(Brian Babineau, Getty)

(Brian Babineau, Getty)

Early in the 2012-13 season, minor penalties were being called at a significantly higher rate than in 2011-12, resulting in nearly two more minor penalties per game.  The renewed commitment to calling obstruction and the addition of penalties for concealing the puck and using your hand on faceoffs seemed to be the culprits.

By the end of the season, however, that trend had completely reversed, with the result that minor penalties were called at almost exactly the same rate as 2011-12. So much for that.

The fact that the number of minor penalties called hasn’t gone up does, however, make what Nazem Kadri accomplished this season even more impressive. Kadri led the NHL in both penalties drawn and penalty plus/minus and it wasn’t even close.

I’ve been keeping an eye on penalty plus/minus for two seasons, using Behind the Net‘s statistics on penalties drawn and taken.

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 following statistics are all at 5-on-5 and do not include major penalties or coincidental minors.

Top 20 Forwards

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
Nazem Kadri C TOR 48 7 32 0.7 3 +25
Claude Giroux RW PHI 48 6 23 0.5 1.9 +17
Dustin Brown RW L.A 46 8 23 0.7 2 +15
Cory Conacher LW OTT 47 9 23 1 2.5 +14
Patrick Kaleta RW BUF 34 4 17 0.8 3.5 +13
Martin St. Louis RW T.B 48 2 15 0.1 1.1 +13
Jeff Skinner C CAR 42 7 19 0.7 1.8 +12
John Tavares C NYI 48 6 18 0.5 1.4 +12
Logan Couture C S.J 48 2 13 0.2 1.2 +11
Carl Hagelin LW NYR 48 8 19 0.7 1.5 +11
Matt Duchene C COL 47 3 13 0.3 1.1 +10
Bryan Little C WPG 48 2 12 0.2 1 +10
Taylor Hall LW EDM 45 7 17 0.6 1.5 +10
Ryan Callahan RW NYR 45 5 15 0.4 1.3 +10
Charlie Coyle RW MIN 37 5 15 0.6 1.8 +10
Sidney Crosby C PIT 36 6 15 0.6 1.6 +9
Marcus Johansson C WSH 34 1 10 0.1 1.3 +9
Stephen Gionta LW N.J 48 5 14 0.6 1.6 +9
Mikkel Boedker LW PHX 48 4 13 0.4 1.2 +9
Brian Gionta RW MTL 48 3 12 0.3 1.1 +9

There are a number of familiar names on this list, as it’s been readily apparent that drawing penalties is a repeatable skill. Dustin Brown is perennially near the top in penalties drawn, drawing 23 minors this season after leading the league with 44 last season. John Tavares and Jeff Skinner were also near the top in penalty plus/minus last season, making their reappearance unsurprising.

Nazem Kadri stands above them all, however, with nine more penalties drawn than the next best forward, finishing the season at plus-25, well ahead of his closest competitors. This was not a significant strength of Kadri’s game last season, as he drew only seven penalties while taking four in 21 games, so this is a vast improvement. It also put him on pace to demolish Brown’s league-leading plus-27 rating from last season.

For the most part, this is a list of skilled forwards who are difficult to contain in the offensive zone, drawing penalties with their skating and stickhandling, along with, in some cases, a healthy dose of embellishment. There are a couple that don’t fit that mold however.

Patrick Kaleta’s name certainly jumps out. The Sabres agitator was the source of some controversy this season, earning a suspension for a hit from behind on Brad Richards. But the truth is that Kaleta doesn’t take many minor penalties and frequently goads his opponents into taking them. Of Kaleta’s five major penalties, only one, the hit on Richards, wasn’t for fighting, so he’s not putting the opponents on five-minute powerplays very often, either.

Kaleta had 11 minor penalties, mostly for roughing. Those were, we can assume, mostly coincidental minors. He had no hooking, tripping, holding, interference, slashing, or cross-checking penalties. His only stick infraction was a single high stick. His rate of drawing penalties also far surpassed the other forwards in the league, drawing 3.5 penalties for every 60 minutes he played, leading the league.

Bottom 20-ish Forwards

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
Patrick Bordeleau LW COL 46 15 1 3.2 0.2 -14
Colton Orr RW TOR 44 13 1 2.8 0.2 -12
Brandon Prust C MTL 38 12 2 1.7 0.3 -10
Maxim Lapierre C VAN 48 12 2 1.4 0.2 -10
Alexander Semin LW CAR 44 16 6 1.4 0.5 -10
Zenon Kenopka C MIN 37 12 3 2.4 0.6 -9
Eric Staal C CAR 48 19 11 1.5 0.9 -8
Ryan Getzlaf C ANA 44 11 3 1 0.3 -8
Daniel Cleary RW DET 48 17 9 1.7 0.9 -8
Shawn Horcoff C EDM 31 10 3 1.7 0.5 -7
Richard Clune LW NSH 47 14 7 1.9 1 -7
Milan Lucic LW BOS 46 13 6 1.2 0.5 -7
Matt Beleskey LW ANA 42 13 6 1.7 0.8 -7
Blake Comeau RW CBJ 42 9 2 1.2 0.3 -7
Evander Kane C WPG 48 20 14 1.5 1.1 -6
David Backes C STL 48 13 7 1.1 0.6 -6
Mike Ribeiro C WSH 48 10 4 0.9 0.4 -6
Marcus Kruger C CHI 47 10 4 1.1 0.5 -6
Jason Chimera LW WSH 47 14 8 1.5 0.8 -6
Alex Tanguay LW CGY 40 9 3 0.9 0.3 -6
Vinny Prospal LW CBJ 48 8 2 0.7 0.2 -6
Eric Nystrom RW DAL 48 12 6 1.3 0.7 -6
Ryan Reaves RW STL 43 9 3 1.7 0.6 -6

The top of this list is populated by fourth-liners and Alexander Semin. From then on it’s a mixture of big and physical scorers and checkers, along with a few skilled players who have been accused before of taking undisciplined or lazy penalties.

