A look at the Flames' penalty problems

Kent Wilson
November 01 2016 10:00AM

For the past two years, the Calgary Flames were one of the least penalized teams in the league. In 2014-15, they were shorthanded a league low 186 times (one of the many reasons they were able to make the playoffs that year). Last year, they gave up just 233 power plays, good for fifth best in the NHL. 

This season has not started off on the same foot, however. Calgary has already been shorthanded 43 times in just 10 games, the second most in the NHL. That rate comes out to over four PKs per game and projects to a total of 353 (!!) over the course of the season. To put that in perspective, the Arizona Coyotes gave up a league worst 304 PPs last year.

To understand what's going on I took a look at who is taking penalties and how it relates to the club's rates from last year. 

Penalty Rates 2015-16

Let's start with some context. This table shows regular Flames skaters from 2015-16 and how often they were taking and drawing penalties at even strength. All numbers from Corsica Hockey collected prior to the Oct. 30 game against the Capitals. (Deryk Engelland and Matt Stajan took the Flames' only two penalties that game.)

Player Season GP TOI iPENT iPEND Ptake/G PTake/60 PDraw/G PDdraw/60 PDIF/G PDIF/60
GARNET.HATHAWAY 2015-2016 14 155.17 6 3 0.43 2.32 0.21 1.16 -0.21 -1.16
BRANDON.BOLLIG 2015-2016 54 490.28 18 0 0.33 2.20 0.00 0.00 -0.33 -2.20
JOSH.JOORIS 2015-2016 59 601.82 13 5 0.22 1.30 0.08 0.50 -0.14 -0.80
MICHEAL.FERLAND 2015-2016 71 785.47 14 8 0.20 1.07 0.11 0.61 -0.08 -0.46
SAM.BENNETT 2015-2016 77 964.62 14 24 0.18 0.87 0.31 1.49 0.13 0.62
MATT.STAJAN 2015-2016 80 858.92 12 8 0.15 0.84 0.10 0.56 -0.05 -0.28
MARK.GIORDANO 2015-2016 82 1460.97 19 14 0.23 0.78 0.17 0.57 -0.06 -0.21
MASON.RAYMOND 2015-2016 29 309.04 4 1 0.14 0.78 0.03 0.19 -0.10 -0.58
JYRKI.JOKIPAKKA 2015-2016 58 274.71 3 1 0.05 0.66 0.02 0.22 -0.03 -0.44
MICHAEL.FROLIK 2015-2016 64 830.32 9 7 0.14 0.65 0.11 0.51 -0.03 -0.14
HUNTER.SHINKARUK 2015-2016 8 92.51 1 1 0.13 0.65 0.13 0.65 0.00 0.00
DOUGIE.HAMILTON 2015-2016 82 1296.42 12 5 0.15 0.56 0.06 0.23 -0.09 -0.32
JAKUB.NAKLADAL 2015-2016 27 327.57 3 2 0.11 0.55 0.07 0.37 -0.04 -0.18
MIKAEL.BACKLUND 2015-2016 82 1007.6 9 5 0.11 0.54 0.06 0.30 -0.05 -0.24
DERYK.ENGELLAND 2015-2016 69 935.38 8 5 0.12 0.51 0.07 0.32 -0.04 -0.19
LADISLAV.SMID 2015-2016 22 240.11 2 1 0.09 0.50 0.05 0.25 -0.05 -0.25
JOE.COLBORNE 2015-2016 73 899.57 7 8 0.10 0.47 0.11 0.53 0.01 0.07
SEAN.MONAHAN 2015-2016 81 1122.18 8 8 0.10 0.43 0.10 0.43 0.00 0.00
DAVID.JONES 2015-2016 75 703.83 5 7 0.07 0.43 0.09 0.60 0.03 0.17
DENNIS.WIDEMAN 2015-2016 51 772.98 5 5 0.10 0.39 0.10 0.39 0.00 0.00
TJ.BRODIE 2015-2016 70 1309.89 8 10 0.11 0.37 0.14 0.46 0.03 0.09
JIRI.HUDLER 2015-2016 72 682.08 4 11 0.06 0.35 0.15 0.97 0.10 0.62
MARKUS.GRANLUND 2015-2016 47 343.88 2 6 0.04 0.35 0.13 1.05 0.09 0.70
KRIS.RUSSELL 2015-2016 62 942.02 4 1 0.06 0.25 0.02 0.06 -0.05 -0.19
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 2015-2016 79 1184.96 4 15 0.05 0.20 0.19 0.76 0.14 0.56
LANCE.BOUMA 2015-2016 44 438.97 1 12 0.02 0.14 0.27 1.64 0.25 1.50
DEREK.GRANT 2015-2016 15 141.29 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
BRETT.KULAK 2015-2016 8 96.41 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Lots of numbers and acronyms here, but the table is pretty simple. 

