The Oilers’ Nasty Little Penalty Habit


Last season, the Edmonton Oilers killed 82.4 percent of the penalties they took. While only league average (they ranked 14th in the NHL in PK percentage), that represented significant improvement over previous years.

Despite having the league’s 14th-most efficient penalty kill, however, the Oilers allowed more power play goals than all but six teams. The reason? Their penchant for taking penalties.

As it turns out, the difference between being a disciplined team with an awful penalty kill and being an undisciplined team with a decent set of penalty-killers is pretty minute. The San Jose Sharks, for example, allowed 52 goals – the same number as the Oilers – despite having the second-worst kill in the NHL.

Who were the worst offenders?


The following list uses data from – penalties taken per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time, and penalties drawn per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time. I’ve ranked layers by the difference between those two totals, so as not to penalize individuals who take off-setting minors.

Ben Eager stands out here, doesn’t he? The difference between the number of penalties he draws and the number he takes is five times as large as the next-worst forward. This is the downside of adding ‘a little bit of crazy’ to the lineup: everywhere Eager has played, he’s been extremely good at getting his team into situations where they play down a man. His abilities in this area are exceptional: only five forwards with 20+ games and averaging more than five minutes of even-strength ice-time per game managed to take more penalties than Eager.

It’s interesting to see where Darcy Hordichuk falls on this list. He takes almost as many penalties as Eager, but because he also draws penalties he ends up as a net positive to the team in this department. This isn’t an aberration, either: in four of the five seasons for which we have data, Hordichuk draws more penalties than he takes. It’s a valuable trait in any player, and relatively rare for an enforcer.

Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Paajarvi are all extremely adept at drawing penalties – particularly Hall, who led the Oilers in this department one season ago (all three were among the Oilers’ best forwards in this department in 2010-11).


Using the same criteria as for forwards, here are the Oilers defencemen:

Defence is a tough position, and that shows here: NHL defenders, on average, take far more penalties than forwards do.

Andy Sutton has been a penalty machine for as long as we have data; his ugly number here is actually an improvement from what he did with the Ducks one season ago. The difference between penalties drawn and taken, multiplied by Sutton’s ice-time, works out to 22 short-handed situations over his 52 games played. Among defenders with more than 20 games played, Sutton’s rate of taking penalties is surpassed by only two players; nobody with more than 40 games played is penalized as often.

A hair back of Sutton is Colten Teubert, who looked lost at the NHL level last season in a number of ways. It’s not a surprise he also managed to take a lot of penalties during his time in the majors.

Toss in Theo Peckham and Cam Barker, and the Oilers had the most penalty-prone blue-line in the game last year. Among NHL defenders with more than 20 games played, Sutton (3rd), Teubert (4th), Peckam (11th) and Barker (15th) were all in the top-20 league-wide in penalties taken relative to ice-time.

Tyler Dellow talked about Peckham a few weeks back, focusing in on the penalties he took last season; it’s an interesting read and related to this post.

The trio of veterans that will make up the core of the Oilers’ blue-line hopes this year – Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney and Ladislav Smid – all managed to play their games despite often playing tough opposition. This is particularly praiseworthy given the style of game played by Smid/Schultz and Whitney’s difficulties with mobility last season.

Jeff Petry was also excellent in this category over 35 games in 2010-11.

I’d suggest this number is one mark in Corey Potter’s favour as he battles for a roster spot/ice-time with Sutton and Peckham.

  • GVBlackhawk


    Thanks for the article. After looking at the penalties are you able to classify Gagner’s penalty time? Does it reflect the common criticisms related to foot speed and defensive positioning?

  • I think Sutton gets penalized for being Sutton sometimes. For example, I still dont think he did anything wrong to Landseskog and that was a play he was suspended on.

    That said, it doesnt change the fact the refs are making the calls against him. I like that simply keeping Cam Barker, Teubert, and Peckham off the ice next season (Moon, AHL, Press Box) could keep the Oilers from getting 1 or 2 unnecessary penalties called against them per game.

    I want the Oilers to have “a little bit of crazy” in the line-up, but how much more than Sutton do they need to provide it?

    If the Oil can get rid of Eager for as little as The Waitress at Denny’s phone number I would pull the trigger.

    • Totally agree with you on the Sutton situation, all he did was step at the line. It’s not his fault he is a Giant among midgets. And I think he plays the same style of game that a lot of players in the league do but when he does it, he gets a call from Shanny saying if you don’t tone it down you be in for a very long suspension.

  • Reg Dunlop

    We can all agree that certain penalties seem easier to kill. Penalties of agression, penalties that save a scoring chance, penalties taken while defending a teammate… if Eager or Sutton take these types I think it is acceptable. Coach’s job next year is to make sure the other types of penalties are limited while not benching the only ruffians we have for doing what they were brought here to do.

    • A) I don’t think there’s ever been any evidence to support that certain types of penalties are easier to kill.

      B) With the caveat that I’m not looking up the numbers, I’m not convinced that’s the bulk of the penalties that Eager in particular takes. I can’t even count the number of times I thought “Stupid, Eager, stupid!” after watching him skate off to the box.

      • Snowdropper

        I bet its easier for the killers to slay a pk if hall takes a two minute roughing penalty than if someone grabs and opponents jersey on the back-check cuz he dont wanna move his or her feet(yes her, some players on dis team play like “her” )

          • I really do believe the Players when they say these penalties are “harder” or “easier” to kill. I dont know how often that translates into allowing the goal because they are professionals and elite level athletes. But at the same time, I think that those penalties chip away at the cohesiveness of the team as a whole. Maybe the toll of killing those lazy penalties doesnt show up in the PK, maybe they show up in the dressing room first.

