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January 27, 2012
Killing Penalties, Killing Time
by Ryan Wagman
It is not our way here at Hockey Prospectus to personally inject ourselves into our articles. At the risk of upsetting the editorial apple cart, I hope to make a brief exception in this introduction to a topic near and dear to my wounded heart.
As many may know, I am a fan, grew up a fan, of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unhappy with the crudeness of the traditional special teams metrics (team-based), I developed a more refined (if laborious) approach a few years ago, measuring actual time spent killing penalties. Essentially, the more time a team spent down a man between power play goals allowed, the more effective they were at handling shorthanded situations.
Maybe deep down I was hoping to come up with a method of showing that the Leafs were not the worst in the world at killing penalties. If that was the case, I failed. Tracking every odd-numbered manpower situation in the NHL for the 2009-10 season, the Leafs allowed a power play goal against one every 384 secondsor just over the time would take to kill three minor penalties. The number 29 team that year, the New York Islanders, were able to kill an additional 23 seconds on average before spotting a goal to the enemy. No other teams were below seven minutes of shorthanded time between power play goals against. Conversely, three teams that season (Boston, Buffalo and St. Louis) each went over 12 minutes shorthanded between power play goals allowednearly double the efficiency of the Maple Leafs.
Lately, a Twitter cottage industry has emerged whose sole purpose is to deride the long-standing ineptitude of the Maple Leafs penalty kill. And it is fully understandablesince the lockout, the Leafs have finished no better than 24th on the penalty kill, and that was in the first year back, their last under the helm of Pat Quinn. Their descent from that lofty perch has been swift and violent:
Pat Quinn Era Year PK% NHL Rank 2005-06 80.0% 24th Paul Maurice Era Year PK% NHL Rank 2006-07 78.5% 27th 2007-08 78.2% 29th Ron Wilson Era Year PK% NHL Rank 2008-09 74.7% 30th 2009-10 74.7% 30th 2010-11 77.5% 28th 2011-12 73.5% 30th
While watching each and every Leafs game, I dread the moment when Tim Connolly gets whistled for tripping, or Luke Schenn for roughing. When the worst happens, I internally split up the penalty into small segments. When 10 seconds pass, I tell myself that they only need to do that 11 more times. At 15 seconds, I say "One down, eight to go". It's pathetic and I recognize that, but so has been the Maple Leafs penalty kill throughout the post-lockout era.
This lengthy preamble is a long-winded way of saying that I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to kill penalties more effectively. My thoughts are not yet totally clear, but I may have stumbled onto something.
Assuming that the game does not end midway through the minor, a penalty will typically last two minutes. Once in a while we see a rare five-minute power play, a play so powerful that not even a goal will end it. But with those vile exceptions aside, most penalties are of the minor variety. As the Maple Leafs have shown over and over again, it can be very difficult to kill off a full 120 seconds. They are so eager to return play to the natural five-on-five, that they surrender a goal as quickly as they can to get back to their native state. It does not require a Ph.D in hockeynomics to see that giving up a power play goal is not conducive to winning hockey (it's not really a coincidence that the Leafs have yet to make the playoffs since the lockout, is it?). But there is another way to prematurely end a power play. Some say it is a repeatable skill and others claim that it is luck, but whatever the real reason, sometimes something funny happens.
Once in a while, in the midst of killing a penalty, an advantaged player gets greedy or sloppy, believing the run of play is his right in the situation, he somehow finds himself on the defensive and fouls a penalty killer. Not only does this end his team's power play, but it also sets up the opposition for an abbreviated power play of their own as soon as time expires on the original infraction.
Again, not everyone believes that the ability to draw penalties is a repeatable skill, but this would not be the first instance in the history of hockeyprospectus.com where that topic is broached. There are some players, famously including Dustin Brown of the Kings, who have a serious propensity to draw a large numbers of penalties across an NHL season. Since the 2007-08 season, looking only at players who played in a minimum of 50 games in a season, Brown has ranked fifth (2.4 penalties drawn/60 minutes of ice time), second in 2008-09 (3.5 penalties drawn/60), fifth again in 2009/10 (2.6 penalties drawn/60) and fourth last year (2.0 penalties drawn/60). By the way, these are not penalty minutes drawn, but penalties, so we can safely multiply his number by two to get an idea of how much man advantage time Brown has provided the Kings over the last few years. So far this season, Brown has continued to ply his trade, currently ranking fourth in the league with 2.5 penalties drawn/60.
Putting two and two together, it would seem that teams could utilize these skills more often when already down a man, provided that their top penalty drawers are competent defensive time killers. In Brown's case, he is typically a part of the Kings' second penalty kill unit, joining the defensive stand when the top duo of Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll need a breather. Although his penalty drawing skills slumped last season, the Kings' captain has been just as likely to draw a penalty when out killing one as he has been when playing on even strength.
Do other teams use the best penalty drawers to kill time on their own penalties?
