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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wanted: Pest

The Capitals are a pretty solid team.  They have one of the top offenses in the NHL, respectable defensemen, and rising goaltenders who appear to be the real deal.  Not much is missing.  There are plenty of teams out there who have clear holes in their team, but it’s not as evident in Washington.  Still, there’s always room for improvement.  Could we use a second line defenseman, preferably one with a little size and plays defense first?  Of course.  But, I think we are missing something else.  A type of player that has been around in the NHL for a long time, but seems to be rising more and more.

We need a pest.


That’s right.  We need a jerk.  A guy who gets under the opponents skin.  And I’m not talking about an enforcer, a guy who’s main job is to beat up the opponents that pick on his teammates.  We have a couple of guys willing to take that job.  John Erskine will drop the gloves, Steve Oleksy’s not afraid.  Aaron Volpatti, who has 16 career fights but only one with the Caps, will be much more valuable for the Caps if he dances a little more often.


I’m talking about a guy who can draw penalties because he’s an @$$^!*#.


Is the pest really that important?  Maybe not as much as that prototypical second line defenseman we want.  But they still play an important role when you consider the fact that the Caps had the top power play last year.  And there’s no reason not to believe it won’t be the top again next season.  After all, we have Ovechkin and the power play wizard that goes by Adam Oates.  Because of these awesome factors, we need to get on the power play as much as we possibly can.  Because more power plays equals more goals, and more goals equals wins.  And we like wins.


But, is there a science to this?  Are there actually guys who can draw penalties by their style of play consistently year after year?  It appears so.


Take a look at this data, amazingly compiled by the brilliant hockey statisticians from Behind The Net.  The column we are at first focusing on is the third from the right, titled Pens Drawn/60.  This shows the average number of penalties each player draws over a 60 minutes, or, three periods of hockey.  In other words, if a player was to play every minute of a hockey game, he would draw that many penalties.  


You can immediately tell that there are a few different types of players that appear on the top of the list.  There are superstars in Claude Giroux (11th), Sidney Crosby (25th) and Alexander Ovechkin (29th) that are really hard to knock off the puck.  There are little guys like Nazem Kadri (3rd) and Jeff Skinner (13th), who are highly skilled puck handlers and great skaters (Jeff Skinner used to be a figure skater).  And then you will notice that there are probably a few people on there that you don’t hear about too often.  These are what I we would refer to as “pests.” 


But, there are a couple of other factors that make a good pest from a bad one.  We also have to take into consideration their ice time, as well as the amount of penalties they take.  Obviously, the more the player is on the ice, the more chances they have to draw penalties.  And if a guy goes out there and takes as many penalties as he draws, he’s not exactly helping his team.


Let’s take a look at the top five guys who had the highest average drawn penalties from 2007-2008 until 2012-2013, as well as their ice time, the number of penalties they take over a 60 minute period and their difference in penalties taken versus penalties drawn, represented with the plus/minus (Minimum of 20 games played, results during 5 on 5 hockey):


2007-2008

Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Patrick Kaleta (BUF)
6.26
1.2
5.0
3.8
2
Sidney Crosby (PIT)
14.42
0.9
3.4
2.5
3
Derek Boogaard (MIN)
3.89
2.3
2.7
0.4
4
Ben Eager (CHI)
5.71
3.0
2.6
-0.4
5
Erik Cole (CAR)
13.72
0.6
2.6
2.0
 

2008-2009
Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Patrick Kaleta (BUF)
8.39
1.4
4.9
3.5
2
Dustin Brown (LA)
13.42
0.8
3.5
2.7
3
Cal Clutterbuck (MIN)
11.68
0.9
2.8
1.9
4
Steve Downie (TB)
8.11
2.3
2.8
0.5
5
Ryan Jones (NSH)
9.89
1.1
2.8
1.7
 

2009-2010
Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Patrick Kaleta (BUF)
9.42
0.9
4.1
3.2
2
Ryan Jones (NSH/EDM)
9.14
1.3
3.4
2.1
3
Daniel Carcillo (PHI)
10.95
1.2
3.0
1.8
4
Darcy Hordichuk (VAN)
5.98
1.4
2.7
1.3
5
Dustin Brown (LA)
13.99
0.5
2.6
2.1
 

2010-2011
Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Zachery Stortini (EDM)
7.03
1.3
2.9
1.6
2
Jeff Skinner (CAR)
12.91
0.7
2.6
1.9
3
Taylor Hall (EDM)
15.07
0.6
2.3
1.7
4
Jay Rosehill (TOR)
5.19
2.7
2.2
-0.5
5
Nazem Kadri (TOR)
12.94
0.5
2.2
1.7
 

