Who's drawing the most penalties? Dustin Brown is really curious to find out. (Christian Pederson, Getty Images)

Who’s drawing the most penalties? Dustin Brown is really curious to find out. (Christian Pederson, Getty Images)

So far this season, penalties are being called at a higher rate than in the 2011-12 season. 1720 minor penalties have been called this season, which works out to 4.55 minor penalties per game. All of last season, 9082 minor penalties were called, an average of 3.69 per game. The new penalties for concealing the puck and using your hand in the faceoff circle, as well as the renewed crackdown on obstruction have resulted in a little short of one extra minor penalty per game.

The renewed focus on obstruction should help players with speed draw more penalties and will once again make life hard on big-bodied defencemen with questionable skating or decision-making skills. So which players have been helping their team out by drawing extra penalties and which players have been boosting the ice-time of their team’s penalty killers? Looking at penalty plus/minus will let us know.

I kept track of penalty plus/minus for the first time last season, picking up on the work of Dirk Hoag at On The Forecheck, using the statistics made available by Gabriel Desjardins at Behind the Net and Arctic Ice Hockey. I liked penalty plus/minus because it’s immediately apparent how it impacts goals for and against and, therefore, wins.

Penalty +/- is a pretty easy statistic to understand: it’s simply the difference between the number of penalties drawn and taken at even-strength. It doesn’t include misconducts where a team is not given a powerplay. When a player gets hooked, high-sticked, tripped, etc. he is considered to have drawn a penalty. It’s fairly obvious how this contributes to wins as well. If a powerplay converts at around 20% (a little higher than the league average, but convenient as a round number), then a single powerplay opportunity is worth 0.2 goals. For every five powerplays a player gets his team, he’s contributing 1 goal, all without necessarily recording a point.

The flipside to that is that every five penalties a player takes, he’s costing his team 1 goal as well. This is why penalty +/- is important, tracking how many powerplay opportunities a player gave his team compared to how many he gave the opposition.

The league leaders in penalty plus/minus last season were Jeff Skinner and John Tavares, who both drew 26 more minor penalties than they took. Both are once again near the top of the league to start the season, with a familiar face leading the way.

  Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
1 Dustin Brown RW L.A 11 3 11 1.2 4.3 +8
2 John Tavares C NYI 12 0 7 0.0 2.1 +7
3 Patrice Bergeron C BOS 11 0 7 0.0 2.9 +7
4 Jeff Skinner C CAR 12 1 7 0.3 2.4 +6
5 Andrew Cogliano C ANA 12 0 6 0.0 2.3 +6
6 Evander Kane C WPG 12 3 8 1.0 2.7 +5
7 Erik Karlsson D OTT 13 2 7 0.5 1.6 +5
8 Brendan Smith D DET 8 1 6 0.6 3.5 +5
9 16 players tied at plus-4 +4

No one else in the NHL draws penalties at a higher rate than Dustin Brown, which is something he’s become known for over the past few seasons. Brown draws penalties in many different ways: through agitation, strong skating, camping in front of the net, and embellishment.

For the most part, the players at the top of the penalty plus/minus leaderboard are high-end offensive talents, with penalties being taken against them in an effort to contain them. Cogliano doesn’t quite fit that description, but his excellent skating certainly helps him draw obstruction penalties.

It’s impressive to see two defencemen so high on the list, though it looks like Karlsson unfortunately won’t be drawing any more penalties this season after Wednesday night. Smith’s appearance is impressive: since he is a rookie defenceman, it has to be encouraging for the Red Wings to see him drawing far more penalties than he takes. It’s very easy for young defencemen to suffer mental lapses and take penalties.

There are some surprising names tied at plus-4. Along with the talented forwards who would be expected to draw lots of penalties like Claude Giroux, Patrick Sharp, Martin St. Louis, and Bobby Ryan, are players like Vancouver utility player Dale Weise, Minnesota defenceman Jared Spurgeon, and New Jersey third-liner Steve Bernier. Bernier, of course, ended up being the goat in the L.A. Kings’ Stanley Cup-clinching victory in Game 6 over the Devils when he got called for a 5-minute major for boarding. The Kings score 3 goals during the penalty, giving the Kings an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the first period.

At the other end of the scale are the players who are potentially costing their team wins with the number of penalties they have taken.

  Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
1 Braydon Coburn D PHI 14 11 1 2.6 0.2 -10
2 Ryan White C MTL 7 8 1 9.1 1.1 -7
3 Brandon Prust C MTL 12 8 1 4.5 0.6 -7
4 Simon Despres D PIT 11 7 0 3.0 0.0 -7
5 Daniel Cleary RW DET 12 10 4 4.5 1.8 -6
6 Niklas Kronwall D DET 12 8 3 2.5 1.0 -5
7 Eric Staal C CAR 12 7 2 2.5 0.7 -5
8 Keaton Ellerby D L.A 11 7 2 2.7 0.8 -5
9 Vernon Fiddler C DAL 13 6 1 2.9 0.5 -5
10 Bryan Allen D ANA 12 6 1 1.9 0.3 -5
11 Alex Tanguay LW CGY 10 6 1 2.4 0.4 -5
12 Marc Methot D OTT 13 6 1 1.5 0.3 -5
13 Ladislav Smid D EDM 13 6 1 1.8 0.3 -5
14 Patrick Bordeleau LW COL 11 5 0 5.6 0.0 -5
15 Jordan Leopold D BUF 14 5 0 1.3 0.0 -5
16 Philip Larsen D DAL 8 5 0 2.5 0.0 -5

It’s not surprising to see a number of defencemen on this list, as it has become increasingly difficult to contain offensive threats without taking penalties. Still, the number of penalties that Coburn is taking in Philadelphia has to be a bit of a concern, not only because the Flyers have a below-average penalty kill, but also because it’s an indication that one of the guys on their top defensive pair is making poor decisions that force him into taking penalties.

Eric Staal shouldn’t be taking as many penalties as he has, particularly since Carolina has one of the worst penalty kills in the league.

Ryan White and Brandon Prust have combined to put Montreal on the penalty kill far too often. For White, it may end up costing him his job. It’s already gotten him a lot of attention from his coach, Michel Therrien, as he has definitely cost the Canadiens with some bad penalties late in games. A fourth liner doesn’t see much ice time to begin with; at the rate White is taking penalties, he’s going to see a lot less in the future if he doesn’t keep it together.