Oilers Forwards & Drawing Penalties

EDMONTON, CANADA - MARCH 5: Martin Havlat #14 of the Minnesota Wild follows the puck against Ryan Jones #28 of the Edmonton Oilers on March 5, 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

In the comments section to my Zack Stortini article yesterday, reader Jake suggested that Stortini might be a better fit as an agitator than as a fighter. It’s a thought I liked, and one that I’ve had before. Just to see how well Stortini was doing in that department, I decided to look at penalties taken vs. penalties drawn for the forwards the Oilers will be employing next season.

The chart below (courtesy of behindthenet.ca) shows penalties drawn for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time minus penalties taken for every 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time. One thing to keep in mind: every forward on this list should be a positive player; at the NHL level defencemen take more penalties than forwards and thus the vast majority of forwards have a positive number here.

Player Penalties Taken/60 Penalties Drawn/60 Difference/60
Ryan Jones 1.3 3.4 2.1
Colin Fraser 0.3 1.3 1
Andrew Cogliano 0.5 1.1 0.6
Sam Gagner 0.6 1.2 0.6
Ales Hemsky 0.8 1.4 0.6
Mike Comrie 0.6 1 0.4
Jean-Francois Jacques 0.6 1 0.4
Dustin Penner 0.7 1 0.3
Gilbert Brule 0.8 0.9 0.1
Shawn Horcoff 0.9 0.9 0
Zack Stortini 1.3 0.8 -0.5

I see a few things of note on that chart:

Stortini is just flat-out bad at this, and that surprises me. I had expected him to fare rather well, but he took more penalties than he drew this year and last year, and just barely came out ahead in 2007-08. I’ve seen a lot of Stortini yapping at opposition players, and a lot of opponents reacting to him, but this appears to be a case where I just observed wrong. Stortini isn’t quite in Ethan Moreau territory, but this is an area where he needs to improve.

Brule and Horcoff aren’t helping anyone out here, and despite his great season Penner is just adequate. None of these names are all that surprising; Brule’s not the most disciplined player, Horcoff was in over his head last season and shows it here, and Penner just isn’t that fast and played against some good players. I’d guess that a detailed examination would show those as the key reason these players didn’t excel in this department.

Cogliano, Gagner and Hemsky are an unsurprising trio near the top here. Hemsky routinely draws a high number of penalties, but he’s also guilty of lazy stick infractions and so he makes less of a positive impact than he could. Gagner’s relatively disciplined and skill players generally fare well here; I’d hope to see this number improve over time. As for Cogliano, we’ve all seen his speed result in power plays and it’s an underappreciated asset he brings to the rink.

Finally, the newcomers. Despite the hype Jordin Tootoo gets as an agitator in Nashville, Ryan Jones is actually better at generating power plays than Tootoo; in 2008-09 he drew more penalties than Tootoo while taking fewer, while his overall number in 2009-10 was also better than Tootoo’s. Jones’ penalty differential numbers over an admittedly short career are very high end; this past season he wasn’t quite Patrick Kaleta but he was on pace to take 17 penalties while drawing 42 – an additional 25 power plays for his team. For a guy getting fourth-line ice-time, that’s incredibly impressive. I wasn’t blown away by the Jones move at first, but this makes him a much more impressive pickup.

Colin Fraser is no slouch in this department either, drawing three times as many penalties as he took last season, and putting up a similar performance the year before. I’m not sure why Chicago let this guy go given how cheap he was to sign (pinching pennies, I suppose) but he’s another nice acquisition and the combination of him and Jones on the Oilers’ fourth line would go a long way toward increasing the total number of power plays the team gets.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I’ve seen a lot of Stortini yapping at opposition players, and a lot of opponents reacting to him, but this appears to be a case where I just observed wrong.

    Or, alternatively, you observed correctly, but the referee disagreed with your interpretation and/or decided that Stortini was in the wrong because he’s Zach Stortini. Not entirely uncommon with his player type.

