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November 8, 2011
Angles and Caroms
Can Coaches Keep Their Teams Out Of The Box?

by Jonathan Willis

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They were the most disciplined team in the league in 2010-11, offering opponents just 241 power plays. They were also the league's most disciplined team in 2009-10. And in 2006-07. And from 2005-06 all the way back to 2001-02. Not once since the NHL Lockout have they finished outside the league's top 10 for the fewest times shorthanded. They are the New Jersey Devils, and in a league where a team can go from being a top-three club in terms of power plays allowed to the league's bottom third in the span of a single season, they're one of the few constants.

It's particularly interesting given the fact that the team has employed no fewer than six head coaches in the six full seasons that have transpired since the Lockout. The coaches have changed, but no matter the face behind the bench, team discipline has remained intact. The only dip came during Brent Sutter's tenure—over his two seasons, the Devils finished fifth and ninth overall in total power plays allowed.

No other team in the league comes close to that kind of performance year after year, but certain coaches seem to be able to have an impact on this area of their team's performance.

For example, the Ron Wilson-coached San Jose Sharks consistently finished third by this metric, but have fallen down the rankings since his dismissal—and it's interesting to note that the Maple Leafs have been a top-10 team in this category under his watch, despite the emphasis on truculence. Prior to Wilson's arrival, the Leafs were average to below average at avoiding penalties.

As one would expect, Jacques Lemaire's Wild clubs were also consistently good at not allowing opposition power plays, never finishing worse than sixth; they've been below average since he saw the writing on the wall and departed for New Jersey.

Another coach who seems to focus on preventing opposition power plays is Joel Quenneville. Under Quenneville's watch, the Avalanche finished seventh, fifth, and first overall in preventing opposition power plays. He moved from Colorado to Chicago, and effected dramatic change. In the three years prior to the hiring of Quenneville, Chicago allowed the second-, second-, and fourth-most power plays against in the game. In Quenneville's first season—a season where he took over four games in and thus didn't run training camp—the Blackhawks were an above average team at preventing opposition power plays. They've finished second and third in the league in the two years since.

Claude Julien is another coach worth looking at through this lens. Under his watch, the Devils finished first overall in the NHL, and he appears to have brought the same strategy to Boston. In 2006-07, the year before Julien was hired, the Bruins ranked 27th in the league at preventing power plays. In 2007-08, they finished eighth, and they've been a top-five team in the three years since then.

There's less of a track record for other coaches, but some names stand out. Peter DeBoer took an undisciplined Florida Panthers team and in his three years with the club, kept them in the top 10 in terms of preventing power plays. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that he's now coaching the Devils. John Tortorella's Tampa Bay Lightning were a top-four team in the three post-Lockout seasons he ran them and his New York Rangers finished third overall last season.

With the exception of New Jersey, teams bounce around a lot in terms of how many power plays they give up. Los Angeles went from second overall in 2007-08 to 23rd overall in 2008-09. The Carolina Hurricanes dropped from third overall in 2008-09 to 23rd overall the following year. Team talent doesn't seem to be a primary factor in which teams rack up the penalty minutes. Since the Lockout, the least-disciplined team in the league has been Columbus, but the next five spots belong in order to Philadelphia, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and Washington. At the other end of the scale, teams like New Jersey and San Jose, also highly successful clubs, allow the fewest opposition power plays.

This looks like an area where a coaching change can have a major impact, since certain coaches have consistently kept their teams out of the box. It's something to keep in mind.

The following chart shows where teams have finished since the Lockout in terms of opposition power plays allowed:

Team		10-11	09-10	08-09	07-08	06-07	05-06	Avg.

New Jersey	1	1	9	5	1	1	3
San Jose	8	26	4	3	3	3	8
Minnesota	22	15	1	6	4	4	9
Colorado	26	11	8	1	5	7	10
Buffalo		19	6	14	9	8	5	10
Boston		4	5	5	8	27	14	11
Carolina	6	23	3	17	12	6	11
Dallas		11	9	10	16	6	20	12
Nashville	7	2	16	10	9	28	12
Detroit		18	4	11	19	14	8	12
N.Y. Rangers	3	19	12	12	13	16	13
Toronto		9	8	6	14	20	19	13
Los Angeles	10	12	23	2	16	17	13
Tampa Bay	20	29	30	4	2	2	15
Phoenix		16	18	2	7	24	24	15
Florida		5	7	7	23	28	25	16
Edmonton	28	13	15	21	7	13	16
Ottawa		15	20	18	26	11	11	17
Atlanta		14	22	24	15	10	18	17
Chicago		2	3	13	27	29	29	17
St. Louis	12	30	21	20	18	9	18
Calgary		13	14	20	29	19	21	19
N.Y. Islanders	23	10	22	24	25	12	19
Montreal	30	16	25	11	22	15	20
Washington	17	17	28	13	17	30	20
Anaheim		21	24	27	30	15	22	23
Pittsburgh	29	25	19	18	21	27	23
Vancouver	24	21	26	22	26	23	24
Philadelphia	25	28	29	28	23	10	24
Columbus	27	27	17	25	30	26	25

Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Jonathan by clicking here or click here to see Jonathan's other articles.

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