Does Size Really Matter?

Rick Roos





Investigating the success rate of big players versus small, and whether “small, skilled” is trending

We've heard the old adage "you can't teach size" to explain why teams from all pro sports are always eager to draft, trade for, or sign big/tall players. And one need only look back to the last lockout-shortened season of 1994-95 to remember all the hype surrounding Philly's Legion of Doom line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg, who all finished in the top 10 in scoring and averaged 6-3' and about 235 pounds. On the heels of that, every NHL team wanted their own giant forwards, and except for outliers like 5-6' Theo Fleury the points scoring leaders also reflected this emphasis on size in the years that followed.


These days it certainly seems like more and more small forwards are finding themselves on NHL rosters, and actually making NHL and fantasy impact.  But do the numbers really back up that observation, or have teams continued to cling to a "bigger is better" mentality, at least when it comes to forwards?  With those questions in mind, this week I take a look at NHL rosters to compare the number of "big" players versus the number of "small" players and see if any conclusions can be made about whether small players are indeed finding success and helping the offensive numbers for their NHL (and fantasy) teams.  And then I'll end with my usual "Final Verdict", which in this case is about how this data might affect your fantasy team now and down the road.

Note that since the average NHL height is reported to be about 6-1', I'll use 6-4' or taller as the definition of a "big" forward and 5-10' or shorter as the definition of a "small" forward.

The Roster Breakdowns

Here is some of the big vs. small roster data for this season (as of March 6th).

·  There were 40 big forwards and 44 small forwards on NHL rosters

·  Only three teams  – Edmonton, Ottawa, Pittsburgh – had no "big" or "small" forwards (all their forwards were between 5-11 and 6-3)

·  The team with the most "big" forwards (four) was Winnipeg, while two teams (Calgary and Montreal) were tied for the most "small" forwards, with each also having four.  Two teams (Carolina, San Jose) had three big forwards, and two had three small forwards (Nashville, St. Louis). All other teams had some combination of zero, one, or two of each.

·  In all, ten teams had more small forwards than big forwards, while only eight had more big forwards than small forwards (the other 12 had an equal number of each)

From this, we can see that things were pretty even overall for big vs. small players on NHL rosters. But what about whether big vs. small has made an impact on team success and offense, or on individual fantasy stats for the season so far?  Let's examine those next.


Does having more big or small forwards affect team success and scoring?

Apparently not, as although it's still early, if the playoffs were based on the standings as of games through March 5th there would have been six playoff bound teams with more small forwards than big forward