    • Reggie

      How much do you think this is skewed by the fact Zach takes a large number of fighting majors.

      Does the stat exclude fighting majors ? Does it include or exclude offsetting penalties, whether they are minors or majors ?

      • This immediately came to mind when I saw those stats, but I would have to guess that JW would have taken that into consideration (or at the very least, I would guess that the other person receiving the 5 min major would be included in the penalties drawn stat, but who knows). Anyways, I’m interested to know that answer too.

      • I would assume that the fighting majors cancel out, since Zack would look awful silly fighting himself – someone always goes to the box with him in a fighting major. What the numbers DON’T make explicit (which may or may not be important since I am unsure how often this happens) is how often Zack (e.g.) can help the team by drawing someone like (e.g.) Jerome Iginla into a fighting major. THAT would be a great penalty to take which wouldn’t seem to help his stats in this category. This would presumably be a role of the agitator – not just to draw penalties but to take them and in the process get the other team’s ‘good’ player off the ice.

        • Reggie

          But if you consider a Zach penalty of 5 minutes versus a hook or interference from one of the smurfs, and it reduces his number in a negative direction …. i.e. 5 minutes versus 2 minutes.

          I suspect the offsetting stuff is mute, but for a guy who takes lots of majors for fighting in comparison to another player, this will skew the stat.

  • Petr's Jofa

    Stortini and others roles might be more as protectors of our youth and size deficiencies than that of aggitators . In other words , they had better get used to more of an energy type aggressive power forward role capable of fitting into a second , third and forth line roles .

    Multi tasking role that Stortini showed some progress toward last season . Could he turn into a goal scorer/play maker to add to his repetoire ?

    We are not going to intimidate other clubs , lets face reality here . But , we do need to protect our youth and size on the ice . Expanded roles for Stortini and the likes i forsee as inevitable .

    • Ryan14

      I think Tambelinni has done a lot to make this team more intimidating. Our back end is much bigger and much tougher, and the team has rid itself of some of its softer small forwads.

      No longer do we boast POS(5’11, 190), Nilsson(5’11, 182), Visnovsky(5’10, 188) and Grebeshkov(6’1, 195), but rather Vandermeer(6’1, 211), Foster (6’5, 223), Whitney (6’4, 210), and Macyntyre (6’5, 250). Currently, our smallest NHL d-man is Vandermeer. Our team consists of only 3 players under 6’0.

      The most intimidating team? Probably not. But the Oilers are lightyears ahead of where they were last year. Teams probably won’t be taking the liberties they took on us last year this coming year, especially when players who are known for having a bit of a nasty streak in them will be on the ice.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    The biggest thing with Stortini is he has to pick his spots. He can be an agitator one night then the next night he is the one being agitating and taking dumb penalties.

    It’s all about finding a happy medium for Stortini.

    I’d also add that I’d expect Cogs number to be higher if giving more offensive time. His speed is what generates the calls for him and I think a couple more minutes here and there in an offensive role should help generate some PP’s for us.

  • If he keeps working on his skating like has has been, I think Storts could fit into an agitator quite well.

    A few other adjustments to his game would be required, but he really has that ability to get under other players’ skins.

    • If you heard Zack’s interviews on Gregor’s show, you’d get the sense he was working hard at becoming a premier agitator. Most of his comments were directed towards getting the other team off its game rather than just smashing some guy’s face.

      I think this stat shows an opportunity for Zack. Thanks alot Jonathan for putting this up.

  • Crackenbury

    I don’t know what these stats mean. The Oilers have been a small weak team that is easy to play against the last few years. Place any of our forwards on a strong team and those stat numbers improve automatically.

    I think you can use these stats to compare players on your own team, but to try and compare with other teams doesn’t translate.

  • Eddie Shore

    It’s not surprising Stortini doesn’t draw any penalties as he rarely has the puck on his stick for more than 2 seconds.

