Penalties Drawn and Taken Analysis of the 2009-10 New Jersey Devils

A little over a week and a half ago, I wrote about the New Jersey Devils power play and offered some suggestions on what they can do to improve it.  While their overall success rate looked pretty good, the numbers underneath told a different tale.  I think it's fair to say that the Devils' miserable 4-for-32 postseason performance hammered home the point that special teams can be a crucial component of success.

However, I briefly touched on a point that I didn't highlight among areas where the Devils can improve: drawing penalties. 

The Devils finished 26th in power play opportunities with 273 and tied for 21st with Atlanta with only 51 power play goals scored.

In retrospect, I should have brought up a suggestion to draw more calls.  I don't think it's an issue of Devils need to just get more PPs and they'll be OK there.   The playoffs proved that to be incorrect.  Still, the Devils weren't strong on the power play in both the regular season and playoffs, and they'll still need to improve in various aspects in how they're set up and how the players approach the power play.  Though. as far as the playoffs go, as Capitals fans and statisticians will tell you, bad things happen to good teams and a cold streak is one of those things. 

Nevertheless, getting some more calls certainly wouldn't hurt. Fortunately, for you and I, Behind the Net actually compiles these numbers at the even strength level. The even strength situation is the most important since a majority of each game is played at 5-on-5 hockey and, of course, drawing a call there would lead to a power play.  Plus, determining who took the most penalties at this level can help identify which Devil needs to work on his discipline and further help out the penalty kill.  Let's take a closer look at the New Jersey Devils' penalties drawn and taken from the 2009-10 season and see if there's anyone on the market who could help out in this regard.

Introductory Notes

As a quick note, when you see a penalty "taken," I believe this is referring to a player who took a penalty drawn by someone else.  It's not the same as the player taking any kind of call - as I understand it, this counts penalties they were forced to take by an opposing player. A penalty "drawn" happens when the opposing player is forced to take a penalty by said player.  If I have this wrong, I will make the appropriate corrections to my observations.  

Again, all numbers are from Behind the Net's Penalties and Drawn Taken module - here's the link for the whole NHL and click here for the New Jersey Devils' numbers. They are all from the 2009-10 season; I'm not including the playoffs due to it's smaller population size (where randomness really can have a strong effect). Besides, I think decisions for 2010-11 should be made with the season's performance in mind, knowing how well a player performed over a far larger population size of games.

The Top Penalty Drawers on the 2009-10 Devils

Here are the top 10 New Jersey Devils in terms of number of penalties drawn in 5-on-5 hockey.  Of all 217 penalties drawn, these contributed 150 of them - 69.1% of all drawn penalties on the team.

Top_devils_penalty_drawers_09-10_gross_medium

By the way, Ilya Kovalchuk is grayed out because Behind the Net doesn't split up numbers for players who were traded.  If you must have the tenth guy be a full-time Devil, it's Jamie Langenbrunner who took 13 and drew 9 calls.

Zach Parise clearly leads the way on the team and it should surprise no one who's seen him play. His constant motion on the ice along his tendency to take the puck down low and to the net often forces opposition players to impede him via infraction.  Incidentally, in terms of number of penalties drawn, Parise finished third in the league behind The Actor, Daniel Carcillo (42) and Dustin Brown (46).   Parise's not just good at drawing calls, he's exceptional.

I don't know what's more surprising, that Vladimir Zharkov drew 15 calls while only taking 1, that two defensemen made this list, or that Mike Mottau is one of those defensemen.

Honestly, I don't think going by number of drawn penalties alone makes someone the best at drawing calls.  For example, Mike Mottau and David Clarkson both drew 11 penalties but got goaded into taking more penalties. Looking at the league as a whole, Alexander Burrows did well to draw 32 calls but undercut himself by taking 37. How can one say he benefits the Canucks in this aspect of the game; as he's ninth in drawing calls, but first in taking calls?  On the whole, I don't think he does from a penalty standpoint.

With that in mind, I took the numbers at Behind the Net and calculated a drawn/taken ratio for the Devils. The best drawers of penalties should be the ones who don't necessarily take calls, in my opinion.  Here are the top ten Devils from this past season by drawn/taken ratio:

Top_devils_penalty_drawers_09-10_ratio_medium

By ratio, your best penalty drawer really is Vladimir Zharkov. And why not? Drawing 15 calls and only taking one largely on a fourth line role is impressive. It's even more impressive that his ratio of 15 is the highest among all 717 NHL players in 2009-10 who have taken at least one penalty (#2 is Milan Michalek with 13 drawn and 1 taken)  Yes, Zharkov leads the league in an advanced stat. I'm sure his agent has already printed this out upon reading this. His speed, work ethic, and mindset on the ice, I think, have contributed to such a high ratio.  He had a knack for catching his opposition off base be it on the rush, in the corners, or along the boards - regardless of their relative quality of competition. Again, I must emphasize that he needs to work on his shot because if he improves there, then he's got a great shot at enjoying a long NHL career.

