Advanced Metric Frequently Asked Questions #5: Penalty +/-

Jamie Sabau

Drawing penalties is one of the most important skills in the NHL. Yet you can't find a list of league leaders on any mainstream stats site - find out who's the best in the league at taking the other team to the box.

This is Part 5 in a many part series of frequently-asked statistical hockey questions. Please take a look at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 if you haven't had a chance to already.

We've always known that some players have the skills to draw penalties, but it's only recently that the NHL has rigorously recorded their identities (not that the total numbers are posted on the stats pages at NHL.com or any other major commercial stats site, but that's another story). And of course, some players, like Daniel Carcillo or Jarkko Ruutu, draw lots of penalties but commit many more themselves. It should go without saying that if it's good news for your team that you're going to the box with someone else, then you are not one of the best players on your team.

The skill I'd like to highlight today is "drawing non-coincidental penalties." In other words, I'd like to look at players who force other players into taking penalties, but don't take them themselves. There is one player who's so good at this that he led the 2nd place guy in the league by 70% at 5-on-5 this past season. Think about that for a second - that's a huge gap in performance. Alexander Ovechkin took a ridiculous number of shots last year - 528 - which is the second-most ever behind Phil Esposito's surly 550 in 1970-71. And yet Ovechkin was only 42% ahead of second-place Eric Staal. Wayne Gretzky had 92 goals in 1981-82 and Mike Bossy was second with 64 - that's still only 44%.

The guy with the outer-worldly penalty drawing talent is none other than the Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown. Brown drew 49 more minor penalties at 5-on-5 in 2008-09 than he took - far ahead of second-place Cal Clutterbuck, who had 29, and Jarome Iginla, who had 28. (The complete lists of players by penalties drawn per 60 minutes are available here for 2007-08 and here for 2008-09.)

For such an unheralded stat, it certainly is valuable. Those 49 extra penalties that Brown drew (which doesn't include penalties he drew while killing penalties himself or to turn a 5-on-4 into a 5-on-3) were worth approximately 10 goals - or more than +1.5 wins. The average value of a top two forward is +1.4 wins, so if Brown did nothing else while he was on the ice, like score 24 goals, he would be one of the top 30 or 40 forwards in the league. When you combine his accomplishments last season, he was probably one of the ten-most valuable forwards in the league. And yet if you go to any mainstream hockey stats site, you can't find out anything about a player's talent for drawing penalties.

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