We’re of the mindset that goals are a pretty vital thing to have in the game of hockey, so when we talk about stats like penalties drawn, it can be helpful at times to show their actual value by attaching a goal total to them. Inspired by a Travis Yost piece on TSN from January of 2015, let’s take a look at how many goals that both Flyers, and Phantoms’ skaters have added or lost through drawing and taking penalties. To do that, we’re going to find their added goal differential.
How we get there is to first take every penalty a player draws and multiply it by their team’s power play success rate. Then, take every penalty a player takes themselves and multiply it by their team’s penalty kill fail rate. Add the two together and you have a player’s added goal total. Now, the difference between what we’re doing and what Yost did is that he used the league-average power play conversion rate at the time. We’re using team specific data points since we’re only focusing on two teams, each in a different league.
For Flyers’ skaters, this makes their current season added goal differential a lot worse. A 30th-ranked power play converting on just 13.6% of their opportunities makes each penalty drawn worth .136 goals, and a 31st-ranked penalty kill with a 71.7% success rate makes each penalty taken worth .283 goals against. Because of this, many players end up with a negative added goals total despite having a positive penalty differential.
For an example of this, look no further than Jakub Voracek, who has a -0.04 added goals differential and a +4 penalty differential to boot. Shayne Gostisbehere (four drawn, one taken), Sean Couturier (six drawn, two taken), and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (one drawn, zero taken) are the lone Flyers to hold a positive position on the graph. In theory that shouldn’t last, as over the last decade only seven teams finished the regular season with a power play success rate worse than the Flyers, and to find a team that finished the season with a worse penalty kill requires us to go all the way back to the 1985-86 season when the Detroit Red Wings had a 71% success rate. Then again, this is the Flyers were talking about here, that could absolutely last.
To get a better sense of true value, let’s look at the Flyers’ skaters over the last five seasons combined. Over that stretch of games their power play scored on 20.1% of their chances while the penalty kill was successful 77.8% of the time, making each penalty drawn worth .201, and each penalty taken worth .222. To limit the amount of players included, the decision was made to only included skaters who played for the Flyers within the last three seasons, and appeared in at least 50 games for the team.
Now we have results that look a bit more like you’d expect them to.
Let’s start with the biggest positive, Claude Giroux. One of seven Flyers to have played a regular role in all five seasons, Giroux is not only the guy that’s usually responsible for the actual power play goal being scored, but he’s the one getting them a lot of the opportunities to begin with. Over the five season span only Voracek and Wayne Simmonds have drawn more penalties that the Flyers’ captain, but what sets Giroux apart from them both is his ability to stay out of the box himself. Adjust for ice time and his closest comparable on the Flyers since 2014 is ... R.J. Umberger. Do with that what you will.
It should come as no surprise that the lone defenseman on the positive side of things here is Gostisbehere. Generally speaking, it is more rare to find a defenseman that can consistently draw penalties without taking many of their own than it is to find a forward that can do so, but with his skill-set it only makes sense. Across the league only three defensemen have a better penalty differential than Gostisbehere: Nashville’s Ryan Ellis, St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo, and Colorado’s Samuel Girard. Of the quartet the most impressive has be to Girard, who has achieved a +18 penalty differential while appearing in 179 fewer games than the leader of the pack, Ellis. He’s currently on track to reach a +48 differential in the same amount of time that it took Ellis to hit his current mark of +32.
His already high level of play at 20 years old, combined with the fact that he’s taken just four penalties through the first 104 games of his career, might make Girard the best bet to become just the third defenseman in league history to win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy one day, potentially joining Red Kelly and Brain Campbell.
Someone who will never be in the conversation for the Lady Byng when voting season comes around is Flyers’ defenseman Radko Gudas. There’s no way around it, a -11.25 added goals differential is a big, bad number. When Yost previously explored this he had also used a five year span, and the the worst added goal differential he found was -8.1 from Chris Neil in Ottawa. Interestingly enough, if we were to use the same 18% power play conversion rate that he did, Gudas’ added goal differential would also be -8.1, the exact same as Neil. However, unlike Neil did at the time, Gudas does not even even come close to bestowing the prestigious title of the league’s most costly penalty magnet. That belongs to Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien who has an almost unbelievable -118 penalty differential over the last five seasons, costing his team around 21 goals.
Shifting to the Phantoms, we’re greeted with special teams success that we so desperately want replicated in Philadelphia. One of four AHL teams to have a top-10 power play and penalty kill, the Phantoms have rode their special teams prowess to the tenth best record in the league. For a 2018-19 Phantom a drawn penalty is worth .218 goals while a penalty taken is worth .144.
Similarly to the Flyers, we’re dealing with some extremes here, just in the opposite direction. The Phantoms’ have performed so well on both man-up and man-down situations that through the first quarter of the season both Tyrell Goulbourne (0.08) and T.J. Brennan (0.01) have positive added goal differentials, albeit barely, despite possessing negative penalty differentials.
Phil Varone, who was recently recalled to Philadelphia and has since played in his first regular season game with the Flyers, has led the way through the first quarter of the season, closely followed by defenseman Mark Friedman. That being said, 24 games is a relatively small sample size and things can change quickly. So, is this a fluky start for the two or is this a sign of things to come?
While we can’t go back multiple seasons like we can with the Flyers, we can use last season’s data to draw conclusions from a larger sample size and observe any similarities to the season currently taking place.
Last season the team’s power play had a success rate just above 17% and a penalty kill success rate just above 83%, making penalties both drawn and taken worth about the same. Had they finished last season with the stellar numbers the current iteration of the team has, Friedman, for example, would have finished the season with an added goals total of 3.64 rather than 2.48. Of course, that’s not what actually happened, and instead serves as another reminder that, under these parameters, this is a stat that is heavily influenced by team success.
What is interesting to see is a couple of multi-season trends beginning to take place, with Philippe Myers and Friedman sticking out on opposite ends of the graph being the two biggest ones. Oft-described as an aggravating player to play against, Friedman has picked up right where he left off. The penalty differential leader a season ago, Friedman currently leads the team with 16 penalties drawn, five ahead of second-place Varone. He has, however, already been called for 11 infractions, four more penalties than he had taken all of last season. He’s been in an elevated role compared to last year, and maybe tougher competition has led to the increase in penalties that he’s taken.
For Myers it’s beginning to look like the second straight season where the biggest negative we can point to is the amount of penalties he takes. One positive so far is that he’s seemingly been taking more stick infractions lately and less of the “lose your cool” penalties, which he had taken here and there last season. If you’re going to take penalties, at least make them somewhat impactful ones. Still, it’s a concerning trend to see for the second year pro and something that you hope can be taken out of his game. With a penalty kill as poor as Philadelphia’s they can’t afford to add another high-volume penalty taker.
Also of note is Oskar Lindblom’s 2.12 added goal differential, as it’s not something that he’s been able to carry over to the NHL. A +12 penalty differential (+17/-5) with Lehigh Valley last season has been succeeded by a -5 (+4/-9) in Philadelphia. There’s not much out there — no, there’s nothing out there — that suggests whether drawing penalties is a skill that can translate from the minor league to the majors or not, and maybe we’ll start working towards finding an answer to that here. A one team example won’t be enough to prove anything, but it’ll be a start.
It’s important to remember that in the grand scheme of things this is just one way that a player can contribute to their team’s success. To use Myers as an example, his all-around impact is, and has been, overwhelmingly positive — penalties just really aren’t his strong suit.