In fact, there are a number of fourth liners on this list: Dean McAmmond, Jay Pandolfo, and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond all move up here and show some worth in terms of drawing calls over taking them.   You'd like to see a little more, but for players who haven't seen a whole lot of ice time, it definitely helps on the back end when the opposition may be resting their top defenders.

And Parise still stands out. In fact, looking at the whole league, Parise is 11th in the drawn/taken ratio among players who have drawn at least 20 calls.  Incidentally, who's first in the league? Pavel Datsyuk with a 9.67 ratio (29 drawn, 3 taken) - further proof that Datsyuk is an amazing player.

If Andy Greene needs another feather to stick into his cap for his 2009-10 season, then he should check out this chart.  Drawing 10 calls as a defensemen while only taking four is pretty impressive by itself.  It's exceptional among his peers.  Only Paul Martin (4 drawn, 1 taken, 21 games), Tyson Strachan (3 drawn, 1 taken, 8 games), and Andrej Sekera (8 drawn, 3 taken, 48 games) had higher drawn/taken ratios than Greene among defensemen and they didn't play nearly as much as Greene.

Yes, Kovalchuk is still on this list, Cory Murphy is pushed up quite high and Paul Martin's shortened season comes in second.   If you ignore those three, then add Dainius Zubrus (see the first chart for his numbers), Colin White (took 7, drew 8, ratio of 1.143), Travis Zajac (see first chart - he's the only regular who's even) as the next Devils on the list. 

Knowing this, I would suggest that Devils on the top 6 who aren't high up on this chart Zajac, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Dainius Zubrus take a look not just at Parise but also Zharkov to see what they do to draw calls.  Is it just by being quick?  Is it just by imposing themselves in positions that draw opposing players to do something dumb?   I'm not saying that they all have to be penalty drawing machines, but an improvement by even a few penalties.  Bottom six players like David Clarkson, Leblond, Rod Pelley, and any incoming rookies would also benefit from examining this phenomenon further.

The Top Penalty Takers on the 2009-10 Devils

The above established who was the best at drawing penalties on the 2009-10 Devils. Who are the worst? Who's been getting the Devils into trouble by being forced to make an infraction?  Here are the "leaders" in the number of penalties taken:

Worst_penalty_takers_on_09-10_devils_gross_medium

Oh, Bryce Salvador.  20 penalties puts you in a big tie for 17th in the NHL among defensemen in terms of taking calls.  Leading the team here is definitely not desirable.   Given that Salvador isn't fast in his own zone combined with his physical style, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised he leads this list.  I am a bit disappointed.  You may say the same goes for Mottau, but he isn't physical or slow as Salvador.  He just made a few too many dumb errors and got caught behind a few too many times, it seems.  Both need to improve their discipline.

I'm also quite disappointed in some of the other names on this list.  5 of the top 6 forwards are on this list! Given that Parise draws so many more calls, I'm not so unhappy about him.  Yet, I'd like to know why in the world Jamie Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus, and Patrik Elias are so high up here?  OK, Zubrus is usually seen along the boards and he could be caught with an infraction in the fracas.  Any explanations for Langenbrunner and Elias? I don't have any that come to mind.

David Clarkson and Rob Niedermayer should also spend their summers understanding the rulebook. If Clarkson is supposed to be a pest, then shouldn't he be drawing more calls than taking them?  Sure, he's gritty and physical, but definitely to a fault from this standpoint.  Niedermayer's ratio is miserable.  As a checking center, I can see why some penalties have to be taken at times, but this is just poor.  I hope his replacement will be more disciplined or at least better at not getting caught.

By the way, Salmela is grayed out because he's played in both New Jersey and Atlanta.  If you need to know who 11th place is, it's Mark Fraser with a head-shaking 8 taken calls with only 1 drawn.  You'll see him in this chart, the worst drawn/taken ratio by Devils who have at least drew one call in 2009-10.

Worst_penalty_takers_on_09-10_devils_ratio_medium

Again, Skoula and Salmela are grayed out so if you must know who the next regular Devils are on this list, it's Davis Clarkson (see above chart) and Rod Pelley (5 drawn, 6 taken).  

Mark Fraser being first on this list clearly shows that one of the areas he can improve upon for his second season of NHL hockey is discipline.  I'm not expecting a defensive defenseman like him to draw too many calls, but he can stand to avoid taking some.  His limited ice time makes that ratio even worse, in my opinion.

