By The Numbers: Staying Out of the Penalty Box

We've covered a lot this summer by the numbers, and today's topic is a bit more abstract, if you will. There's nothing quantifiable about penalty calls in many respects, and I'm not writing this piece in an effort to predict any future performance this season. Still, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the team's overall penalty stats from a year ago, and see where there might be some areas for improvement.

First of all, I'll borrow a bit of information from my previous By The Numbers piece on the Jackets' PK to establish some baselines: "Columbus was the ninth-most penalized team in the league last season.

Want that PK impact to drop? Cut down on the number of penalties you take. Columbus averaged 13.57 PIM per game last season, which was ninth-worst. Granted, they took 59 majors--seventh most in the league--of which 54 were fights and 53 carried no instigator penalty (which means there was no corresponding Power Play to those penalties).

BUT, Even factoring all of that major nonsense out, Columbus was still fifth-worst--FIFTH WORST--in taking minor penalties. They took 353 minors, and were short-handed 314 times. Those times short-handed? Tied for fourth-worst in the league. GACK."

Those numbers? FIRE BAD! Now... how do we get them lower? Well, after taking a long look at the numbers, and at the roster moves, we may not have as big a problem as we did last season. Let's first look at the worst culprits.

For the purposes of these numbers, I'm going to list total PIM, but also provide a breakdown for non-fighting PIM. The legend is as follows: NFM = non-fighting majors; MNRS = total minor penalties; ADJPIM = adjusted PIM, or my made-up number for PIM with the fighting major minutes are subtracted (since they tend to cancel out since the opponent also goes to the box). 

Player PIM NFM MNRS ADJPIM
Derek Dorsett 184 1 47 99
Jared Boll 182 1 31 67
Derick Brassard 55 0 25 50
Marc Methot 58 0 24 48
Mike Commodore 44 2 17 34

Now, what does this tell us? First of all, for only playing 20 games last season, Mike Commodore was in the box A LOT. Second, and probably more importantly, despite his "energy" style of play, Derek Dorsett takes A LOT of penalties.

In fact, Dorsett's total PIM number was fifth-most in the league. Boll was right behind him at seventh, but a much larger chunk of Boll's minutes were due to fighting majors, which for the purposes of this argument we've discounted, since fights don't generally end in Power Plays. The only times they do are from instigator penalties; for the record, Dorse had one, and Boll didn't have any.

The other name on the list that probably shouldn't be is Derick Brassard. He's not the type of player--and doesn't play a position--from which you would like to see a lot of penalties. He had 25 minors in 74 games, or basically one every three. For an offensive forward, that's too many.

So, the Jackets got rid of one guy on that list (Commodore), but the four worst culprits are still on the team. And, as much as I love Dorsett's energy, he has has HAS to cut back on the bad penalties.

What about the newcomers? The Jackets have four new main characters. How'd they do last season?

Player PIM NFM MNRS ADJPIM
James Wisniewski  38 0 19 38
Jeff Carter 39 0 17 34
Radek Martinek 35 0 15 30
Vinny Prospal 8 0 4 8

There's a nice thing hiding in those numbers: all four of these guys are expected to play some heavy minutes, and all four of them are pretty disciplined about staying out of the box. The surprise for me was Wiz; he comes in with the reputation of being willing to mix it up and be physical, and yet in 75 games he only had 38 total minutes in the sin bin. Even better than that, if Carter is in fact replacing Brassard as the de fact #1 center, that line should see the most ice time and therefore Brassard's penalty impact should be less. Carter took eight fewer minors than Brassard, which should help.

I think the best sign here is that both defensemen are disciplined, and when we consider that those two are expected to play a lot of minutes being in the top-4, it's encouraging to see that they're both good about staying out of the box.

Also, Prospal's stats are skewed, because he only played in 29 games. Even still, his 16.6 seconds of penalty time per game would come out to about 21 total PIM if he plays 75 games at that rate. Either way, it appears he's pretty responsible, which means that if he makes the top line with Carter and Rick Nash, it should be a sound line in terms of staying out of the penalty box; Nash had just 34 PIM on 17 minors, himself.

Summary

Who's leaving, and what about the net gain or loss of PIM? Well, as we alluded to above, Columbus had 1113 total PIM last season, which was ninth-most. First of all, who's gone from that? 

Tom Sestito - 9 games, 40 PIM - 4:27 PIM/game
Mike Commodore - 20 games, 44 PIM - 2:12 PIM/game
Craig Rivet - 14 games, 23 PIM - 1:39 PIM/game
Sami Lepisto - 19 games, 18 PIM - 0:57 PIM/gam
Chris Clark - 53 games, 38 PIM - 0:43 PIM/game
Nate Guenin - 3 games, 2 PIM - 0:40 PIM/game
Ethan Moreau - 37 games, 24 PIM - 0:39 PIM/game
Rostislav Klesla - 45 games, 26 PIM - 0:35 PIM/game
Scottie Upshall - 21 games, 10 PIM - 0:29 PIM/game
Anton Stralman - 51 games, 22 PIM - 0:26 PIM/game
Kyle Wilson - 32 games, 12 PIM - 0:23 PIM/game
Jan Hejda - 77 games, 28 PIM - 0:22 PIM/game
Nikita Filatov - 23 games, 8 PIM - 0:21 PIM/game
Jakub Voracek - 80 games, 26 PIM - 0:20 PIM/game
Andrew Murray - 29 games, 4 PIM - 0:08 PIM/game

Total PIM Lost: 325

As the table above shows, the team has added just 120, so the net-loss of PIM is 205. Subtract that from the 1113 total, and we're left with 908 PIM. That total would have been 10th-best in the NHL, or an improvement of 12 spots. Obviously, it's not as simple of this, but what we're seeing is that the Jackets are--on paper, at least--a more disciplined team.

Scott Arniel professed a desire to see his players play a more disciplined game, as he felt that the team was battling perception from the officials as much as anything else. Perhaps getting more disciplined on paper is a first step, but if this can translate into fewer penalties on the ice, it will certainly help the Jackets and their beleaguered PK unit.

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