Dirty Rotten Cheaters?

When SBN's Mike Chen decided to take a look at penalties taken by teams in the NHL this season, it's both interesting and surprising that the Jackets are a top three team not only in the "Dirty" penalties (boarding, charging, rouging, etx) and the "Cheating" penalties (holding, hooking, interference, tripping). Even with fighting penalties excluded (though with the Jackets racking up 50 fighting majors this season, they're no slouch at that, either), it's a surprising showing for a group that's generally not considered a terribly "dirty" team.

Unfortunately, the penalty tracking tool that Mike used to chart teams on these fouls only has data for this season, but I can't help but wonder how many of these penalties are coming out of Scott Arniel's new approach, and how well (or how poorly) the team is adjusting to them?

Part 1: The Attitude

One of coach Arniel's major goals for this season, in addition to changing the team's general style of "puck pursuit", was to instill what he called "pack mentality" - both in the way the team would try to gain the puck, but also in asking his players to stand up for themselves and their teammates. Since part of Chen's "dirty" penalties was roughing, which commonly comes in the aftermath of a scrum, it's worth seeing how much Roughing calls play into those 73 "dirty" minors.

Roughing Minors

Dorsett

6

Boll

5

Methot

5

Sestito

4

Upshall

3

Hejda

2

Lepisto

2

Tyutin

2

Clark

2

Voracek

2

Brassard

2

Russell

2

Moreau

1

Vermette

1

MacKenzie

1

Umberger

1

Rivet

1

Total:

42

That means that over half of the penalties that classify the team as "dirty" are more likely about the team sticking up for each other than strict "dirty" penalties with potential intent to injure like charging, boarding, etx. Though it could be argued that Columbus is now a team more likely to respond to provocation across their lines than previously, particularly with the rise in roughing penalties and fighting majors, the group of players making the "dirty" plays is fairly narrow.

Player

Boarding

Charging

Clip

Elbow

Kneeing

Roughing

TOTAL

Dorsett

2

1

6

9

Boll

2

1

5

8

Methot

1

5

6

Sestito

4

4

Upshall

1

1

3

5

Hejda

3

1

2

6

Lepisto

1

1

2

4

Tyutin

2

2

4

Clark

1

2

3

Voracek

2

2

Brassard

2

2

Russell

2

2

Moreau

1

1

1

1

1

5

Vermette

1

1

2

MacKenzie

1

1

2

Umberger

1

1

Rivet

1

1

Commodore

3

3

Nash

1

1

2

Clitsome

1

1

Pahlsson

1

1

When the Jackets added Ethan Moreau to the lineup to provide leadership, I'm not sure that tying Jan Hejda for "dirtiest" player on the club was quite what they intended. Nor would I call Hejda a player that stands out as "dirty" in the same sense as a Matt Cooke or Chris Neil, but his three boarding calls and a clipping penalty do stand out.

It's also interesting that Mike Commodore was a significant source of some "dirty" calls, and also responsible for several fighting majors in his brief stay with the team this year. With Commodore unlikely to return, Hejda's status uncertain, and Moreau an upcoming free agent, it will be interesting to see if the team's "dirty" play will continue to take the shape of aggressive response to that pack mentality, as compared to "goonish" or overtly injurious behavior.

Part 2: Cheating? Or Conditioning?

Much was made in previous years, and even in Arniel's arrival, of the Jackets' overall fitness and conditioning. Players were told to make themselves more ready to endure the efforts of a high tempo 82 game season (plus, we hoped, the playoffs), and to improve their speed, endurance, etx. 

We previously measured that in a look at how conditioning impacted the games the team "gave away" in the past. But it can also be argued that some of the same penalties that Mike Chen considers "cheating" - ones that involve attempting to disrupt the ability to play, rather than plays that come out of the more injurious route - could also be considered plays that come out of an inability to compete at the same level as the target, or an attempt to take a faster or more conditioned opponent out of the play, particularly hooking, holding, and interference.

Columbus also really is in some strange company in this category - with 181 penalties, they are at the same level of "cheats" as the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, and even the Colorado Avalanche. Chen also points out that these "cheats" are the type of penalties that typically get less scrutiny in the drive to the playoffs. 

First, let's look at the overall picture to see who the biggest "cheaters" are, and then look at the penalties that are more likely a case of "laziness".

Player

Holding

Holding the Stick

Hooking

Goalie Interference

Interference

Tripping

TOTAL

Vermette

3

1

1

3

7

15

Pahlsson

6

0

2

 

3

3

14

Brassard

3

1

1

3

3

11

Stralman

1

4

1

2

8

Lepisto

1

1

4

2

8

Commodore

3

3

2

8

Russell

4

1

1

1

7

Methot

2

3

2

7

Voracek

1

3

1

1

6

Moreau

1

3

2

6

Hejda

3

1

1

5

Umberger

3

2

5

Upshall

1

3

1

5

Clitsome

1

1

2

4

Calvert

1

 

1

2

4

Tyutin

1

2

1

4

Nash

2

2

4

Huselius

4

4

Rivet

1

3

4

Filatov

1

2

3

Dorsett

 

2

1

3

Wilson

 

1

2

3

Murray

1

1

MacKenzie

0

1

1

If we consider both forms of interference and holding the stick calls to be most likely due to "hockey plays" (or at least attempts at hockey plays that went south in the execution),  they can be eliminated from consideration for "lazy" plays. 

