Update – During a recent visit to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Pittsburgh, I took a survey of the hockey stick offerings. As you’ll note from the photo below, nearly 75% of the sticks are right-handed versions.
Dec 13, 2008 – Here is a great guest article from Scott Morris…
While watching hockey games over the years I’ve always been mostly enamored with left-handed players. The reason for this is that I play the game left-handed, despite being a naturally right-handed person. I guess it’s like a lefty/righty tennis fan watching a lefty/righty tennis player in order to learn the best mechanics for hitting forehands and backhands. Or a baseball fan, watching a batter that stands on the same side of the plate as they do, in order to determine proper hitting technique.
In any event, I had been told early on in my hockey days that “righties (generally) play left and lefties (generally) play right”. This may seem counter intuitive but it seemed to be the norm amongst hockey players. While placing your dominant (preferred) hand at the top of the hockey stick may sacrifice some power in shooting, you can garner better control in passing, handling the puck one-handed as well as defensive maneuvers like poke checks. Since enough of the game is played with a single hand on the stick wouldn’t it make sense that this hand would be the player’s natural, predominant hand?
I was intrigued by this topic because I was visiting a hockey store in Columbus and noticed that the number of right-handed stick blades outnumbered the set of left-handed ones by at least a 2-1 margin (there were 2 or 3 shelves of right-handed blades and only a single shelf for left-handed blades). I found this quite odd knowing the “right is left (and vice-versa)” mantra within the hockey community. I would have thought that at least this would have been 50-50 or, if there was a majority, that it would go to the lefties. Upon further thought I realized that my favorite NHL team – the Columbus Blue Jackets – had an overwhelming number of left-handed players. As I went through the current roster I realized that there couldn’t be more than 3 or 4 right-handed players. It turns out that the current Jackets’ roster had a 4:1 ratio of left-handed to right-handed players (position players, no goaltenders). Specifically, 16 skaters played left-handed vs. 4 that played right-handed.
Now, the Jackets’ power play is horrible this year. Currently it is dead last in the league. I started to think that maybe their power play was hindered by having a lack of right-handed shooters, especially right-handed defensemen on the point. Common offensive chances during power plays are generated off of the one-timers and it is often the defensemen who make “D-to-D” passes and take these shots. Consequently, left-handed defensemen will often play the right point (and right-handed defensemen will play the left point) on power plays so that they can have interior passing to generate quick, one-time shots. Since the Blue Jackets only have one right-handed defenseman (Mike Commodore) I thought that maybe this could have a negative influence on their power play.
All of this got me curious about the overall, league-wide breakdown of lefties vs. righties as well how individual teams stacked up. After crunching the numbers I determined that current NHL rosters had nearly a 2:1 ratio of left-handed players to right-handed players – 65% left-handed (392) compared to 35% right-handed (207). This of course is the opposite of what I saw at the hockey store that was selling stick blades at a 2:1 margin the other way.
Concerning my theory about the Jackets’ power play being weak because a dearth in balance of their shooters… well it turns out their power play is weak for other reasons (probably due to too few offensive-minded, puck-wielding defensemen). The Detroit Red Wings, who have the top power play in the league (31% success), have even fewer right-handed players than the Jackets. That’s right, Detroit has only 3 right-handed players and like the Jackets have only a single right-handed defenseman. So Detroit’s in the same boat in terms of having a far greater number of left-handed players than right-handed players but it has not hurt their success during power plays. Unlike the Jackets, Detroit has capable, offensive-minded defense anchoring their points.
The 2:1 ratio of NHL lefties to righties is very interesting to me (especially when the local hockey store offers stick blades in a reversal of quantities). I guess I can’t say I blame them though given what I’ve seen lately among the local market. By that I mean in my recent indoor roller hockey games I’ve noticed a number of right-handed players. In fact, in some cases, among 20 players I may be the only left-handed player or there may be no more than 3 or 4 lefties in the bunch. I found that attention-grabbing especially after attending a high school ice hockey game in which I noticed, yet again, that the overwhelming majority of the kids were playing right-handed. This made me curious about the current NHL breakdown of lefties and righties among American born players. I found that the current rosters featured 58% left-handed players (64) and 42% right-handed players (47). It doesn’t quite match the overall NHL 2:1 lefty / righty ratio but it’s fairly close. I suppose that there could be a lot of “first generation” American hockey players (whose family had no prior exposure to the game) and when their kid said they wanted to play hockey the parents took them to the store and bought them a right-handed stick; because after all, “my Johnny is right-handed”. If this is true, we may see growing numbers of American born right-handed shooters in the coming years…