Official benefits: How NHL teams have been drawing and taking penalties since the lockout

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Last night’s foray into the land of non-traditional stats focused on special teams, power play and penalty kill plus minus totals for the 2010-11 season, but perhaps to little surprise, it sparked a deeper journey down the numerical rabbit hole.

The Special Teams Plus/Minus post featured a bonus stat that I called “Special Teams Opportunity Plus/Minus.” Much like the others, this stat is resoundingly simple: you just subtract the power play opportunities a team receives minus the times that team goes shorthanded.

It seems like an interesting stat for the 2010-11 season, but even an 82-game campaign can bring about some anomalies. One could imagine that at least a small set of fans for all 30 NHL teams feel like officials are “out to get them” so I felt the need to take the experiment a little further.

With that in mind, I decided to see which teams have benefited the most (or suffered the greatest) from officials’ calls by combining the opportunity plus/minus totals from every post-lockout season. Naturally, it’s important to note that this list doesn’t necessarily prove that a team has a preferential relationship (especially considering how NHL teams’ schemes vary in aggressiveness). It’s just interesting food for thought – and yes – maybe a little fuel for the fire.

Special Teams Opportunities +/- since the lockout

Team Total 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07 2005-06
CAR 362 74 12 73 65 52 86
SJS 296 15 -18 54 64 80 101
NJD 206 -4 34 -17 6 96 91
LAK 158 16 3 -2 58 31 52
DAL 137 29 40 24 0 50 -6
BUF 122 -21 29 22 33 21 38
TBL 110 34 -10 -62 -16 69 95
DET 91 1 40 26 34 -10 0
MIN 87 -16 3 37 8 38 17
TOR 79 51 27 22 -9 -17 5
PHX 51 -7 -3 51 7 -25 28
COL 39 -49 7 0 34 21 26
NSH 28 -3 28 -20 23 21 -21
PIT 26 -13 -1 13 21 44 -38
NYR 20 33 -17 17 27 6 -46
ATL 6 4 -4 -9 -38 16 37
EDM -29 -17 -4 16 -22 -9 7
VAN -39 -16 5 -14 1 -29 14
STL -48 0 -35 -6 -25 -33 51
CGY -72 36 -37 9 -37 -13 -30
OTT -101 -37 -28 -7 -52 9 14
BOS -104 0 -7 7 -13 -30 -61
MTL -110 -37 -50 4 32 -41 -18
CHI -145 22 29 33 -20 -79 -130
WSH -158 -36 -3 -50 -3 -6 -60
CBJ -172 -13 -26 -24 -22 -15 -72
PHI -181 -18 -18 -77 -3 -44 -21
NYI -199 -8 6 -41 -45 -85 -26
ANA -209 -20 -24 -76 -47 -12 -30
FLA -251 0 22 -3 -61 -106 -103

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source: Getty ImagesAs it turns out, the Hurricanes’ 2010-11 lead in this category was far from a fluke. Now, before you hatch too many conspiracy theories, it’s important to note that Carolina is a team that is known for pushing the pace of play. That being said, two playoff berths since the lockout seems like an underachievement when you consider their steady stream of advantages.

Update: The Panthers had the worst relationship, but the most interesting/disturbing part is that most of the damage was done in the first two seasons (-209 disparity between 05-06 and 06-07).

The Maple Leafs have their own drought to worry about, but they came in at No. 10 with 79 more calls going their way. Sidney Crosby haters might be disappointed to see that the Penguins are almost exactly in the middle of the pack at 14th with +26.

Want to see the sheer number of power plays and penalty kills for all 30 NHL teams? Here it is. (This list is sorted by most power play opportunities received.)

Team Total PP Total PK
CAR 2450 2088
PIT 2333 2307
LAK 2309 2151
VAN 2280 2319
DAL 2264 2127
SJS 2242 1946
PHX 2227 2176
TOR 2216 2137
ATL 2213 2207
DET 2211 2120
BUF 2200 2078
CBJ 2176 2348
CGY 2175 2247
STL 2164 2212
EDM 2161 2190
TBL 2160 2050
WSH 2157 2315
NYR 2153 2133
NSH 2151 2123
MTL 2140 2250
PHI 2133 2314
ANA 2133 2342
OTT 2107 2208
MIN 2100 2013
CHI 2080 2225
COL 2075 2036
NYI 2056 2255
BOS 1992 2096
FLA 1945 2196
NJD 1943 1737

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In case you’re wondering, the Blue Jackets took the most penalties (2,348) followed by the Ducks (2,342). Meanwhile, the Devils were whistled the least (1,737) by quite a margin; the Sharks were a distant second with 1,946. There probably weren’t many people out there holding onto this thought anyway, but those numbers should show that New Jersey could adapt/maintain their reputation as a responsible defensive team despite the post-lockout rule changes.

(Want even more specifics? Click here for a spreadsheet that includes all the yearly numbers.)