You have the total number of penalties taken and drawn, and then some columns breaking those down into rates, including: penalties taken per game, penalties taken per 60 minutes of ice, penalties drawn per game and then per 60. Finally you have penalty differential rates (drawn minus taken). 

The most interesting number here is PTake/60. That tells how us how often a player is being penalized. Last season only four Flames were over 1.0/60 by this metric: Garnet Hathaway, Brandon Bollig, Josh Jooris and Micheal Ferland. Bollig and Hathaway were the only guys to crest 2.0/60. 

Ironically, three of those four players aren't around currently, so you would think the Flames would be taking fewer penalties this season, not more. 

Penalty Rates 2016-17

Let's take a look at what's going on this year.

Player Season GP TOI iPENT iPEND Ptake/G PTake/60 PDraw/G PDdraw/60 PDIF/G PDIF/60
SAM.BENNETT 2016-2017 9 94.11 8 3 0.89 5.10 0.33 1.91 -0.56 -3.19
ALEX.CHIASSON 2016-2017 9 99.07 3 1 0.33 1.82 0.11 0.61 -0.22 -1.21
MATTHEW.TKACHUK 2016-2017 7 66.94 2 0 0.29 1.79 0.00 0.00 -0.29 -1.79
DOUGIE.HAMILTON 2016-2017 9 109.33 3 0 0.33 1.65 0.00 0.00 -0.33 -1.65
MARK.GIORDANO 2016-2017 9 144.98 3 3 0.33 1.24 0.33 1.24 0.00 0.00
MATT.STAJAN 2016-2017 9 83.06 1 1 0.11 0.72 0.11 0.72 0.00 0.00
JYRKI.JOKIPAKKA 2016-2017 7 91.72 1 2 0.14 0.65 0.29 1.31 0.14 0.65
DENNIS.WIDEMAN 2016-2017 6 91.84 1 1 0.17 0.65 0.17 0.65 0.00 0.00
MICHAEL.FROLIK 2016-2017 9 104.4 1 0 0.11 0.57 0.00 0.00 -0.11 -0.57
SEAN.MONAHAN 2016-2017 9 120.71 1 0 0.11 0.50 0.00 0.00 -0.11 -0.50
TJ.BRODIE 2016-2017 9 149.93 1 4 0.11 0.40 0.44 1.60 0.33 1.20
DERYK.ENGELLAND 2016-2017 9 133.54 0 4 0.00 0.00 0.44 1.80 0.44 1.80
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 2016-2017 9 125.81 0 3 0.00 0.00 0.33 1.43 0.33 1.43
KRIS.VERSTEEG 2016-2017 9 99.27 0 1 0.00 0.00 0.11 0.60 0.11 0.60
LANCE.BOUMA 2016-2017 9 86.15 0 1 0.00 0.00 0.11 0.70 0.11 0.70
MICHEAL.FERLAND 2016-2017 9 87.05 0 1 0.00 0.00 0.11 0.69 0.11 0.69
MIKAEL.BACKLUND 2016-2017 9 96.51 0 0 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
TROY.BROUWER 2016-2017 9 95.1 0 2 0.00 0.00 0.22 1.26 0.22 1.26

Huh. The team is almost completely divided between penalty takes and non-penalty takers: five Flames are above the 1.0/60 mark while seven of them have yet to take a single penalty at even strength. 

The guys at the top of the list are the concern. Remember that taking over two penalties per sixty minutes of ice puts you in fourth line grinder/enforcer territory based on what we saw last year (Hathaway and Bollig). Which is bad. 