We have an Ilkka Pikkarainen and a Matthew Corrente sighting, but the most of the main offenders on the list are from the other chart.  This tells me that Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson, Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, and Mark Fraser all need to work on their game.  Not just in terms of discipline and controlling emotions, but also in their positioning and decision making so they aren't in the position where they have to take a penalty

As for Mike Mottau, Rob Niedermayer, and Martin Skoula, well, if they're not re-signed, the Devils will improve in this regard.  Provided that the organization should be sure that their replacements aren't prone to taking calls.

By the way, there were five Devils with a drawn/taken ratio of zero (meaning: they drew no calls at even strength) and one with an undefined ratio (one taken, none drawn)  Most were call-ups but one sticks out like a sore thumb.

Special_penalty_cases_for_09-10_devils_medium

At last, some means of stating that Andrew Peters actually hurt the team. 

As an aside, Patrick Davis' lack of penalties taken puts him in exclusive company of 39 NHL players who have not been goaded into taking a call at even strength.  The vast majority are call-ups and only played part of a season, so the king of this group was the lone regular: Carolina's Brandon Sutter.  He drew 15 calls but did not get forced to take one in 5-on-5 hockey.  Impressive.

Available Penalty Drawers?

OK, so the Devils players can help themselves by studying how Parise and Zharkov drew their calls and other players can improve the team by taking fewer calls themselves.  Is there anyone on the upcoming market who can significantly help the Devils draw more penalties in 5-on-5 situations?

Based on last season's numbers at Behind the Net, not really.

Among all 62 players who have drawn 20 penalties, only 5 are unrestricted free agents. Jon Sim (26 drawn, 13 taken); Ruslan Fedotenko (24 drawn, 16 taken); Paul Kariya (20 drawn, 14 taken); Maxim Afinogenov (21 drawn, 15 taken); and Scott Nichol (21 drawn, 16 taken).   Only one of those five is a center, and it's the bottom six center 35-year old Nichol. Not exactly an enticing player, though he could be had for cheap. 

Even if the Devils aren't able to sign Kovalchuk, the Devils are still pretty set at wing - they really don't need another winger at this juncture.  Therefore, I don't think the Devils should jump at the chance at going after any of those five.  Not even to get more penalties drawn if only because we know they're going to take a considerable amount over time.  Besides, I don't think the Devils should make their personnel decisions for the upcoming offseason based on penalties drawn/taken alone.  It's not as if a high ratio will lead a team to success. Toronto had two of the best on their team in Niklas Hagman (29 drawn, 5 taken) and Nikolai Kulemin (23 drawn, 3 taken) and it didn't exactly make the difference for the Maple Leafs.

But I will say that it is a positive.  Enough to be considered as it can show whether the player in question could be a liability or not when it comes to taking calls.   Manny Malhotra, for example, also has a drawn/taken ratio below 1 with 7 drawn and 10 taken.  Not a great ratio, yet, it's an considerable improvement over Rob Niedermayer from a penalty standpoint because it's an improved ratio and because it is fewer calls.  The key word there is "improved." The player in question doesn't necessarily need to be among league leaders in penalties drawn or taken (leader as in fewer calls) from 2009-10, but ideally would be better than the players they would replace.  It would think it would be more reasonable to take into account when the Devils are evaluating potential free agents.   

Conclusion

To that end, I cannot emphasize enough that looking at players in this way is only to see how they are from a penalty standpoint. If the Devils can get a few players who can have more calls drawn, then that would at least give the Devils power play more opportunities.  If the Devils can reduce the numbers of calls taken - even just by subtraction of a few 09-10 players - then the penalty kill will benefit from reduced shorthanded situations.  Again, improvement should be seen as the goal.  I'd like to see players added who would improve the Devils in either case. 

In terms of free agency, The Devils should avoid exacerbating either situation in a negative direction by signing players who take more penalties than the players they replaced and/or draw fewer penalties than the players they replaced.   Yes, special teams does need improvement in their strategy and execution, where they will need new tactics and personnel. However, creating more power play opportunities and/or reducing penalty killing situations would also benefit the team and the organization should look to do that in conjunction with improving special teams performance.

Have Your Say

Thanks for reading.  Hopefully, you found all of this interesting as much as I did while researching it. Thanks to Behind the Net for compiling and storing penalties drawn and taken numbers.  Now it's time for your opinion. 

What do you think of how the Devils draw penalties? Surprised to see Vladimir Zharkov stick out so much along with Zach Parise?  How about how the Devils took penalties?  Were you more disappointed seeing Salvador and Mottau so high or that Clarkson, Langenbrunner, Elias, and Niedermayer made that penalties taken list?  Glad to see some statistical basis proving that Andrew Peters hasn't helped the Devils?  

How about the free agent market?  Would seeing their penalties taken/drawn count and ratio change your opinion on some pending free agents?  Lastly, do you think the Devils can really improve in this area or is it more of a uncontrollable/unrepeatable than anything else?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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