2011-2012
Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Jeff Skinner (CAR)
14.47
0.6
2.5
1.9
2
Zac Rinaldo (PHI)
7.41
3.1
2.3
-0.8
3
Harry Zolnierczykk (PHI)
7.32
1.1
2.2
1.1
4
Dustin Brown (LA)
14.47
0.9
2.2
1.3
5
Darcy Hordichuk (EDM)
4.35
1.9
2.2
0.3
 

2013
Rank
Name (Team)
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
1
Patrick Kaleta (BUF)
8.47
0.8
3.5
2.7
2
Zac Rinaldo (PHI)
8.32
2.3
3.2
0.9
3
Nazem Kadri (TOR)
13.26
0.7
3.0
2.3
4
Cory Conacher (TB/OTT)
11.73
1.0
2.5
1.5
5
Derek Mackenzie (CBJ)
8.77
1.1
2.2
1.1
 

So, as you can see, there are several guys who consistently draw more penalties than the average NHL player.  Patrick Kaleta appears to be a penalty-drawing God.  His penalty drawn/penalty taken plus-muinus is actually pretty impressive, considering he can be dirty.  Dustin Brown is a special kind of
player as well.  He can be involved in some questionable plays, but he is also extremely valuable because he can put the puck in the net.  These guys are frequently drawing penalties because teams are willing to take a penalty to get even with them.  They are hated that much.  As I mentioned earlier, some of these guys are in the top because if you don’t take a penalty on them, you will get beaten badly.  But there are several players who are playing under 10 minutes a game that are on this list.  And that means that even if they aren’t getting much time or putting the puck in the net that often, they are still playing valuable minutes. 

We can also see some bad pests over the past several years.  While Zac Rinaldo improved his penalties taken vs. penalties drawn number last season, his plus/minus is still low at 0.9.  Jay Rosehill hurt his team.  Those guys don’t find themselves on starting rosters very long if they keep those numbers up.

And there is also notable 3rd or 4th line players that consistently finished in the top.  Jordin Tootoo, Darren Helm, Daniel Carcillo.  Oh, and the most pestiest pest that every pested, Sean Avery.  

Avery.  Everyone hated Avery.  Just type his name on youtube and you will see for yourself how annoying he really could be.  Some of his acts were pathetic.  Some were hilarious.  But, he was pretty good at his craft.  In the 2007-2008 season, he drew 2.5 penalties per 60 minutes, ranking him at 6.  The next season it was 2.8 (7th).  The next it was 1.9 (20th), and the next it was 1.4 (48th).  And he was good at not taking penalties as well, with 1.3, 1.7, 1.8 and 1.3 over the course of the four seasons recorded.  But, you will notice that his penalties taken vs. penalties drawn plus/minus decreased each season, with 1.2, 1.1, 0.1 and 0.1.  Maybe Avery’s opponents didn’t feel the need to get even with him anymore.  But once Avery’s +/- went down, he started to see less and less playing time.  He just wasn’t as valuable.  Now, he’s not even playing in the NHL anymore.

But, let’s look at something a little more important than Avery.  Let’s look at the Caps.  Alexander Ovechkin drew the most penalties for the Capitals last season, which is a problem.  That’s not why he is being paid, and he obviously brings much more value to the team.  There are Caps who play fourth line roles, much like Kaleta and Rinaldo, who do not draw nearly as many penalties.  Let’s take a look at last seasons top five penalty drawers:


Rank
Name 
TOI/60
Pens Taken/60
Pens Drawn/60
+/-
29
Alex Ovechkin
15.73
1.0
1.5
0.5
45
Matt Hendricks
9.83
1.5
1.3
-0.2
60
Marcus Johansson
13.43
0.1
1.3
1.2
76
Mathieu Perreault
10.41
1.0
1.2
0.2
124
Eric Fehr
11.68
0.4
1.0
0.6
 
Right off the bat, we see that our top “grinder” candidate is no longer apart of the team in Matt Hendricks.  While he did draw 1.3 penalties per 60 minutes of play, he also took 1.5, meaning in this sense of the game, he was actually hurting his team.  Now, there are obviously several factors that point out that Hendricks was a very valuable 4th line player for us, but you get my point.  But, the rest of the 3rd to 4th line players on the list in Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr only drew 1.2 and 1.0, respectively.

Ok, you may be thinking, why is it such a big deal?  Those two are only two penalties or so behind the leaders.  Here’s why.

