The physical effectiveness ranks

Blues captain David Backes is effective at driving possession -- and driving opponents into the boards. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Each week, we will introduce a ranking of NHL players or teams based on a different element each time.

Nearly every coach in every NHL city talks endlessly about his team's need to be physical in order to win. However, playing a "physical game" can mean different things depending on position, role, situation, etc. For most forwards, being physical requires hard play in the corners, an intimidating forecheck and the ability to use their body to separate opponents from the puck. Coaches tend to know which of their players are succeeding or failing, but an individual's physical play can be difficult to quantify.

We'll take a swing at it anyway, with the physical effectiveness rankings.

The "hits" statistic is highly questionable for two reasons: A player can only get credit for a hit if his team does not have the puck, therefore many of the league leaders in hits are not accomplishing one of the main goals of physical play: retaining the puck. Furthermore, every arena scores hits differently, and often have a bias toward players known for hitting.

So if we look at the players who have the most road hits per game -- to eliminate the statistical home cooking -- and have strong possession numbers, we get an idea of which players are the most effective in their physical play.

As a baseline, consider the NHL's road hits leader Matt Martin of the New York Islanders (a typically poor possession player) averages 4.8 hits per game. Players who positively impact possession are above 0 in relative Corsi. Both figures are considered at even strength.

Here are the league's top physical forwards:

All on-ice stats listed here are courtesy of war-on-ice.com.

David Backes, St. Louis Blues
Offensive zone start percentage: 40.4
Relative Corsi: minus-0.1 percent
Hits per road game: 3.1

The heart-and-soul leader of the Blues has not gotten off to the best start offensively, posting only 13 points in 29 games, but he finds ways to impact the game significantly even during scoring droughts. Not only does the St. Louis captain offer physical intimidation, he takes on the toughest assignments, many of which are in the defensive zone. His ability to still control the game despite difficult ice time allows coach Ken Hitchcock to utilize his young offensive talents such as Vladimir Tarasenko in more offensively oriented roles. So while his relative Corsi appears low, it's actually quite impressive given his zone-start percentage (and the fact that he plays for such a strong possession team).