Sam Bennett is up over five (5.10!) minors per sixty, while newcomers Alex Chiasson (1.82) and Matthew Tkachuk (1.79) are distant (but still not good) second and third respectively.

If you glance at the final column (Pdif/60) it shows you the effect players have on the Flames PP/PK differential. So far, four players are lower than -1.5 penalty differential/60 in 2015-16. Last year, only Brandon Bollig was below that threshold (-2.20/60). 

Discussion

Obviously we're dealing with some sample size effects here. Sam Bennett took just 0.87 penalties/60 in his rookie season so we can assume he's not actually going more than quintuple that rate this season. In fact, Bennett was a net positive player in terms of drawing penalties last year (+0.62/60) so this outburst of undisciplined play and poor penalty differential is definitely an outlier. 

That said, the kids need to figure out how to play aggressively but within the bounds of the game. Tkachuk struggled with going over the line during the rookie and training camps, so this isn't totally unexpected. That said, as Bennett demonstrated last year, you can get under the other team's skin without constantly going to the box yourself. 

The other big culprit by this metric this season is Dougie Hamilton. He is taking minors at about triple the rate he managed last year, which needs to stop if he is to make his way into the top three rotation.

Unrelated, but I'm surprised with how relatively few penalties Johnny Gaudreau draws (15 last year, three this year) given how often he is hooked and slashed every game. 

Conclusion

The Flames should technically be a better team at staying out of the box this season since they aren't skating three of the biggest penalty takers from last year (Bollig, Jooris and Hathaway). Unfortunately, three of the club's high end youngsters (Bennett, Tkachuk and Hamilton) are taking minors at incredibly (and probably unsustainably high) rates in the early going so far. 

The good news is twofold: 

1.) It's extremely unlikely Bennett, Hamilton and Chiasson continue to get penalized at this rate over the long run given their histories. I'd include Tkachuk here, but we really don't know what he's going to be like at the NHL level by this measure yet.

2.) Glen Gulutzan has already recognized the problem and has started to take steps towards correcting it (strategic benching during games).

Some of the Flames' early struggles were due in part to going to the penalty box so frequently. Avoiding it as much as possible the rest of the way would help them get back into the running in the West. 

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Former Nations Overlord. Current FN contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 RedMan
November 01 2016, 10:39AM
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Wideman factor

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#2 The Last Big Bear
November 01 2016, 11:21AM
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Two, rather than split this between the 2015-16 vs 2016-17 season, I think it makes more sense to split it between pre- and post- Wideman suspension.

It's vanishingly rare that the refs at the NHL level actually really consistently sway play one way or another.

It happened in favor of the Wings back in the Lidstrom era.

It happened in favor of the Canucks, before rapidly turning against the Canucks after Burrows opened his yap.

And it happened against the Flames after the Wideman thing. I don't know if it's still going on, but... yeah. It is.

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#3 Just a Fan
November 01 2016, 11:34AM
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The Last Big Bear wrote:

Two, rather than split this between the 2015-16 vs 2016-17 season, I think it makes more sense to split it between pre- and post- Wideman suspension.

It's vanishingly rare that the refs at the NHL level actually really consistently sway play one way or another.

It happened in favor of the Wings back in the Lidstrom era.

It happened in favor of the Canucks, before rapidly turning against the Canucks after Burrows opened his yap.

And it happened against the Flames after the Wideman thing. I don't know if it's still going on, but... yeah. It is.

If the change in the number of penalties taken was ref bias I would expect to see penalties increased for all players across the board. The fact that it is the young and inexperienced players at the top of the list makes me discount the Wideman effect.

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#4 Deef
November 01 2016, 11:55AM
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Offensive zone penalties are being benched by GG. Should help get the message home.

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#7 mattyc
November 01 2016, 12:33PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Sorry about the formatting everyone. Looking for a solution.

How about a plot instead ;)

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#8 Ogie Oglethorp
November 01 2016, 12:39PM
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@Kent Wilson

Hey Kent - your best bet with a wide table in the existing layout is probably to scroll bar it (like Sportsnet.ca does). If you can edit the HTML, wrap your table in a div with overflow set to scroll... Like this:

fiddle

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