The NHL’s best and worst special teams units during the 2010-11 season

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The Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup run was impressive in many ways. One of the things that made it truly remarkable was that they raised the silver chalice even while dealing with some serious special teams issues, especially on their power play (at least in the first three rounds of the postseason). It seemed like quite a few teams struggled in that area in the 2011 playoffs, but over the long haul, strong special teams units usually lead to success.

At least, it would seem that way, but the only route to test that theory is to actually look at the numbers. So far on this stat-heavy Saturday, we took a look at Power Play Plus/Minus and Penalty Kill Plus/Minus for all 30 NHL teams in the 2010-11 season.

In order to put it all together, it might be best to look at Special Teams Plus/Minus. The formula is quite simple: take Power Play Plus/Minus (PP goals scored minus shorthanded goals allowed) and then subtract it by Penalty Kill Plus/Minus (PP goals allowed minus shorthanded goals scored). Let’s take a look at which teams had the best and worst overall special teams units, according to “ST +/-.”

Stat categories: special teams plus/minus, power play plus/minus, PP opportunities, PP goals, shorthanded goals allowed, penalty kill plus/minus, times shorthanded, PP goals allowed and SH goals scored.

Team ST +/- PP+/- PP Opp PPG SHGA PK +/- TS PPGA SHG
VAN 31 70 296 72 2 -39 312 45 6
CHI 13 60 277 64 4 -47 255 53 6
NYR 13 44 290 49 5 -31 257 42 11
DET 12 60 301 67 7 -48 300 53 5
PIT 11 43 311 49 6 -32 324 45 13
SJS 11 61 289 68 7 -50 274 56 6
ANA 10 60 285 67 7 -50 305 57 7
NYI 8 45 302 52 7 -37 310 52 15
CGY 7 53 318 62 9 -46 282 53 7
STL 7 51 279 52 1 -44 279 51 7
CAR 5 49 346 55 6 -44 272 51 7
LAK 5 41 292 47 6 -36 276 40 4
MTL 5 51 290 57 6 -46 327 51 5
TBL 5 53 336 69 16 -48 302 49 1
WSH 5 41 263 46 5 -36 299 43 7
BOS 3 38 265 43 5 -35 265 46 11
NSH 3 39 269 41 2 -36 272 41 5
PHI 3 44 295 49 5 -41 313 54 13
MIN 0 46 292 53 7 -46 308 53 7
OTT -1 41 257 45 4 -42 294 48 6
DAL -5 40 306 55 15 -45 277 55 10
FLA -7 30 267 35 5 -37 267 41 4
BUF -8 41 279 54 13 -49 300 51 2
NJD -11 26 237 34 8 -37 241 40 3
TOR -13 44 326 52 8 -57 275 62 5
ATL -15 43 289 53 10 -58 285 64 6
PHX -19 40 289 46 6 -59 296 64 5
EDM -24 42 304 44 2 -66 321 74 8
CBJ -25 31 301 42 11 -56 314 62 6
COL -29 38 265 49 11 -67 314 75 8

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The Canucks enjoyed by far the best overall special teams play in 2010-11, which follows reasonable logic since they dominated the regular season. The only area where you can truly beat up the Canucks is in the amount of penalties they took, which some pointed out when GM Mike Gillis complained about the disparity in whistles during the team’s first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The eighth-ranked Islanders were the best non-playoff team (+8) while the Coyotes made the playoffs despite the fourth worst special teams (-19). Seven teams had a +10 rating or higher while seven teams rounded out the bottom of the pack with a -10 rating or lower.

Tin foil hat time

As a bonus, I thought I’d court the conspiracy theory-loving crowd by looking at the teams who enjoyed the greatest (or suffered from the worst) disparity between the power play opportunities they received and the penalties they took. For the sake of simplicity, those amounts are listed as “ST opp +/-” or special teams opportunity plus/minus.

Stat categories: special teams opportunity plus/minus, power play opportunities and time shorthanded.

Team ST Opp +/- PP Opp TS
CAR 74 346 272
TOR 51 326 275
CGY 36 318 282
TBL 34 336 302
NYR 33 290 257
DAL 29 306 277
CHI 22 277 255
LAK 16 292 276
SJS 15 289 274
ATL 4 289 285
DET 1 301 300
BOS 0 265 265
FLA 0 267 267
STL 0 279 279
NSH -3 269 272
NJD -4 237 241
PHX -7 289 296
NYI -8 302 310
CBJ -13 301 314
PIT -13 311 324
MIN -16 292 308
VAN -16 296 312
EDM -17 304 321
PHI -18 295 313
ANA -20 285 305
BUF -21 279 300
WSH -36 263 299
MTL -37 290 327
OTT -37 257 294
COL -49 265 314

***

Here are a few throwaway thoughts (feel free to share your favorite conspiracy theories in the comments).

  • As if the Hurricanes didn’t need more reasons to kick themselves for missing the playoffs … they received a staggering 74 more power play opportunities than penalties in 2010-11.
  • Interestingly enough, the top three teams (Canes, Maple Leafs and Flames) didn’t make the postseason. Their special teams coaches probably won’t link to this post on an online resume.
  • The Lightning might want to rank “special teams” right behind “defense” on their list of needed improvements for next season.
  • The Capitals suffered from the third-worst disparity, but the team’s transition can be seen in the fact that both categories are under 300.
  • The Bruins, Panthers and Blues were the only teams to have exactly the same amount of penalties and power plays in 10-11.

***

OK, so those two tables provide some interesting special teams bits to chew on. If you’d like us to delve into previous seasons a bit, feel free to let us know in the comments. (We’ll probably take a deeper look at that special teams opportunities bit, if nothing else.)

Click here for Power Play Plus/Minus.

Click here for Penalty Kill Plus/Minus.

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy