Previously, we looked at the value of Net Penalties (Penalties Drawn less Penalties Taken) as well as which players were helping and hurting their teams the most as far as penalties were concerned. Mission accomplished, right? Alas, something was amiss. Cue spooky music.
Though we did not account for it in the Net Penalty metric, we observed that it is very difficult for poor hard-working Defensemen to post a good Net Penalty rating, due to the fact that they are often in a position where they have to do whatever possible to stop a dangerous scoring opportunity, possibly even –shock and horror– taking a penalty. Meanwhile, those pesky Forwards get a boost to their Net Penalty rating just for naturally finding themselves in more advantageous situations. Is this equitable? Alarm bells sound in my hockey conscience! My sense of fair play calls for the playing surface to be evened out by the proverbial sabermetric zamboni.
While minor penalties cost teams 0.2 Goals each by rule of thumb, there are times when a taking a penalty is called for. Each player makes a split second decision, right or wrong. Ideally, a penalty should only be taken when a defender correctly calculates that his opponent is about to have a scoring opportunity of greater than 0.2 Goals. In comparison, a typical shot has roughly a 10% scoring chance, making the average Shot On Goal (SOG) worth 0.1 Goal. Studies of shot types and distances have found that the best SOG have scoring chances of about 25% – without taking into account variables such as Missed Shots, Blocked Shots, Tip-Ins and rebounds. Keeping the math simple and considering even point blank shots as worth no more than 0.25 Goals, taking a penalty would seem to never be much better than a break even proposition. So why do it? Something else must be missing.
Missing are obviously the “near penalties” that are not called. The best players in sports as varied as football, basketball, soccer and hockey know how to tread near the fine line of taking a penalty, only to cross it occasionally. A defender will often edge towards an infraction to gain an advantage when one of those 20-25% scoring opportunities arises, taking a penalty on hopefully only a small percentage of them. That way, the defender is saving risky defensive plays for truly dangerous scoring opportunities, while being skilled enough to only get caught on a portion of them. That is playing the percentages on defense.
Over the course of a season, there will be a portion of a Defenseman’s Penalties Taken warranted by properly playing the percentages that should be excused from the player’s Net Penalties tally, with a significant part of the benefit coming from “near penalties” not called. Similarly, there will be a portion of Penalties Drawn for a Forward where he will have missed a higher percentage scoring opportunity by “only” drawing a Power Play for his team. Without trying to quantify the minutia of all of those mostly unrecorded events during a season, we can simply adjust Net Penalties to make the ratings equal for the average Defenseman and the average Forward. The adjustment works out to be +6 Net Penalties for a Defenseman and -4 Net Penalties for a Forward (Noting that two Defensemen are on the ice for every three Forwards). In effect, Defensemen can be expected to have a raw Net Penalty rating of 10 less than Forwards because of legitimate percentage plays that they are forced to make over the course of a season. We will therefore adjust the raw Net Penalty rating by +6 for Defensemen and -4 for Forwards to come up with a new metric called Adjusted Net Penalty (ANP) rating.
To see what this metric means in practice, let’s study the changes in this season’s Net Penalty leaderboard (5 vs. 5 stats only) when we go from raw Net Penalties to Adjusted Net Penalties:
Adjusted Net Penalty rating – Best in 2008-2009
Player Team Pos Drawn Taken Net ANP
Dustin Brown LAK RW 59 10 +49 +45
Jarome Iginla CGY RW 33 6 +27 +23
Cal Clutterbuck MIN RW 36 11 +25 +21
Erik Cole CAR RW 40 15 +25 +21
Patrick O’Sullivan EDM RW 29 7 +22 +18
Mike Ribeiro DAL C 35 13 +22 +18
Evgeni Malkin PIT C 40 19 +21 +17
Maxim Lapierre MTL C 29 9 +20 +16
Henrik Zetterberg DET LW 28 8 +20 +16
Devin Setoguchi SJS RW 25 6 +19 +15
Brooks Laich WSH C 23 5 +18 +14
Joe Thornton SJS C 31 13 +18 +14
Kris Russell CBJ D 11 3 +8 +14
Anze Kopitar LAK C 24 7 +17 +13
David Perron STL LW 33 16 +17 +13
Daniel Sedin VAN LW 24 7 +17 +13
Martin St. Louis TBL RW 21 4 +17 +13
Tim Gleason CAR D 18 11 +7 +13
Dion Phaneuf CGY D 22 15 +7 +13
Selected player notes:
-Dustin Brown is the NHL’s reigning Net Penalty king by a country mile.
-Rookie Cal Clutterbuck has risen to third place overall in ANP. The Minnesota winger recently set the NHL single season record for Hits with 317 and counting. Some of those hits must tick the opposition off!
-Erik Cole and Patrick O’Sullivan were part of a three team swap at the trading deadline. Rumor has it that the Kings also received a player in the trade.