Like the previous look at Dustin Brown, the following tables will show the top ten penalty drawers in the league (min. 50 GP), their average shorthanded ice time per game, and the approximate PK unit that would pertain to on their team:
2007-08 Rank Player Team GP Draw/60 4vs5 TOI Unit Team PK Rank 1 Sidney Crosby PIT 53 3.4 37.1 Filler 23 2 Erik Cole CAR 73 2.6 66.7 Filler 26 3 Sean Avery NYR 57 2.5 48.3 Filler 6 4 Alex Burrows VAN 82 2.5 228.0 1st 14 5 Dustin Brown LAK 78 2.4 140.4 2nd 30 6 Ryan Callahan NYR 52 2.3 57.1 Filler 6 7 Mike Richards PHI 73 2.2 219.7 1st 10 8 Alex Kovalev MTL 82 2.2 109.8 2nd 15 9 Scottie Upshall PHI 61 2.2 10.6 Filler 10 10 Ryan Kesler VAN 80 2.1 240.5 1st 14 2008-09 Rank Player Team GP Draw/60 4vs5 TOI Unit Team PK Rank 1 Patrick Kaleta BUF 51 4.9 24.0 Filler 14 2 Dustin Brown LAK 80 3.5 128.5 2nd 7 3 Cal Clutterbuck MIN 78 2.8 60.6 Filler 2 4 David Perron STL 81 2.7 1.4 Rare 3 5 Derek Dorsett CBJ 52 2.5 4.3 Rare 13 6 Erik Cole CAR 80 2.3 109.9 3rd 19 7 Alex Tanguay MTL 50 2.3 18.4 Filler 11 8 Jordin Tootoo NSH 72 2.2 2.0 Rare 10 9 Steve Ott DAL 64 2.2 69.2 Filler 24 10 Chris Neil OTT 60 2.1 1.4 Rare 15 2009-10 Rank Player Team GP Draw/60 4vs5 TOI Unit Team PK Rank 1 Patrick Kaleta BUF 55 4.1 29.9 Filler 2 2 Daniel Carcillo PHI 76 3 1.2 Rare 11 3 Darcy Hordichuk VAN 56 2.7 0.4 Rare 18 4 Evander Kane ATL 66 2.6 75.7 3rd 16 5 Dustin Brown LAK 82 2.6 115.6 2nd 20 6 Derek Dorsett CBJ 51 2.5 17.3 Filler 17 7 Jared Boll CBJ 68 2.5 0.3 Rare 17 8 Steve Downie TBL 79 2.2 0.3 Rare 22 9 Tom Wandell DAL 50 2.1 81.1 3rd 27 10 Tuomo Ruutu CAR 54 2.1 2.3 Rare 19 2010-11 Rank Player Team GP Draw/60 4vs5 TOI Unit Team PK Rank 1 Jeff Skinner CAR 82 2.6 2.6 Rare 20 2 Taylor Hall EDM 65 2.3 2.2 Rare 29 3 Patrick Kaleta BUF 51 2.1 32.4 Filler 13 4 Dustin Brown LAK 82 2 112.0 2nd 4 5 Jordin Tootoo NSH 54 1.9 0.0 Hide 5 6 Darren Helm DET 82 1.9 249.5 1st 17 7 Steve Downie TBL 57 1.9 1.1 Rare 8 8 Steven Stamkos TBL 82 1.8 26.6 Filler 8 9 Jason Blake TOR/ANA 76 1.7 1.7 Rare 28/19 10 Ryan Callahan NYR 60 1.7 126.8 2nd 10
So what can we learn from the above?
Unfortunately, not much. The 40 player-seasons listed are a very small sample. But if we can't learn, we can walk away with some points of interest. For one thing, in addition to Brown, there are a few other repeat offendees on the lists, such as Buffalo super-pest Patrick Kaleta, who led the league twice in a row and finished third last season. Erik Cole, Ryan Callahan, Steve Downie and Jordin Tootoo also made the lists more than once, although the latter two are more known for agitation than skill. In fact, with few exceptions, most of the penalty drawers are relatively unskilled players. Players a coach would not want to overexpose at even strength, much less on the penalty kill, which goes a great way towards explaining why so many of these players receive only nominal minutes on the penalty kill.
In addition to Brown, Cole and Callahan, noted two-way players, and single appearances on this list by Kovalev, Kesler, Burrows and Tanguay, the primary skill players on these lists have tended to be highly-touted rookies Evander Kane (2009-10), Jeff Skinner (2010-11), and Taylor Hall (2010-11).
This is just the beginning of a topic that should, and will, be studied in greater lengths. So far, it seems that if there is an advantage to playing skaters skilled at drawing penalties on the penalty kill, the advantage is not being taken often enough, at least partially due to the fact that the skill of drawing penalties is often exclusive of the skills needed to play the defensive brand of hockey necessary for the penalty kill.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.
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