***

Again, I want to emphasize that this post isn’t meant to “prove” that some teams get preferential treatment while others get the short end of the stick. Feel free to argue for or against such possibilities in the comments, though. (Something tells me Red Wings fans might be a little bummed out to see that Detroit came in at +91, even if this post won’t stop their loudest factions from concocting elaborate conspiracy theories anyway.)

Predators first-rounder Tolvanen becomes youngest to score hat trick in KHL

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Talk about making a great first impression.

Nashville Predators prospect Eeli Tolvanen became the youngest KHL player to score a hat trick while adding an assist in his debut for Jokerit against Dinamo Minsk.

Tolvanen turned 18 in April. It’s ludicrously early, but with a night like this, people are already wondering if the forward was a steal; the Predators nabbed him with the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

Here’s some footage of his performance:

If that Jokerit debut is any indication, he could have a special season, especially for an 18-year-old in the KHL.

A scouting report from Pension Plan Puppets touted Tolvanen’s shot as the best in the 2017 draft, and they believed he could be one of the big steals. And that was if he ended up landing in the teens, let alone No. 30.

BREAKING: Predators GM David Poile and his staff know what they’re doing.

Hextall deserves to see Flyers rebuild through

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

If you look at GM Ron Hextall’s playing career, you might have expected the Philadelphia Flyers to continue their charming-yet-maddening run of impulsive, often-reckless moves. After all, Hextall echoed Billy Smith in goalie-stick-swinging rage.

Instead, Hextall’s almost writing the blueprint for how to rebuild a team in a tasteful way. Almost to the point where you wonder if his absence may partially explain the erosion of the Los Angeles Kings’ salary structure.

(Hextall was even rebuilding on the fly without the typical run of lottery ball luck, but that trend changed in Philly’s favor when they ended up with the second pick and Nolan Patrick.)

Let’s consider the great job Hextall is doing, even if there’s some fear that someone else might ultimately get the greatest credit if management grows impatient with this incremental approach.

Cleaning up

Hextall inherited an absolute mess in Philly, and he’s been making lemonade out of Bobby Clarke’s lemons.

Moving Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn for Jordan Weal and a third-rounder felt like wizardry. The assets he managed for Kimmo Timonen, Brayden Schenn, and Braydon Coburn brought the Flyers a mix of picks, solid roster players, and financial breathing room.

Even mixed moves seem to point to better things in the future.

One imagines the Flyers getting a little more than they did when they took Valtteri Filppula off of Tampa Bay’s hands, especially since the Bolts didn’t retain salary in the process. You’d expect Jori Lehtera‘s time with Philly to be short, as the team seemingly took on his contract merely to get nice picks from the Blues for Schenn.

Prospects and picks

Hextall has assembled quite the war chest of prospects that mixes quantity with, ideally, quality choices.

Even heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, the Flyers currently hold an extra choice in the first, fifth, and seventh rounds. That’s promising, especially since they’ve already made a lot of picks.

Take a look at their draft history during the last three years.

2015: two first-rounders, zero second, two third-rounders, two fourths. Nine picks.
2016: Normal number of picks, except: three second-rounders and two sixth-rounders. Ten picks.
2017: two first-rounders, plus Isaac Ratcliffe, who was close to a first-rounder at 35th. Also two fourth-rounders. Nine picks.

And, again, they currently hold 10 choices in 2018. If the Flyers can aim those “darts” with even any accuracy, things look good for the future.

Still some problems

The troubling thing is that the Flyers don’t exactly look like a no-brainer playoff team in 2017-18. (Vote on that subject here.)

They’re standing as something of a fringe team even as they still spend quite a bit of money; they’re only about $5 million under the cap ceiling right now, according to Cap Friendly.

Still-troubling spending is part of the reason why Claude Giroux ($8.275 million per year) is under pressure. It’s not necessarily that Giroux and Jakub Voracek ($8.25M) are bad, but there are questions about one or both of them slipping, and with contracts that begin to look frighteningly long.

Combine those deals with Andrew MacDonald‘s $5M punchline of a cap hit and that’s about $21.5M on the books, just like that.

There’s a path to greater financial freedom, especially if they part ways with Filppula ($5M) and Lehtera ($4.7M). Hextall’s run of strong goalie moves continues with the cheap pairing of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth after Steve Mason‘s surprisingly impressive run, and Philly isn’t locked into any Bryzgalovian deals in net.

So there are a lot of positives, even if it still feels like Hextall is hitting the “backspace” button on some salary cap death sentences.

Who gets to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

The Flyers boast a bounty of prospects, especially on defense; plenty of teams likely look at that farm system with some envy.

Will everything fall into line at the right time, though? Key forwards such as Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds might see declines in the near future, to the point that Hextall must be willing to at least consider bold moves there, too.

Philly is getting close to the finish line as far as cap struggles go, which means that, sooner or later, they need to start making bigger gains toward being a stable contender. Hextall deserves to see it through, but we’ve seen more than a few examples of a GM laying the groundwork for someone else to put together the finishing touches.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.