That leaves holding, hooking, and tripping as the penalties most likely to be taken by a player guilty of being outworked, and more likely to be a conditioning problem.

Player

Holding

Hooking

Tripping

TOTAL

Vermette

3

1

7

11

Pahlsson

6

2

3

11

Brassard

3

1

3

7

Stralman

1

4

2

7

Lepisto

1

4

2

7

Commodore

3

3

6

Russell

4

1

5

Voracek

1

3

1

5

Methot

2

2

4

Hejda

3

1

4

Clitsome

1

1

2

4

Huselius

4

4

Calvert

1

 

2

3

Filatov

1

2

3

Moreau

2

2

Umberger

2

2

Upshall

1

1

2

Tyutin

1

1

2

Nash

2

2

Wilson

 

2

2

Rivet

1

1

Dorsett

 

1

1

Murray

1

1

Congratulations, Derek MacKenzie - you're entirely off the hook. The complexion of the list shifts, but there are some very interesting names who remain at the top.

  • Antoine Vermette remains the top offender, tied with Sammy Pahlsson. Vermette is also on pace for a career record in penalty minutes, over a third of which are already the "lazy" calls. The team did not discuss or disclose the results of their conditioning tests, but I have to wonder if Antoine might be one of the players getting special focus from the training staff. His CORSI ratings are surprisingly high for a player taking so many penalty calls - this might explain quite a bit.
  • It's hard to judge if Samuel Pahlsson is actually in a lower tier of conditioning, or if his penalties are due to his role as the checking center - an area where (with a -12.8 CORSI rating), he is frequently facing extremely  skilled and motivated opposition, especially when you consider many of his "lazy" calls are holding, compared to hooking or tripping.
  • At the next "tier" of penalized players, we have Derick Brassard, Anton Stralman, Sami Lepisto, Mike Commodore, Jakub Voracek, and Kris Russell. Russell, we know, was rehabbing a major knee injury, which impacted his conditioning for quite a bit of the season. Mike Commodore was sent to the minors with his conditioning and work ethic. Jake Voracek's conditioning has been questioned. Lepisto, admittedly, came in late, and has mostly played a clean sheet with Columbus. Where does that leave Stralman and Brassard? Brass, admittedly, has balanced it with continued development, but this may be another reason that Stralman is likely not to return.

3) Sticks and Stones

Stick penalties are an area that Chen did not address, but I'd argue that these, too, can be split into "dirty" or"cheating".

Some penaties -  Illegal Curves, Spearing, or Throwing the stick can actually be ignored, as the Jackets haven't been whistled for them to this point in the season. Use of a broken stick is also basically a non-issue - only Vermette has been whistled for it (once).

That leaves three categories of stick fouls - Crosschecking, High Sticking, and Slashing. Slashing tends to be a "cheating" play, while high sticking and cross checks go towards the dirty category. That leaves us with this:

Player

CrossCheck

High Stick

Slash

TOTAL

Dorsett

2

5

5

12

Upshall

1

3

4

8

Vermette

2

2

2

6

Methot

2

2

2

6

Nash

1

3

1

5

Brassard

1

2

2

4

Russell

2

1

1

4

Umberger

1

3

4

Clark

1

3

4

Tyutin

1

1

1

3

Calvert

1

1

2

Boll

2

2

MacKenzie

1

1

2

Rivet

2

2

Clitsome

1

1

Voracek

1

1

Wilson

1

1

Hejda

1

1

Mason

1

1

Commodore

1

1

Moreau

1

1

Another interesting set of offenders, but it's fascinating to see that both Dorsett and Vermette are again some of the most penalized. Dorsett's slashing calls, in particular, strike me as something that may come from his agitator role, and also explains why Upshall, who is a similar player, has an equal distribution of stick fouls.

4) Unsportsmanlike and assorted

The final category of fouls, outside of fighting, are ones that could be argued as "discretion" fouls - the dive, unsportsmanlike conduct, and delay of game, which are generally assets at the judgement of the referees.

The Jackets are relatively unscathed in this area, but it's still interesting to see who has been whistled in that department:

Player

Delay of Game

Diving

Unsportsmanlike

TOTALS

Dorsett

2

2

Boll

1

1

2

Hejda

1

1

Brassard

1

1

Russell

1

1

Upshall

1

1

Garon

1

 

 

Boll, Dorsett, and Upshall taking unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are unsurprising, given their roles, but the appearance of Brassard and Mathieu Garon are a bit unexpected - both came from arguments with the referees, which put them firmly in the 'discretion' category, but they also come from that same "pack attitude", with the team being encouraged to stick together and speak up for each other, and I would consider them positives (as much as any penalty can be considered positive).

It's difficult to judge simply by total stats - especially with penalties, where an opposing player has to be involved (with the exception of an equipment foul or delay of game), and penalties like goaltender interference, which can be something of a referee's judgement. The Jackets, however, seem to be taking penalties that make sense both for their known problems, and for the continued reshaping under Scott Howson.

It will be interesting to see how the team will develop with another year under Scott Arniel, and how these will change - if the pack mentality continues, I can see Columbus continuing as a league leader in roughing (and potentially fighting), but I hope that if we should return to the team next year, the "cheating" or "lazy" penalties will continue to decrease as the team's culture of conditioning and overall fitness changes.

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