    It is possible to be an effective agitator without forcing the other player to take a penalty. As long as he continues to chirp at other teams and run his mouth he will undoubtedly continue to annoy and piss other players off.

  • Petr's Jofa

    I just picked up my tickets for the Team Canada World Jr Tryout games here in St. John’s. I’m planning to go down to try and watch Edmonton’s invited players – Curtis Hamilton and Oliver Roy. However with all the high-end talent on the ice, I have no doubt that I will get distracted. If there anyone else people would like me to keep tabs on, let me know.

    I’ve been so hockey starved since the QMJHL Fog Devils left, I can’t believe how pumped I am for a Hall-less tryout game.

    • Mike Modano's Dog

      That’s cool…it’s nice to know where people are from since the assumption would be that they’re from the Edmonton area.

      Definitely keep us up to date on your view of those games/practices, please!

      When are they, anyway?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    We can intimidate teams with our speed and talent , but we can only hope to hold our own when it comes to physical. With our projected weakness again on PK , we’re best off trying to avoid the penalty box . Big minutes for MacIntyre i certainly don’t envision as being beneficial to team .

    I think it is a bad strategy for Oilers to aggitate opposition into a physical game to begin with . Having said that , i feel we are better set up this season to handle a physical game if we are put in that situation . A physical game is not our strength in other words .

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    that was the other Ryan…..Stone 🙂
    i have no problem taking Blake back for Souray, he can get you 20 still, has blazing speed and some toughness to his game. then everyone can come down from the bridge because we wouldn’t have to re-sign Comrie anymore!! 🙂

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Fighting majors are always offsetting, so that isn’t an area of concern here.

    Jones numbers seem likely to be sustainable; he did the same thing last year (albeit not uite as effectively, but still better than Tootoo).

    As for the ‘small weak team’ bit, if anything I’d suggest players who are big and strong get the benefit of the doubt less than small, weak players.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      So would Stortini dropping the gloves instead of walking away and drawing a penalty not be a cause for his number being so low?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I’m sure I seen one “fight” in particular when the fight was so lop-sided that only one guy got the fighting major… maybe not though.

    • Crackenbury

      Strong teams and players don’t need to resort to clutching and holding interference type penalties. They beat you with skill and speed. Players like Moreau and company clutch and grab out of necessity.

      I’d lay money that players like Ryan Jones or Colin Fraser will not carry their above average stats as you’ve layed them out to the Oilers. Unless of course the entire Edmonton team is above average this year.

  • Crackenbury

    @ Ogden Brother Jr.:

    The referee. Every time a penalty gets called by a referee, both the player commiting hte infraction and the player slashed/tripped/etc. get noted down on the NHL’s play-by-play log.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    @ Crackenbury:

    Can you give me an example of a team in the last year that qualified as big and strong in your opinion, and then we can compare them to the Oilers?

    Because I think you’re guessing, and I suspect that advantage is cancelled out by the propensity of those big strong players to get called for roughing-type penalties that smaller guys get away with.

    • Crackenbury

      I guess you could call it guessing. I’m just falling back on personal experience in playing and coaching team sports in general. We’ll know soon enough how Jones and Fraser’s numbers carryover to the Oilers.

      Also, it’s not so much big strong players as it is strong teams that I am referring to. I do find the stat interesting, but I don’t think it translates well in a comparison between players from different teams.

    • Crackenbury

      I’ve been doing some digging around on behindthenet.ca and the stats there don’t seem to support my arguement. The numbers for forwards seem to be pretty steady across most of the teams I looked at.

      I couldn’t find a number for Fraser anywhere so I don’t know where you came up with his number. The number you gave for him is pretty much off the charts good compared to most teams. Now I’m real interested to see how he does this year.

  • Crackenbury

    @ Crackenbury:

    It’s hard to find numbers for Fraser because he averaged less than 10.00 TOI at even-strength this year, which is the automatic cutoff limit at behindthenet.ca – you need to adjust the TOI column to see other players (it’s am istake I’ve made myself).