Let’s look at Perreault’s numbers.  Let’s pretend last seasons numbers were for an 82 game season, and each player appears in every game of the season. He averages 10.41 minutes per game, meaning it actually takes him 5.76 games to play a full 60 minutes.  So, we can calculate that over an 82 game season, given the amount of time he averages on the ice, Perreault is on the ice for 14.24 total games.  Knowing that he draws 1.2 penalties a game, and he basically plays 14.24 total games over a season, Perreault draws 17 penalties a year (rounded to the nearest whole number, for math reasons).  The Caps converted on 26.8 percent of their power plays last season.  Let’s say this season they convert on 25 percent.  Of the 17 power plays Perreault draws, the Caps should score four goals.  

Now, let’s look at Kaleta’s numbers.  Using the exact same formula, Kaleta draws 41 penalties a year.  Using the same percentage of 25 percent, Kaleta’s power play draws should result in 10 goals.  That is six more goals over the course of the season, and Kaleta plays two less minutes per game than Perreault.  

But remember, we have to factor in the penalties taken number, which separates good pests from bad one.  Perreault committed one penalty per 60 minutes of play, meaning over the course of his season, he would take roughly 14 penalties per year.  The Caps killed off 77.9 percent of their penalties last year.  Let’s pretend over the course of an 82 game season, it jumps to 80 percent.  That means on Perreault’s 14 penalties, we will give up about 3 goals.

And what should result of the penalties taken by Kaleta?  Two goals.

So, because Perreault's penalties drawn should result in four goals, and his penalties taken should result in three goals, he should help the Caps with one goal as a result of his penalties taken versus penalties drawn.  Kaleta’s penalties drawn should result in 10 goals, and his penalties taken should result in two goals, meaning, if he were to play for the Caps, he would help us with eight goals based on his penalties taken number versus penalties drawn.

That’s a seven goal difference overall.  That’s huge!  That could add a few points to the standings.  That seven goal difference could be the difference between playoff positioning.


And there are even other factors that are difficult to calculate.  What if a pest jabs an opponent and hops on the bench, and that same opponent takes out his anger on the next guy he sees, causing a penalty?  What if a pest is talking a ridiculous amount of trash from the bench, and an opponent takes it out on someone else?  There is value in pestery.  

It’s not easy to find guys like that.  There are only a handful of players that are above average in penalties drawn, and the funny thing is, they literally just stumble into the NHL.  Kaleta?  Drafted 176th overall.  Tootoo? 98th.  Helm? 132nd.  Carcillo?  73rd  Avery?  Undrafted.

But, is there a Capital that can step up and become a jerk?  Grind a little harder?  Talk a little more trash?  Throw some late elbows every once in a while?  Maybe.  Here are some candidates.

Mathieu Perreault - When Matty P first entered the league, he was actually quite good at drawing penalties.  In his first NHL season, where he played 21 games in the 2009-2010 campaign, Perreault drew 2.4 penalties per 60 minutes, which is an excellent number.  But, since that season, he hasn’t even come close to that number.  Considering he will most likely be a 3rd line center, and given his size and puck handling skills, he should be able to draw more penalties.  He brings value in other ways, considering he can score and set up goals, but he would bring even more value if he does so while being a pest.  But, with the amount of minutes he gets, if he goes back to whatever he was doing right in the 2009-2010 season, it would make a huge difference.

Jason Chimera - I believe Chimera is shifting into a much more different role than he’s used to this season.  Last season, his speed appeared to be diminishing, and his goal scoring touch just didn’t appear to be there.  He may find himself getting more time on the 4th line this season.  Chimera already plays with an attitude, and if he can use that to anger the opponents a little more this season, he will be helping the team more often than you would think.  But, considering Chimera has never had at least one drawn penalty per 60 minutes over the course of the season in a Caps uniform, it might be a tough task for him to take on.

Aaron Volpatti - Volpatti would earn himself much more playing time if he embraces the pest role.  As I went over in his season review, he really doesn’t bring much to the table if he’s not dropping the gloves.  I believe he was signed to be the enforcer, a role that won’t require his services every game.  But, if he’s able to draw two or so penalties per 60, he may find himself more playing time.


Michael Latta - Latta can play with an edge.  He is a playmaking center who’s not afraid to drop the gloves.  He does rack up a ton of penalty minutes, but if he’s able to tone that back a little bit, while still being able to tick off the opponents, he might find himself consistently on the starting roster.  He will probably find himself in a grinding role at some point this season, where he will be forced to get to the dirty areas and play with his heart.  He may be the Caps best candidate for the pest role in the near future.

It’s difficult for a player to take on this role.  You have to naturally have the pest-type qualities within you.  But, there is definitely a formula to the madness, proven by guys that are consistently at the top with higher than average penalties drawn.  It may cause the player a little more bruises, a little more drawn blood.  But it would be beneficial.  We need a Kaleta.  We need a Carcillo.  Hell, we could even use an Avery.  Because pests draw penalties, and penalties lead to power play goals, something this team is really, really good at.

We need an @$$&!%

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