Thursday, March 27, 2008

An elite contribution: Drawing penalties

It's no secret that penalties can have a pretty big impact on a game.

Two years ago, stats man Gabe Desjardins put together some pretty nifty data on scoring rates at various situations, info that may have shifted slightly this season but that generally rings true:

5-on-5: 2.51 goals per 60 mins
4-on-4: 2.73 goals per 60 mins
3-on-3: 6.44 goals per 60 mins

5-on-4: 5.61 goals per 60 mins
5-on-3: 16.1 goals per 60 mins
4-on-3: 6.92 goals per 60 mins

In other words, if the average team played an entire game at 5-on-4 in 2005-06, they'd score roughly 2.25 times more goals than at 5-on-5.

It stands to reason, then, that teams that spend more time with the man advantage score more.

One great stat that Desjardins provides on Behind The Net is penalties drawn, both for individual players and for players' teams when individuals are on and off the ice. From that data, we can determine that the average forward draws 1.17 penalties per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, and the average defenceman draws just 0.43.

In general, blueliners take penalties, forwards draw them.

And especially so for the good ones.

Here's a look at which forwards have the highest rate of penalties drawn this season:

1 SIDNEY CROSBY PIT 49 14.55 3.1
2 ERIK COLE CAR 66 14.03 2.7
3 RYAN CALLAHAN NYR 44 10.52 2.7
4 DUSTIN BROWN L.A 72 14.25 2.5
5 MIKE RICHARDS PHI 67 12.64 2.4
6 DAVID PERRON STL 54 10.17 2.4
7 SEAN AVERY NYR 49 13.21 2.4
8 KEITH AUCOIN CAR 31 10.73 2.3
9 DANIEL CARCILLO PHX 51 10.64 2.3
10 CHAD LAROSE CAR 53 11.76 2.2
11 SCOTTIE UPSHALL PHI 56 11.3 2.2
13 ALEX KOVALEV MTL 76 13.32 2.2
14 ERIC STAAL CAR 75 15.27 2.1
15 RICK NASH CBJ 72 13.37 2.1
16 RYAN KESLER VAN 73 13.07 2.1
17 PETR PRUCHA NYR 56 10.02 2.0

Some of these fellows are a huge pain in the ass, and get marks for goading the opposition into taking penalties, but for the most part, this is a talented bunch. What do they have in common? Speed, stickhandling ability, and — in a lot of cases — they're really not all that big.

And Sidney Crosby, an ace in a lot of ways, leads the pack by a considerable margin this season.

Just for interest's sake, here's a look at the defencemen leaders:

1 DION PHANEUF CGY 76 17.57 1.3
2 KYLE CUMISKEY COL 38 10.5 1.2
3 VILLE KOISTINEN NSH 44 12.68 1.2
4 MATT WALKER STL 35 13.54 1
5 JORDAN HENDRY CHI 33 14.32 1
6 JOE CORVO CAR 67 13.69 0.9
7 MIKE COMMODORE OTT 60 14.33 0.9
9 MIKE GREEN WSH 75 17.79 0.9
10 MICHAL ROZSIVAL NYR 73 16.85 0.9
12 O-K TOLLEFSEN CBJ 50 10.25 0.9

More speed. Phaneuf obviously brings both grit and finesse, but a water bug like Cumiskey shows up here because he's hard to stop any other way.

Pretty interesting stuff.

Now, Crosby's not the norm, obviously. He draws penalties at a rate almost triple of the average, and way, way higher than the fellows on the low end.

By way of comparison, a few other "elite" forwards who play similar 5-on-5 minutes are Henrik Zetterberg, Ilya Kovalchuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Nathan Horton. Compare how they draw penalties, and how their teams draw penalties with them on the ice:
  1. Crosby 3.1/60 and 8.1/60
  2. Zetterberg 1.5 and 6.4
  3. Kovalchuk 1.3 and 6.2
  4. Alfredsson 0.9 and 4.7
  5. Horton 0.7 and 4.5
They all play about 15 minutes at 5-on-5 a game, or a quarter of a 60 minute contest, so over a full season, the difference add up.

