Ryan O'Reilly

At six feet tall, Colorado Avalanche center Ryan O’Reilly weighs 200 pounds. Like most hockey players, the bulk of that is thighs and ass which give him a stable center of gravity that makes him hard to knock off the puck, and allows him to have some jump in his first few strides after stopping. He’s hard on opposing defenders, is good in puck battles, and isn’t afraid to go to the front of the net. He’s good at hockey in general.

Oh, and also…

Zero PIMs this year. Not a single penalty minute. Not one mis-call that saw him have to sit in the box through 1,316:03 of ice time (basically 22 hours of hockey). That’s the most of any Avalanche forward, a little under 20 minutes per game.

Which brings about these two tweets that I also found relevant.

I’ve long railed against the inclusion of PIMs in fantasy hockey leagues (why do you get a win for more PIMs, not less? They hurt the team), and the glorification of slow-thinkers and slow-skaters who put your team short-handed in general.

It used to be that players were considered tougher if they racked up a lot of penalty minutes. When two fairly equal skaters were judged on numbers alone, PIMs could often be a deciding factor – “Well, look at his PIMs. If they’re both 40-point guys, I’d rather take the one with ‘some sandpaper.”

And true, sandpaper is a good thing. But regularly taking minor penalties isn’t sandpaper. It’s being careless, lazy and selfish.

I’m a fan of a player like Shawn Horcoff in Dallas, but the guy is a minus-15 in penalties drawn versus penalties taken. Meanwhile, a lesser-known centerman like Trevor Lewis in Los Angeles is plus-17 in comparable ice time. That’s a 32 powerplay swing between them while playing the same position. If you’ve got a decent powerplay that’s about six additional goals, which is pretty close to a two-win swing for a team. And wins are handy to have.

Players find teammates who take dumb penalties infuriating, yet as fans we’ve glorified those guys in the past (some coaches have too). For O’Reilly, tallying zero penalty minutes isn’t just impressive, it’s also downright lucky. There are usually moments when you’re just battling for possession that you’re deemed to have crossed the line even if you didn’t mean to.

But there’s the clear divide – guys who legitimately don’t try to get away with stuff (Brandon Sutter comes to mind) don’t tend to get called often, which means those guys that do take a lot of penalties are inexplicably trying to “cheat,” and often. I don’t know what the success rate for your average player who tries to get away with stuff is, but I bet it doesn’t produce a benefit over the cost of taking 35 minor penalties a year.

One of my go-to stats of choice to prove that true toughness isn’t found in PIMs is that Hall-of-Fame heavyweight Clark Gillies, renowned for his knuckle-chucking, never eclipsed 100 PIMs, while guys who think it’s a sign of toughness today keep finding new ways to add to their PIM totals. John Scott is near 100 after 45 games despite playing 9:30 a night. He’s also the owner of the fifth-worst penalty differential in minors, at minus-19. Guys who can’t skate take minor penalties. That’s just the way it is. Matt Duchene is a league-best plus-23, by the way. He can skate.

The crux of it is that guys that can play hard without leaving their team short-handed are a huge benefit. They’re not soft. Ryan O’Reilly and his plus-14 penalty differential (tied for 10th-best with Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Valeri Nichushkin and Nathan MacKinnon) is one of those guys, and they’re a treat to have.

Being able to take a slash or a hook or a cross-check and not retaliate is tough. Racking up PIMs isn’t.