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Debunking the myth of Sylvain Lefebvre’s AHL teams’ penalty problems

The Canadiens’ AHL team seems to play short-handed a lot. But that is far from a unique situation in the AHL.

Florida Panthers v New York Islanders Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images

Sylvain Lefebvre has entered his sixth season as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens’ farm team with the full support of the Canadiens organization, especially General Manager Marc Bergevin.

There are several reasons that the coach has been criticized by the fanbase, notably shouldering the majority of the blame for the lack of graduates from the AHL to the NHL prior to this season. However, Jacob de la Rose and Charles Hudon both earned a spot in the Canadiens’ starting lineup after years of false starts.

Oftentimes the team’s record is pointed to when depositing blame at Lefebvre’s doorstep. It’s certainly easy to draw conclusions from numbers, but it’s not always accurate, unless a trend emerges. Unfortunately in Lefebvre’s case, the trend is clear: a lack of success.

Last season the team made the playoffs for the first time under Lefebvre’s tenure, but it certainly only partially helps to rehabilitate his image. A perfect start to the season for the Laval Rocket thus far is a good way to start a new chapter.

One of the myths that follows Lefebvre around is that his teams take an unusual amount of penalties due to indiscipline, so in the name of fairness, we looked at the numbers from an objective point of view.

I’ll preface this analysis to say that the best method would be to do a deep dive into each game sheet for every team for the past five seasons, scraping the penalty data to segregate physical fouls (roughing, boarding, elbowing, misconducts, etc...) from stick fouls (hooking, tripping, slashing) and non-contact penalties (delay of game, too many men) which would have provided additional knowledge on the nature of the penalties being taken by each team. Unfortunately, this analysis was impractical.

The approach taken looked at season penalty minute totals pulled from the AHL website, paired with the correct NHL affiliation (as partnerships have moved around a lot over the past five seasons). Here’s a quick summary of these AHL affiliations from 2012 to 2017, which is the range of our analysis.

Anaheim Ducks

  • Norfolk Admirals (2012-15)
  • San Diego Gulls (2015-17)

Arizona Coyotes

  • Portland Pirates (2012-15)
  • Springfield Falcons (2015-16)
  • Tucson Roadrunners (2016-17)

Boston Bruins

  • Providence Bruins (2012-17)

Buffalo Sabres

  • Rochester Americans (2012-17)

Calgary Flames

  • Abbotsford Heat (2012-14)
  • Adirondack Flames (2014-15)
  • Stockton Heat (2015-17)

Carolina Hurricanes

  • Charlotte Checkers (2012-17)

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Rockford IceHogs (2012-17)

Colorado Avalanche

  • Lake Erie Monsters (2012-15)
  • San Antonio Rampage (2015-17)

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Lake Erie Monsters (2012-15)
  • Springfield Falcons (2015-16)
  • Cleveland Monsters (2016-17)

Dallas Stars

  • Texas Stars (2012-17)

Detroit Red Wings

  • Grand Rapids Griffins (2012-17)

Edmonton Oilers

  • Oklahoma City Barons (2012-15)
  • Bakersfield Condors (2015-17)

Florida Panthers

  • San Antonio Rampage (2012-15)
  • Portland Pirates (2015-16)
  • Springfield Thunderbirds (2016-17)

Los Angeles Kings

  • Manchester Monarchs (2012-15)
  • Ontario Reign (2015-17)

Minnesota Wild

  • Houston Aeros (2012-13)
  • Iowa Wild (2013-17)

Montreal Canadiens

  • Hamilton Bulldogs (2012-15)
  • St. John's IceCaps (2015-17)

Nashville Predators

  • Milwaukee Admirals (2012-17)

New Jersey Devils

  • Albany Devils (2012-17)

New York Islanders

  • Bridgeport Sound Tigers (2012-17)

New York Rangers

  • Connecticut Whale (2012-13)
  • Hartford Wolf Pack (2013-17)

Ottawa Senators

  • Binghamton Senators (2012-17)

Philadelphia Flyers

  • Adirondack Phantoms (2012-14)
  • Lehigh Valley Phantoms (2014-17)

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (2012-17)

San Jose Sharks

  • Worcester Sharks (2012-15)
  • San Jose Barracuda (2015-17)

St. Louis Blues

  • Peoria Rivermen (2012-13)
  • Chicago Wolves (2013-17)

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • Syracuse Crunch (2012-17)

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Toronto Marlies (2012-17)

Vancouver Canucks

  • Chicago Wolves (2012-13)
  • Utica Comets (2013-17)

Washington Capitals

  • Hershey Bears (2012-17)

Winnipeg Jets

  • St. John's IceCaps (2012-15)
  • Manitoba Moose (2015-17)

Although head coaches may have changed in other affiliates, our analysis compares the one constant of Sylvain Lefebvre against all the other AHL affiliates, regardless of head coach.

The first analysis is done by taking the total penalty minutes taken and subtracting five-minute fighting majors, using data taken from HockeyFights.com. Taking out the fighting majors will help skew the results towards two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct penalties, which is the crux of the accusation. Here’s how this information shakes out.

Total penalty minutes, removing fighting majors (2012-17)

As you can see, the Canadiens’ AHL team has taken the 11th-most non-fighting penalties out of the 30 teams. It’s certainly elevated, but not as epidemic as we may be led to believe.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate coinciding minor penalties, and perhaps a better analysis would be to focus on situations where the team is placed at a disadvantage. We can perform a secondary analysis, looking solely at the amount of times the team was in a short-handed situation, based on data available on the AHL website.

Shorthanded situations, 2012-2017

From this analysis you can see that the Canadiens’ farm team is actually in the second half of the league for giving up short-handed situations, improving its penalty situation from the last analysis. This is a far cry from the reputation that Lefebvre’s teams have gotten as a perpetual penalty-taking machine.

Another thing to look at, given the known total of short-handed situations, is whether there’s an elevated rate of giving up power-play goals.

From this you can see that Lefebvre’s teams are in the middle of the pack for penalty-kill efficiency over the past five seasons.

Interestingly enough, the Minnesota Wild affiliate, who took the least amount of penalties, has the worst penalty kill. Meanwhile the Columbus affiliate takes some of the most penalties, but is among the best in penalty kill. There is no wild swing like this for the Canadiens who are around the middle of the pack in both taking penalties and defending against them. There’s room for improvement for sure, but it isn’t an exceptional situation.

There is no evidence to suggest that, beyond a heightened sense of negative perception, Lefebvre’s teams yield penalties at a relatively elevated rate.

That being said, you don’t need to dig deep to find the problem with the AHL farm team of the Montreal Canadiens: results.

AHL Playoff appearances from 2012-13 to 2016-17