Evander Kane led the league in non-coincidental minors taken at even-strength, with Eric Staal right behind him. The bulk of Kane’s penalties were in the form of stick infractions: hooks, trips, slashes, and high sticks.

Top 20-ish Defencemen

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
T.J. Brennan D FLA 29 2 9 0.3 1.3 +7
Dennis Wideman D CGY 46 2 9 0.1 0.6 +7
Erik Karlsson D OTT 17 2 8 0.4 1.4 +6
Bobby Sanguinetti D CAR 37 1 7 0.1 0.9 +6
Matthew Carle D T.B 48 1 7 0.1 0.5 +6
Alex Pietrangelo D STL 47 3 8 0.2 0.6 +5
Marc-Edouard Vlasic D S.J 48 2 7 0.1 0.5 +5
Jared Spurgeon D MIN 39 2 7 0.2 0.6 +5
Oliver Ekman-Larsson D PHX 48 9 13 0.6 0.9 +4
Chris Tanev D VAN 38 3 7 0.3 0.7 +4
Cody Franson D TOR 45 3 7 0.3 0.6 +4
Andy Greene D N.J 48 6 9 0.4 0.6 +3
Ryan Ellis D NSH 32 5 8 0.7 1.1 +3
Brian Campbell D FLA 48 3 6 0.2 0.4 +3
Jamie McBane D CAR 40 3 6 0.3 0.6 +3
John-Michael Liles D TOR 32 1 4 0.1 0.5 +3
Tom Poti D WSH 16 0 3 0 0.8 +3
Jared Cowen D OTT 7 0 3 0 1.6 +3
12 players tied at +2

It’s to draw more penalties than you take as a defenceman, as you’re tasked with containing the many skilled offensive stars mentioned above, though it should certainly be noted that many of these players are also highly-skilled and difficult to contain.

There are some repeats from last year’s list: Campbell, Spurgeon, McBane, Ekman-Larsson, Vlasic, and Liles were in the top-20 last year as well. Tied for the league lead, however, is a newcomer. TJ Brennan, in his rookie season, had enough wherewithal to avoid taking many minor penalties and drew nine himself.

Erik Karlsson deserves special mention for being second in penalty plus/minus among defencemen with only 17 games played.

Bottom 20-ish Defencemen

Name Pos Team GP Penalties Taken Penalties Drawn Penalties Taken/60 Minutes Penalties Drawn/60 Minutes Penalty +/-
Sheldon Souray D ANA 44 15 1 1.3 0.1 -14
Braydon Coburn D PHI 33 15 2 1.5 0.2 -13
Zdeno Chara D BOS 48 17 5 1.1 0.3 -12
Ryan O’Byrne D TOR 42 14 2 1.3 0.2 -12
Dustin Byfuglien D WPG 43 14 2 1 0.1 -12
Ladislav Smid D EDM 48 15 4 1.1 0.3 -11
Brenden Dillon D DAL 48 15 4 1.1 0.3 -11
Sergei Gonchar D OTT 45 13 2 1 0.2 -11
Kimmo Timonen D PHI 45 13 2 1.2 0.2 -11
Mike Weber D BUF 42 13 2 1.2 0.2 -11
Jay Harrison D CAR 47 13 2 1 0.2 -11
Eric Brewer D T.B 48 11 0 0.8 0 -11
Marek Zidlicky D N.J 48 14 4 1.1 0.3 -10
Derek Morris D PHX 39 13 3 1.2 0.3 -10
Jason Garrison D VAN 47 12 2 0.9 0.2 -10
Eric Gryba D OTT 33 12 2 1.3 0.2 -10
Christian Ehrhoff D BUF 47 13 4 0.9 0.3 -9
Anton Volchenkov D N.J 37 12 3 1.5 0.4 -9
Dion Phaneuf D TOR 48 12 3 0.8 0.2 -9
Keith Aulie D T.B 45 11 2 1.2 0.2 -9
Niklas Hjalmarsson D CHI 46 11 2 0.8 0.1 -9
Matt Carkner D NYI 22 10 1 2.2 0.2 -9
Filip Kuba D FLA 44 10 1 0.8 0.1 -9

This is an interesting list, considering it is largely composed of some pretty good defencemen. Right up near the top , tied for third in plus/minus, is the Norris-winning Zdeno Chara. Chara is tied for the most penalties taken by a defenceman for this last season. Clearly, a low penalty plus/minus rating doesn’t mean you’re a bad player, particularly for defencemen who have more trouble drawing penalties.

Still, considering Chara is one of the Bruins’ top penalty killers, it doesn’t seem like a good idea for him to take a higher than average number of penalties.

Comments (1)

  1. Speed, speed, speed. You can basically look at these charts and say “plus guys fast, minus guys not.” Tons of penalties taken by players just trying to get a stick on a guy and slow him down before he gets an opportunity.

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