The Oilers and Penalty Plus/Minus

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February 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing

Taylor Hall

(4) Detroit Red Wings left wing

Drew Miller

(20) and right wing Daniel Cleary (11) battle for the puck in the first period at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What Is Penalty Plus/Minus?

When some people hear “advanced stat,” they immediately tune out. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that most advanced stats are really not very complicated. If you can do basic mathematical subtraction, you can understand penalty +/-.

Penalty +/- is calculated by subtracting the the total number of penalties a player has taken from the total number of penalties he has drawn. Only penalties drawn and taken at even strength are counted. Also, penalty +/- does not count coincidental penalties or misconduct penalties that do not result in power plays.

In 2012-13, Nazem Kadri led the NHL in penalty +/-. He drew a remarkable 32 penalties while taking only 7. Figuring out his penalty +/- is not difficult; it’s +25 (just subtract 7 from 32).

Based on my observations, there are three types types of players who draw the most penalties. First, there is “the Dustin Brown-type”–also known as an “embellisher,” a “diver,” and a “future Academy Award winner”–who makes fools out of referees. Second, there is “the Patrick Kaleta-type” who goads opposing players into taking penalties by employing all sorts of agitating tactics. And, third, there is “the Claude Giroux-type.” This is the fast-skating, offensively-gifted player who draws hooking and holding penalties from defenders trying to slow him down.

Why do people list a player’s penalty minutes as if penalty minutes are desirable? Shouldn’t people–especially NHL teams!–realize that taking penalties is bad and drawing penalties is good?

Why Is Penalty Plus/Minus Important?

One writer who has done quite a bit of work on this stat is Daniel Wagner. In a recent post, he provides a helpful explanation of the value of penalty +/-:

It’s fairly obvious how [penalty +/-] contributes to wins…. 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.

In 2012-13, the Oilers were not a very good team at even strength. But their special teams play was another story. The Oilers ranked 8th in power play percentage (20.1%) and 6th in power play goals (34). The Oilers’ penalty kill was also effective, finishing 9th in penalty kill percentage (83.4%).

However, one major weakness of the Oilers was that they took more penalties than they drew. The Oilers were 8th in power play time (272:40) but 28th in penalty kill time (295:20). So they ended up having a negative power play minus penalty kill time (-22:40).

Because the Oilers took so many penalties, they were 16th in power play goals against (29). So despite having good power play and penalty kill percentages, they ended up scoring only 5 more goals on the power play than they gave up on the penalty kill.

Oilers’ Penalty Plus/Minus in 2012-13 

Below you can see every Oiler’s penalty +/- during this past season. Keep in mind that defensemen (because of the nature of the position) typically have lower penalty +/- numbers. (Numbers are taken from Behind the Net.)

PlayerGPPenalties DrawnPenalties TakenPenalties Drawn/60 MinutesPenalties Taken/60 MinutesPenalty +/-
Taylor Hall451771.50.6+10
Jordan Eberle481261.00.5+6
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins40820.80.2+6
Mark Fistric251081.81.5+2
Corey Potter33420.50.3+2
Ryan Jones27651.21.0+1
Anton Lander11100.60+1
Jeff Petry48990.60.60
Mark Arcobello100000
Nail Yakupov48670.60.7-1
Sam Gagner48670.50.6-1
Jerred Smithson45450.60.8-1
Teemu Hartikainen23230.60.9-1
Lennart Petrell35120.20.4-1
Chris Vande Velde11120.91.8-1
Darcy Hordichuk4010.07.4-1
Magnus Paajarvi42570.60.8-2
Justin Schultz48240.10.3-2
Eric Belanger26130.20.7-2
Theo Peckham4020.01.9-2
Ales Hemsky38480.51.0-4
Ryan Whitney34370.40.8-4
Ben Eager14150.42.2-4
Ryan Smyth477120.81.3-5
Mike Brown39380.61.7-5
Shawn Horcoff313100.51.7-7
Nick Schultz483110.20.9-8
Ladislav Smid484150.31.1-9

How about the Oilers’ off-season acquisitions? What were their penalty +/- numbers in 2012-13? See below.

PlayerGPPenalties DrawnPenalties TakenPenalties Drawn/60 MinutesPenalties Taken/60 MinutesPenalty +/-
Boyd Gordon48440.40.40
Ryan Hamilton10000.00.00
David Perron4812141.11.2-2
Jesse Joensuu7030.02.5-3
Philip Larsen32170.11.0-6
Andrew Ference483110.20.8-8

A few observations:

  • Taylor Hall is very good at drawing penalties. (He’s a Claude Giroux-type as mentioned above.) In his 3 NHL seasons, he’s a combined +48. He was +27 in his rookie season.
  • The player I think could develop into a Patrick Kaleta-type is Anton Lander.
  • The worst Oiler in 2012-13 was Ladislav Smid at -9. For comparison’s sake, the worst penalty +/- numbers in the league belonged to Patrick Bordeleau and Sheldon Souray (-14).
  • There are lots of Ryan Jones haters, but one skill he does have is drawing penalties. In the past 4 seasons, his total penalty +/- is +21.
  • Of course, a player’s role should be considered when looking at penalty +/-. Shawn Horcoff was a combined -14 over the last 3 seasons, but his quality of competition was the highest among Oiler regulars in 2010-11 and 2011-12. In other words, he played against the opposing team’s best players, which makes it more difficult to refrain from taking penalties.
  • Surprisingly, Mark Fistric was tied for 13th in the league in penalties drawn/60 minutes among players with 20 games played or more. I seem to recall that there was one game in which Fistric drew a boatload of penalties.
  • David Perron led the Blues last season with 14 penalties taken. The good news is that he also was tied for the most penalties drawn (12).
  • No, that’s not a mistake. Darcy Hordichuk really did take 7.4 penalties/60 minutes. That’s possible when you only get 2.03 minutes of even strength ice time per game.
  • Someone needs to do a study of Corey Potter’s season. He was +2 in penalty +/- and led the Oilers in traditional +/- with +8. I realize that +/- isn’t the best measurement of a player’s value, but maybe Potter isn’t as bad as most people assume.