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January 27, 2012
Zamboni Tracks
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 seconds—or 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 allowed—nearly 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 understandable—since 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 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:

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
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
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
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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