2011-12 Season Preview Part 5: Penalties

An aspect of NHL hockey that is rarely analysed or discussed is how players affect the game by their ability to draw and take penalties. Often penalties are assumed to be random results rather than a result of skills a player may or may not have. As a poor penalty differential was one thing that held Montreal back last season, I feel that it is worth examining who draws and takes penalties on the Canadiens squad.

Who was responsible for the poor differential last year was one of the subjects of a previous article. Over the past two seasons, Montreal has gotten the short end of the stick from penalties, a situation likely related to how many clutch and grab defensemen they had in the lineup and how few good forechecking forwards. Part of the 1st place finish of 2007-08 was the advantage on penalties fueling Montreal’s special teams dominance and if Montreal wants to return to the top levels of the league becoming a positive team on penalty calls would be a major step in the right direction.

Season

Power Play Opportunities

Times Shorthanded

Difference

2010-11

290

327

-37

2009-10

261

311

-50

2008-09

374

370

4

2007-08

374

342

32

One change in the lineup which has not received much attention is the benefit of losing the two biggest liabilities on penalties the Canadiens had in Hamrlik and Pouliot. In turn, Montreal will benefit from full seasons of their two best home grown penalty drawers in Pacioretty and White and the addition of Erik Cole who has been excellent in this area.

 

When examining list of players that do well in drawing penalties it becomes apparent what qualities make a player that draws calls. Generally they are the talented players that are difficult to contain due to superior size and strength as well as good skating ability which leads to the many types of obstruction penalties from defenders attempting to contain them by means outside the rules. Also good physical players and pests seem to draw penalties from retaliation. Overall, forwards draw more penalties while defensemen take more, which reflects how often the respective positions are without the puck and in their own zone, the situation where penalties are more likely to occur. Conversely, the players that tend to take the most penalties are slower defensemen that rely on a bit of "clutch and grab" to defend against opposing players as well as players notorious for their lack of discipline.

Since this is a rarely discussed area, I’ve felt free to coin my own terms for different player types with regards to penalties. They are:

Ninja: A player skilled at drawing more penalties than they take. This is based off of a phrase I once heard calling Buffalo’s Kaleta "a sneaky penalty drawing ninja." This name feels appropriate, due to the skill, discipline and occasionally underhanded methods by which ninjas are known for.

Pirate: A player that takes many more penalties than they draw. By an old internet meme, a pirate is the natural opposite of a ninja. They are boisterous, rowdy and lack discipline, much like the hockey players that take lots of penalties. Context should be taken into account before assigning pirate status though as it is normal for most defensemen to take more penalties than they draw, so the term should be applied to players that have poor discipline relative to their position.

Monkey: A player that is involved in lots of penalties. Continuing on the internet meme theme, monkeys are known for having no discipline and causing indiscriminate chaos, much like the hockey players that get themselves involved in lots of penalties, either drawn or taken. This had unfortunate racist implications when I found that Subban was one of the "monkey-ist" players in the league but that was entirely accidental. By their nature, ninjas seem to need to have a monkey quality to them, as it appears the process of drawing lots of penalties as the side effect of forcing a player to commit more infractions than normal.

Robot: A player involved in relatively few penalties. The opposite of a monkey, robots follow the rules and act in an orderly fashion, like the players that avoid infractions themselves and rarely provoke other players into infractions.

So what kinds of creatures are the current Habs? To find out I compiled and weighted according to ice-time the penalty rates from the past 4 seasons at 5 on 5. The numbers are based on 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time, during which your median NHL player will take and draw around 0.6 penalties.

Ninjas:

Player

Penalties Drawn per 60 Minutes

Penalties Taken per 60 Minutes

Differential

Cole

2.00

0.76

1.24

White

1.50

0.80

0.70

Pacioretty

1.47

0.89

0.58

Cammaleri

0.90

0.50

0.40

Of Montreal’s best three penalty drawers, none of whom were in the lineup to start last season. This speaks well to their chances of reversing their terrible penalty differential this season. In particular, Cole has had several years of being a very strong penalty drawer, if he can replicate this skill it will be very welcome in Montreal with the Habs’ tendency towards a strong power play.

 

Pirates:

Player

Penalties Drawn per 60 Minutes

Penalties Taken per 60 Minutes

Differential

Spacek

0.44

0.87

-0.43

Gill

0.25

1.00

-0.75

Eller

0.70

1.70

-1.00

Last year this would have also included Hamrlik and Pouliot, two players with a terrible tendency to take penalties far beyond their ability to draw them in turn. Gill and Spacek are somewhat excusable as slower defensemen that focused on defending against opposing forwards but Eller’s results here are atrocious. He needs to get better discipline if he wants to play a regular role in the top nine.

 

Monkeys:

Player

Penalties Drawn per 60 Minutes

Penalties Taken per 60 Minutes

Differential

Gomez

0.95

0.65

0.30

Kostitsyn

0.95

0.68

0.27

Moen

0.91

0.64

0.27

Plekanec

0.92

0.75

0.17

Desharnais

1.00

0.90

0.10

Subban

1.10

1.40

-0.30

On the balance, Montreal, with its excellent track record in special teams, would rather have more of these players than less as more time on special teams favours them more than 5 on 5 play.  Subban is a surprise member on this list considering his league leading minor penalties but he draws so many penalties in turn that he is basically the same in terms of differential as your average defenseman. His play then in turn favours Montreal for affording them more power play opportunities then they would get with a typical defenseman.

 

Robots:

Player

Penalties Drawn per 60 Minutes

Penalties Taken per 60 Minutes

Differential

Gionta

0.77

0.47

0.30

Darche

0.57

0.32

0.25

Betts

0.58

0.58

0.00

Markov

0.52

0.63

-0.11

Campoli

0.48

0.60

-0.12

Weber

0.40

0.60

-0.20

Puck moving defensemen dominate this category for obvious reasons. These players don’t much affect the game by their penalties drawn or taken compared to average.

As it stands today, Montreal is much better positioned to be a good penalty drawing/taking team then they were before. This is especially the case if they can draw on some of Cole’s Carolina mojo, from a team that usually is among the tops in drawing penalties (what a bunch of divers, eh?)

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