-The NHL’s leading scorer Evgeni Malkin has improved from 11th to 7th best in ANP over the last 2 weeks. In addition to his 107 Points, his superior ANP rating helps make an argument for placing him ahead of the NHL’s other top 3 scorers, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, in value to his team.
-Other top 25 scorers on the ANP leaderboard include Jarome Iginla, Mike Ribeiro, Joe Thorton, Martin St. Louis and Daniel Sedin. Presumably, these players draw penalties due to the scoring threat they pose.
By making the ANP adjustment, we now find that three Defensemen make the leaderboard:
-21 year old Kris Russell is a young player on the rise. After scoring 69 Points in his last year in the WHL, the Blue Jackets’ Defenseman has already doubled the Point total from his rookie campaign. His +14 ANP, best among Defensemen, bodes well for future offensive growth.
-How has wily Tim Gleason drawn 18 penalties? After all, he has a grand total of zero Goals scored this year. The next guy who pulls him down gets extra conditioning drills at practice!
-By the conventional statistic of Plus/Minus, Dion Phaneuf’s 2008-2009 campaign is a disappointment, on pace for -14 after three seasons in the black. Whatever Dion and his teammates are not doing as well this season, he is keeping up a fine ANP of +13.
Adjusted Net Penalty rating – Worst in 2008-2009
Player Team Pos Drawn Taken Net Adjusted Net
Stephane Robidas DAL D 10 30 -20 -14
Scott Hartnell PHI RW 15 25 -10 -14
Mike Knuble PHI RW 10 20 -10 -14
Ryan Getzlaf ANA C 18 29 -11 -15
Olli Jokinen CGY* C 10 21 -11 -15
Jay Bouwmeester FLA D 7 28 -21 -15
Matt Greene LAK D 7 28 -21 -15
Cory Sarich CGY D 6 27 -21 -15
Mike Commodore CBJ D 6 28 -22 -16
Ethan Moreau EDM LW 16 28 -12 -16
Rob Blake SJS D 4 27 -23 -17
Lukas Krajicek TBL D 0 23 -23 -17
David Backes STL RW 18 31 -13 -17
Sergei Federov WSH C 3 17 -14 -18
Milan Jurcina WSH D 4 28 -24 -18
Adam Mair BUF C 7 22 -15 -19
Jarret Stoll LAK C 10 26 -16 -20
Mathieu Schneider MTL D 2 28 -26 -20
Mattias Ohlund VAN D 6 33 -27 -21
Shane O’Brien VAN D 6 34 -28 -22
Selected player notes:
-With the ANP adjustment, the list of players worst in Net Penalties transforms from a list of all Defensemen to a balanced list of 11 Defensemen and 9 Forwards.
-Kudos to who is no longer on the list: Chris Pronger has improved his Net Penalties by +3 over the last 2 weeks. That’s not bad for a Defenseman and especially not bad for a Defenseman with a reputation for taking bad penalties.
-Stephane Robidas has been receiving many accolades. The Stars’ blueliner is set to have his best season as far as Points, having already tallied 3 Goals and 23 Assists. Less flatteringly, the 32 year old veteran continues to put up penalties at a pace in excess of 1 PIM/game and ends up on the ANP list of shame even with the friendly adjustment for Defensemen.
-Are Scott Hartnell and Mike Knuble twins? Maybe not, but the Flyers right wingers are equally hurting their team’s chances of winning with their twin -14 ANP ratings.
-Ryan Getzlaf is similar to his Pacific Division counterpart Mike Ribeiro in regards to a high Assists to Goals ratio (25 to 55; 20 to 50). The difference is that the Ducks’ Center has one of the worst ANP ratings as opposed to the Stars’ Center having one of the best. While Getzlaf has a 10 Point advantage on Ribeiro, those 33 points of ANP amount to a 6.6 Goal difference in value to their teams.
-Olli Jokinen fell from a career high of 91 Points to 71 Points last season. The former Panther is on pace to score a mere 59 Points this season. The offensive deterioration is a troubling sign and is compounded by his bewilderingly poor ANP rating. This is with his PIM at its lowest in 10 years!
-Sergei Federov has occasionally been used as a Defenseman, though his ANP is adjusted as if he were a full time Center. The poor ANP is one small sign that it may be time for the 39 year old future Hall Of Famer to hang up his competitive skates. Falling short of double digit Goals would be a big sign to hang ‘em up.
-Mathieu Schneider has had several weeks to improve his statistics since moving from the Thrashers to the Canadiens. Schneider has actually lost ground in ANP over the past few weeks. So much for the excuses I’ve been making for you, Mathieu!
-Canucks’ Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Shane O’Brien have the dubious distinction of filling out the bottom of the list, even given the positive adjustment for Defensemen. That can’t bode well for Vancouver in the playoffs.
We have already seen how important it is to add Penalties Drawn and Penalties Taken into the key stats that we consider for skaters. Making the simple adjustment of -4 to Net Penalties for Forwards and +6 to Net Penalties for Defensemen now allows us to make equitable comparisons between positions. How does your favorite player rate in ANP?
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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