Let's say, for argument's sake, all five will play 82 games at these rates this season. That would then mean that Crosby was responsible for drawing about 64 penalties over the course of a season. If the Penguins' power play fires at about 20 per cent, that's potentially 13 goals scored.

Zetterberg, meanwhile, would draw about 31 penalties over the course of a season, good for about half that. And Horton, way down the ranks at just 0.7 penalties drawn per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, well he'd only offer up a paltry 14 over the course of a full season.

Or a little less than three goals.

The range in the stat is actually quite striking, with some players drawing as little as one penalty so far this season. Horton is far from the lowest in terms of penalties drawn, with forwards like Petr Sykora and Alex Frolov sitting at just 0.4 per 60 minutes.

The thing I wonder is if it's possible for players to become better at drawing penalties, other than diving more often.

It's certainly one way to create more goals for your team.

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At 7:56 a.m., March 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the line between drawing and diving? I saw Peter Forsberg go down at center ice because he saw a stick out of the corner of his eye! Lots is based on star quality and acting ability in the case of Forsberg and Crosby. Others on that list (Avery, Burrows) always seem to be where the action is, and it isn't always their grit and determination that get them the call. It's yapping after the whistle, and that's not what I think you're talking about. What I've always been taught is that skating produces penalties. Have fun at the game tonight!

At 9:49 a.m., March 27, 2008, Blogger Down Goes Brown said...

The thing I wonder is if it's possible for players to become better at drawing penalties, other than diving more often.

Diving is one factor. There's also that grey area that isn't quite diving, but isn't quite honest hockey either -- stuff like clamping your arm down on an opponent's stick when he briefly hooks you. Then there's chatting up a referee about what a rough ride you're getting in hopes of a later call.

One "skill" I've heard various analysts refer to is keeping your feet moving thorough traffic. It seems like players are more likely to draw a penalty if they seem to be fighting through mild interference, rather than avoiding it. That may just be my own observation bias, though.

At 10:11 a.m., March 27, 2008, Blogger YzermanZetterberg said...

In the cases of both Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, it often seems they don't draw penalties because they are extremely strong on their skates and don't go down even when they are obviously hooked or tripped. I'm sure there are other examples of this around the league. I just have noticed it more with these two because I see just about every Wings game.

In contrast, however, is Peter Forsberg, who has always been lauded as incredibly strong on his skates, yet seems to go down very easily in many situations.

At 10:49 a.m., March 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's also that grey area that isn't quite diving, but isn't quite honest hockey either -- stuff like clamping your arm down on an opponent's stick when he briefly hooks you.

That is my pet peeve and refs stupidly fall for it repeatedly.

James, careful about advocating diving. The last thing we need is more teams to follow the Sabres' plan to creating offence.

At 11:05 a.m., March 27, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Everyone seems to be on the diving/embellishment wagon, which is understandable. But I think there is more to it than simply that. I think puck protection is a HUGE factor. The more you can keep your opponent from touching the puck, the harder it is to defend. Combine that with great speed, and they are going to put a stick on your body or a free hand on you. On that list, I know that Crosby, Cole, Kovalev, Nash and Staal are all very good puck protectors... they get their body between the defender and the puck more often than not. Combine that with good speed (and all those guys are good skaters, even the big guys) and it's tough to stop. The best you can hope for with guys like that is to contain them to the outside.

Guys like the Sedins don't make that list probably because they aren't that good of skaters. As for Zetterberg/Datsyuk, I think they're more about quick turns and getting separation that way rather than using their body.

At 5:34 p.m., March 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of the top 5 forwards in the league in TOI (St. Louis, Ovechkin, Heatley, Iginla, Prospal), none are in the top 17 in penalties drawn per TOI.

"...puck protection is a HUGE factor."

Do any of those five strike you as the type of forward that is not good at puck protection? Do any of the five strike you as less likely to use his body to protect the puck than Crosby?

The title of the piece should have been, "An elitist's skill: Taking a dive."

At 9:45 p.m., March 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aww, no love for The Kaleta! He probably doesn't play enough minutes/enough games to show up on your list. Draws almost as many penalties per 60 minutes as time he gets on the ice. ;) I'm guessing guys like him are beside your point, however.

At 7:30 p.m., March 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really think that these guys draw this many penalties as a result of diving, either you don't watch any games, or you're not that smart


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