special teams plus/minus

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers reaped referees’ rewards the most this season

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Along with celebrating goals, making fun of opposing and “bandwagon” fans and eating greasy, overpriced food, there’s one activity that tends to bond fans of all 30 NHL teams: mercilessly booing officials. Chances are, every fan base has cursed a ref for (what’s usually) a human mistake while fastening a tin foil hat of suspicion.

It brings up an interesting question, though: which fans are most justified in their (assumed) metaphorical fashion statements? Following in last year’s footsteps, I decided to use NHL.com’s team stats to find out which squads have benefited and lost the most from the referees’ whistle.

(Key: “PP Opp” = power-play opportunities, “TS” = times shorthanded and net chances represents the difference between the two.)

Team PP Opp TS Net chances
FLA 286 239 47
SJS 270 225 45
CHI 277 233 44
CBJ 317 274 43
CAR 294 252 42
TOR 267 242 25
DET 298 274 24
NYR 280 260 20
PIT 289 270 19
PHI 335 319 16
NJD 267 259 8
NYI 243 236 7
NSH 250 244 6
PHX 251 249 2
VAN 288 286 2
BUF 258 257 1
LAK 289 293 -4
CGY 260 268 -8
BOS 250 260 -10
ANA 271 283 -12
STL 270 282 -12
MTL 301 315 -14
TBL 269 284 -15
WSH 245 266 -21
MIN 258 285 -27
EDM 262 296 -34
OTT 270 310 -40
WPG 251 292 -41
COL 223 277 -54
DAL 244 303 -59

Some observations

As you can see, the Florida Panthers didn’t just have charity points on their side this season – they also drew 47 more power plays than penalties received. Meanwhile, Dallas Stars fans will nod their heads sadly when they notice that their team went on the PK 59 more times than they had man advantages. That’s essentially an extra penalty to kill in two out of every three games.

You only need to reach down to the fourth-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets to see the first team that couldn’t take advantage of such a disparity. One cannot help but wonder if the Blue Jackets could make a huge turnaround next season if they receive the same advantages (317 power play opportunities!), which is obviously no guarantee. Yet with a potentially luckier James Wisniewski and a full season of Jack Johnson in tow, you never know if they did generate a lot of 5-on-4’s in 2012-13. The Carolina Hurricanes also failed to take advantage of penalty perks by missing the postseason. (Toronto rounds out that group, but they didn’t have quite as much of a dramatic advantage.)

Meanwhile, the five teams that received the worst “treatment” missed the playoffs, while sixth-worst Washington (-21) barely squeaked in as the seventh seed.

Coming soon: A look at which teams benefited or suffered the most from officiating since the lockout.

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

Tuomo Ruutu, Joe Corvo, Bryan Rodney, Ray Whitney, Niklas Backstrom
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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

***

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

***

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.)

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

Henrik Sedin,Daniel Sedin,Christian Ehrhoff,Alexander Edler,Ryan Kesler
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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

***

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.

Special Teams Plus/Minus – Early season results (October 31)

bruinsspecialteams plusminus oct 31

In case you weren’t following PHT in its first month, I introduced some new special teams stats because I’m not satisfied with the common percentage-based rankings for power plays and penalty kill units.

Earlier tonight, I provided the NHL’s best PP units based on Power Play Plus/Minus and then took a look at the PK leaders and losers.

Special Teams Plus/Minus is quite simple: you just add PP plus/minus and PK plus/minus together. (Although since every PK total is negative, it’s essentially subtraction.)

I’m not 100 percent sure this stat is quite as useful as the individual sets, although perhaps fan bases can rail on a coach (or point to a single number) when a team tumbles. Here’s the spreadsheet. The highlighted column is special teams plus/minus.

(click to enlarge)

Now, some observations:

  • You could probably categorize the top five teams as “elite” at this moment: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and NY Islanders.
  • Conversely, the worst five: Buffalo, Colorado, New Jersey, Edmonton and Dallas.
  • Buffalo (-9) and Colorado (-7) are the anti-cream of the crop.
  • Atlanta is on top because of their high-powered PP (13 goals scored, zero allowed) while Boston did so because of a great PK (only two PP goals allowed).

So, there you have it, the best and worst special teams units in the NHL. Obviously, 8-12 games is a small sample, so we’ll update these once the season is about 25 percent finished. We hope that you enjoyed this dorky numbers exercise.

Penalty Kill Plus/Minus: The best (and worst) shorthanded units to this point (October 31)

flyersshorty

In case you weren’t following PHT in its first month, I introduced some new special teams stats because I’m not satisfied with the common percentage-based rankings for power plays and penalty kill units.

Earlier tonight, I provided the NHL’s best PP units based on Power Play Plus/Minus.

If you want a quick explanation for why I prefer totals over percentages for special teams stats, consider these facts.

1. Some teams take more penalties than others, so they might kill penalties more often but allow more PP goals overall. Shutting down a high percentage of man advantages is great and all, but if you’re on the kill too often then totals tend to matter more.

2. Penalty kill percentage doesn’t factor shorthanded goals scored, which is faulty because a dangerous PK’er such as Philadelphia Flyers center Mike Richards could be a real difference maker.

Penalty Kill Plus/Minus is a simple stat: simply subtract shorthanded goals scored by power-play goals allowed. Obviously, only a superhuman group could manage a plus rating in this situation, so you’re looking for the lowest minus rating as the best units.

Along with SHG earned, PPG allowed and PK plus/minus, I’ve also provided times shorthanded (TS), games played and the traditional PK percentage for context.

(click to enlarge)

Now, some observations regarding these stats.

  • Boston remains atop the rankings, although you have to wonder if those numbers are misleading since they’ve only played eight games.
  • Washington is tied for the top spot despite allowing five PP goals already this year. That’s because they’ve been dangerous going the other way, scoring three SH goals already. Philadelphia is in a similar spot, allowing seven goals but putting up four on the PK.
  • Vancouver might own the quirky stat of the moment: they haven’t allowed or scored a SHG so far this season.
  • Buffalo and Colorado are really awful. That being said, Edmonton should worry as they’ve allowed 13 PP goals in only nine games.

So those are some interesting PK-related numbers. Later tonight I’ll put them all together for Special Teams Plus/Minus.