love to hear your opinion. Keep in mind things like hit counts are subject to home ice bias (Hi Brenden Morrow!) so take it with a grain of salt. Penalty +/- refers to the amount of penalties a player takes in comparison with penalties they draw on the opponent; we looked at Vancouver's best and worst last week. Qualcomp, or quality of competition, refers to the opposing players' average (GFON-GAON)-(GFOFF-GAOFF) and is crucial to understanding the type of opposition a player is on the ice with.

Here are a sampling of the names you provided us and their 2009-2010 ES stats:

Games Played
Hits Blocked Shots Takeaways Penalty +/-
82 9.54 20 171 74 21 n/a 0.018
81 10.80 22 100 19 12 -3 -0.085
Grier 73 12.75 22 97 44 22 +8 -0.017
Richards 82 14.09 62 145 64 42 +21 0.109
Kesler 82 13.73 75 95 73 83 +20 0.030
R. Niedermayer 71 13.49 22 83 24 22 -8 0.015
Iginla 82 16.35 69 86 36 45 +14 0.075
Helm 75 11.55 24 188 39 48 +16 -0.086
Morrow 76 13.76 46 230 48 33 -3 0.039
Carcillo 76 10.95 22 194 17
24 +25 0.060

Click the header to sort each column


My initial take was to remove top six guys like Kesler, Iginla, Morrow and Richards but left them in for the sake of comparison. Dropping top six players out results in the following type of potential third liner:

  • Season Average: 76GP, 11.51 TOI/60, 22 points, 139 hits, 36 blocked shots, 25 takeaways, 6 penalty +/-, -0.015 qualcomp
  • Game Average: A point every 3.5 games, 1.7 hits a game, .43 blocked shots a game, .30 takeaways a game

These averages suggests a bottom six gritty forward would be getting a point every week, two hits a game, a blocked shot every two games and a takeaway every three games. If they take a penalty, chances are they draw at least a non-coincidental call if not two. The Qualcomp tally is too low for my liking, but it's in line with what Vancouver had outside of their second tough minute guys.

As for Vancouver, these averages work well in some respects for players like Wellwood and Bernier: the point totals are right, they actually played more minutes and both had a positive penalty +/-. However both had fewer hits, blocked shots and Bernier had fewer takeaways. Both had a qualcomp - Wellwood at  -0.016 and Bernier at  -0.031 - that was worse too.

It suggests this season's third liners, to at least be grittier, need to be more aggressive in the mechanics of their shift without giving anything back the other way.

Again, it's just a baseline look at grit, not an iconclad definition. Next we'll compare and contrast the old and new third liners to see what type of changes Vancouver can project heading into October.