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December 3, 2010
Illegal Curve
The Most Penalized Teams

by Richard Pollock

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Many times while watching an NHL contest the play-by-play man or color commentator will cite a team’s penalty minutes. Often the viewer will hear the phrase, “this team is the sixth-most penalized team in the National Hockey League. If only the coach could instill some discipline into this squad, their chances of success would be greatly enhanced. ” The intention of the commentator in this particular case is actually quite admirable. In truth, taking less penalties does increase your time at five-on-five, lessen your time on the penalty kill and thereby increase your chances of scoring and winning.

I have wondered just how much of a correlation exists between total penalty minutes and minor penalties. If a team takes a lot of penalties but a significant portion of those penalties are via fighting majors and ten minute misconducts, the penalized team is not affected by the number of players on the ice post-penalty. Sure, the offending player cannot play for the duration of his penalty, but his team is not on the penalty kill. On the other hand, what if a team is not penalized very often, but when that team is penalized, it is consistently for tripping penalties and hooking penalties that leave the team down a man for two minutes or less?

Within the penalty minutes stat lays a fair amount of ambiguity. In order to get an idea of the relationship between a team’s penalty minute total and the total minor penalties the team has taken, I have looked at these specific statistics for the past three NHL seasons:

2007-08	Minors	PIM		2008-09	Minors	PIM		2009-10	Minors	PIM
COL	318	973		MIN	314	869		NJD	264	843
TBL	336	1022		CAR	322	786		NASH	276	698
LAK	337	930		FLA	331	884		DET	298	707
NJD	339	956		PHX	333	1074		CHI	300	908
BOS	362	1051		COL	346	1044		BOS	300	929
SJS	363	1061		BOS	353	1016		FLA	304	961
WSH	366	953		CHI	353	1129		DAL	313	955
PHX	369	1175		SJS	354	1037		COL	326	1001
NYR	372	1142		TOR	354	1113		PHX	329	905
MIN	375	1086		NJD	356	1038		BUF	333	902
ATL	378	1057		DET	361	810		TOR	333	1071
NSH	381	1015		NSH	366	982		NYI	334	928
PIT	384	1155		NYR	376	1175		CGY	338	1129
BUF	385	990		EDM	380	1227		WSH	339	920
MTL	386	1072		DAL	385	1134		CAR	343	944
DAL	387	1162		NYI	388	1198		MIN	345	914
EDM	390	1149		BUF	389	1105		LAK	345	963
FLA	393	1002		CBJ	390	1207		EDM	348	1115
CAR	395	1165		STL	394	1226		OTT	359	1115
DET	403	933		PIT	397	1106		NYR	364	1137
TOR	405	1079		OTT	398	1084		MTL	365	920
STL	409	1137		CGY	403	1281		CBJ	365	1070
NYI	417	1023		LAK	408	1191		ATL	372	1045
CBJ	431	1303		WSH	414	1021		SJS	374	1137
VAN	433	1458		ATL	414	1244		VAN	380	1261
CGY	434	1328		VAN	425	1323		STL	386	1296
OTT	438	1153		TBL	433	1280		ANA	389	1317
CHI	444	1371		MTL	437	1223		PIT	391	1183
PHI	461	1457		ANA	442	1418		TBL	399	1357
ANA	480	1465		PHI	446	1408		PHI	402	1350

Not surprisingly, there is a significant correlation between the two side by side columns—the more minor penalties you take, the more you increase your team’s total penalty minutes. The question, of course, is how significant is the correlation.

Let’s work from three seasons ago and then move towards last season. In 2007-08, the correlation between minor penalties taken and total team penalty minutes was 0.79. As you can see, the correlation is there but a gap does exist. For instance, look at Detroit—in 2007-08, the Wings were the second-least penalized team in the league, but took the 11th-most minor penalties in the entire NHL. Conversely, the Phoenix Coyotes tallied the 7th-most team penalty minutes in the National Hockey League, but were the 8th-least penalized team in terms of minor penalties.

In 2008-09, the correlation between minor penalties and total team penalty minutes increased from 0.79 the season prior to 0.82. Yet, there were still some teams that fared well in one category but not the other. The high-flying Washington Capitals took the 7th-least total team penalty minutes but were 7th-most penalized team when it came to taking minor penalties. The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, had the 7th-most total team penalty minutes but took the 14th-least minor penalties in the NHL.

In 2009-10, the correlation between the two rose, once again, from 0.82 to 0.85. The issue here is not that the correlation is strong—that much is expected—but to see how strong is fairly interesting. As in years prior, there are a number of teams that stand out as “successful” in one category but not the other. The Habs finished 8th in the NHL with the least total team penalty minutes, but actually took the 10th-most minor penalties in the entire NHL. A gap also existed between the Maple Leafs’ totals, although not as much of a gap as their hated rivals. Toronto finished 12th in total team penalty minutes—we know how Mr. Burke likes his scrappers—but did take the 11th-fewest minor penalties in the NHL last season (which was the best way to avoid poor penalty killing).

As an aside, I realize that the total penalty minutes figure does include major penalties that are not fighting majors, but those penalties are pretty rare and were excluded for the purposes of this article.

The next time an announcer cites a team’s total penalty minutes statistic, you may want to head over to the NHL website to check where that team ranks in terms of total minor penalties taken, as those are the penalties that most hurt a club over the course of a long season. Sometimes teams that do not rack up a ton of team penalty minutes actually put themselves on the penalty kill more often than you would think, like the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings.

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