Even missing a number of games with a concussion, Jeff Skinner still leads the league in Penalty Plus/Minus.

Back in early November, I wrote a post about the statistic known as Penalty Plus/Minus. It’s not a statistic that gets mentioned a lot, even on blogs devoted to advanced statistics, but it tracks something that does help teams win hockey games. As such, I think it’s worth keeping an eye on.

I promised in that post that I would update the statistic throughout the season; now that we are near the midpoint of the season with teams nearing the 41-game mark, it seems like this is a good time.

If you don’t recall how it works, Penalty Plus/Minus is pretty simple. Simply take the number of penalties a player has drawn and subtract the number of penalties a player has taken. We restrict it to minor penalties as major penalties are rare unless they are fighting majors, which don’t affect this statistic, and we restrict it to even-strength so that all players are on equal footing for comparison.

Only three players have drawn 20+ penalties at even-strength this season, but one has accomplished that feat in far fewer games. Here are the current leaders in Penalty Plus/Minus:

 

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
Jeff Skinner C CAR 30 6 21 0.8 2.9 15
Rick Nash RW CBJ 38 5 20 0.5 2.1 15
Dustin Brown RW L.A 39 11 25 1.2 2.7 14
Darren Helm C DET 35 1 14 0.1 2.1 13
Matt Duchene C COL 39 3 15 0.3 1.7 12
Alex Ovechkin LW WSH 37 7 18 0.8 2 11
Jonathan Toews C CHI 38 6 16 0.6 1.7 10
R.J. Umberger C CBJ 38 4 14 0.5 1.6 10
Joe Thornton C S.J 33 7 16 0.8 1.9 9
John Tavares C NYI 36 4 13 0.4 1.4 9
Zach Parise LW N.J 37 4 13 0.4 1.4 9
Vernon Fiddler C DAL 37 4 13 0.6 2 9
Cody Hodgson C VAN 39 1 10 0.2 1.5 9
Kyle Wellwood C WPG 38 1 10 0.1 1.2 9

Jeff Skinner leads the way in Penalty Plus/Minus, having drawn 21 penalties in just 20 games while taking only 6 penalties himself. Unfortunately, Carolina’s powerplay is one of the worst in the league, so the extra 15 powerplay opportunities he has given them is only equivalent to about 2 extra goals. That isn’t exact, of course, as it depends on the powerplay percentage of the Hurricanes’ opponents in the games that Skinner took a penalty.

Tied with Skinner for top spot is Rick Nash but, like Skinner, he plays for a team with a poor powerplay. Columbus converts at a 14.7% clip with the man advantage, so many of those powerplays he creates for his team are wasted.

Darren Helm, about to draw a holding penalty.

Dustin Brown has drawn the most penalties so far this season, with 25 in 39 games, but he has also taken 11 penalties. It’s actually quite impressive that he has drawn the most penalties as he has gained a reputation for embellishment that might dissuade referees from giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Darren Helm is an interesting one. He doesn’t score as much as most of the names on this list, which is a disadvantage; offensive players tend to dominate the top end of the Penalty Plus/Minus chart as it is their offensive prowess that tends to draw penalties. Helm, however, is a terrific skater with blistering speed, which makes him difficult to contain without resorting to holding and hooking.

Helm also leads the Red Wings in shorthanded ice time and is a superb penalty killer (as aptly demonstrated against the Blackhawks a couple years ago), so his tendency to stay out of the penalty box himself is a boon. Helm has only one penalty at even-strength and just 4 penalty minutes this season.

On the flip side are those player who take far more penalties than they draw. These players are potentially costing their teams games by giving the opposition more powerplays.

 

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
Kyle Quincey D COL 34 17 1 1.8 0.1 -16
Jarret Stoll C L.A 39 15 2 2 0.3 -13
Steve Staios D NYI 29 15 2 1.9 0.3 -13
Sheldon Souray D DAL 34 14 1 1.6 0.1 -13
Jonathan Ericsson D DET 36 15 4 1.7 0.5 -11
Toni Lydman D ANA 35 13 2 1.4 0.2 -11
Mark Stuart D WPG 36 13 2 1.4 0.2 -11
Chris Neil RW OTT 30 15 5 2.6 0.9 -10
Dustin Byfuglien D WPG 35 14 4 1.3 0.4 -10
Bryan Allen D CAR 39 14 4 1.4 0.4 -10
Tomas Plekanec C MTL 38 12 2 1.4 0.2 -10
Andy Sutton D EDM 17 12 2 3 0.5 -10

As is usually expected, defencemen dominate this list.  Tasked with the tough job of containing offensive talents like the ones at the top of the Penalty Plus/Minus list, defencemen often have to clutch and grab or get rough in order to prevent scoring chances. That said, taking more penalties than you draw will cost your team in the long run, which is why effective defencemen who can do their jobs well without taking penalties are so highly prized.

Surprisingly, Alexei Emelin of the Montreal Canadiens is the leader amongst defencemen in Penalty Plus/Minus, having drawn 13 penalties at even strength and taking only 5. It’s surprising because he’s a very physical player who has proven to be an adept open-ice hitter, but he’s doing it cleanly. In that sense, it’s not too surprising that he’s drawn a number of penalties, as he’s likely to be a target.

Kyle Quincey in his well-used protesting-the-call pose.

Kyle Quincey, on the other hand, is getting his team in trouble. Not only does he lead the league with 17 minor penalties at even strength, but he has also drawn only one, giving him the worst Penalty Plus/Minus. Over the course of an entire season, that can potentially lead to a number of goals against that could cost the team a few wins. For a team like Colorado that will be on the edge of the playoff picture at best, a couple wins can make all the difference. At the very least, it costs the Avalanche some of the advantage of Matt Duchene being one of the Penalty Plus/Minus leaders.

More egregious, however, is Jarrett Stoll, who is the worst forward in the league in this statistic. Fortunately for him, LA boasts one the league’s best penalty kills. Unfortunately for him, LA has the worst offence in the NHL, scoring an average of 2.1 goals per game. Like Henny Youngman, they’re completely inoffensive. They can’t afford to give up goals, which makes Stoll’s Penalty Plus/Minus a concern.

Tomas Plekanec is an odd name to see on this list. He’s not a player that immediately leaps to mind as undisciplined. He also leads all Montreal forwards in shorthanded icetime, so he’s not a player that they would like to see in the box. I’m not entirely sure what his lack of penalties drawn would indicate. It could mean that he’s not driving to the net to create opportunities for hooks and holds, but that seems simplistic. Perhaps someone who has more closely followed the Canadiens this season could shed some light?

All stats courtesy of Behindthenet.ca.