            It’s something to get an opinion on from the local expert: Jason Strudwick.

            I would love for him to elaborate on what it means for certain penalties being “harder” to kill than others.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            I wouldn’t be suprised if consistantly taking bad penalties will have a negative affect on the team.

            I would be suprised if the success rate on the PK is much different (if at all) based on the type of penalty that put them there

          • OilLeak

            The players can say whatever they want about certain penalties being “harder” to kill, but do you honestly believe that any PK unit will give a poor effort just because it was a dumb penalty? That notion just seems ridiculous.

            If the team is repeatedly taking penalties causing player fatigue that could cause a poor effort on the PK, but not because Eager decided to be a bonehead.(Although I would imagine that type of thing gets brought up in the locker room)

          • What I honestly believe is that players are telling the truth that some times it feels harder to kill certain penalties.

            If you read what you quoted it is pretty clear that I dont think they give a poorer effort for bad penalties. I DO think that they can differentiate between a “good” penalty and a “bad” penalty.

            If you have to keep bailing out a fellow employee, no matter what profession you are in, eventually it will take its toll on your relationship with that employee. If you’re bailing that person out because they are incompetent then it’s worse.

            They might be elite athletes, but they’re still just people. There isnt any reason to dismiss players when they say these types of things. Why shouldnt I believe them?

            It’s harder to kill a lazy penalty. Doesnt mean the PK will run at a lower efficiency, it just means there is a greater toll on the team to kill the penalty. It’s an 82 game season. Guys are working and living together for 8 months of the year. The time they spend on the ice together in game situations makes up only a fraction of the total.

          • Same reason why certain players score more game or ot winners than others, while luck is part of it, so is emotion…if ethan moreau takes the same obstructiom penalty over and over eventually the team just says “f this, screw off ethan”
            If hall takes a major roughing penalty against an avery type its an inspiration..over time these things swing in the teams favour

  • Quicksilver ballet


    I wuv all things anti Horcoff. Horcs must be the most common offender for pm’s of the lazy variety,mostly the hooking and holding type of penaties, could just be a preconceived attitude towards these players though.

    Ben Eager is a Saint! ….and i take issue with anyone who wants to throw him under the bus. Horcoff and Gagner seem to me always take the, our guy isn’t skating fast enough, type of penalties. Can we blame these guys for all the too many men on the ice calls last yr as well?

    Maybe Mr. Willis could submit an article which beer retains the lowest temperature in a glass longer during this biotchin heatwave. Love me some snow to go with some hawkey bout now.

    • paul wodehouse

      …i was thrilled when we signed eager Ben and am still…ok…half thrilled …last year was a bummer …getting taken out by an even more eager Kirill Tulupov in tHE moSS didn’t do his ‘rep’ any good from where i sat…a concussed 55 with melon problems ws not a good thing…he WILL bounce back,maybe,this year, i think…he’ll be as important to this club when they go on their first Cup run…when he went Champion with the Hawks he played 17 games had 2pts and an hour in PIMs…the fire power took care of the rest … stay young Ben

      and Q…JW’s going to make you wish you hadn’t suggested doing a piece on “stuff with numbers in it”
      …he’s properly nuts with stats y’know …

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Same boat. Last season revealed a disconect between management and coaching. Tambellini fed Renney the type of players Steve felt were lacking in the lineup. Renney had no use for Eager and Hordichuk. Lets hope Krueger knows how to get the most out of these two hombres.

  • Snowdropper

    That has to be the funniest post-related picture ever!

    The stats on Hordichuck show a good reason of why he was resigned. Unlike some other one-dimentional fighters we’ve employed in the past, Darcy is effective at drawing penalties, not just taking them. He’s not such a liability on the ice. Hopefully he gets more ice-time under Kruger to do that.

  • Spydyr

    As close watchers of the game know, NHL officials do not give young players a fair shake in calling penalties committed against them and if they show their frustration it only gets worse. This happened to the young Oil last season and in the last 20 games with the Oilers eliminated it seemed as if the referees were trying to send a clear message to shut up and take your medicine. I know the Oilers PPs for and against at the end of last season were extraordinary.

    This is not anti-Oiler bias, just a reflection of peculiar and unofficial NHL refereeing practice. Some day this attitude will work for us, although it will be just as wrong when it does. I only mention it because it partially accounts for the Oilers differential in overall PPs for and against. I also believe it is hard to get a fair shake when you have nothing to play for in terms of making the playoffs or playoff positioning.

  • MessyEH!

    Excellent article JW.Lets hope oilers management are paying attention.

    Tyler Dellows article is also required reading for management.

    Gregors interview of Peckham shows he still doesn’t get it as it sounded that he hopes new coach will reward his penchant for stupid penalties .

    The too many men penalties are on the assistant coaches as one of there few jobs is to monitor the line changes.

    If they use their noggins they might pick up five more wins just by avoiding stupid penalties.

  • MessyEH!

    To me the most surprising number in this article is that Hordichuk drew more penalties than he took while doing his job (which can result in 2 minute instigator penalties) of sticking up for his team.

    To be honest, before seeing this article, if asked I would have guessed that Hordichuck would have been one of the worst on the Oilers simply because of his job as enforcer.

    If he can keep this trend up I sure hope he getting the green light a little more by the new coach this year.

    Great article.

  • Snowdropper

    Spydyr, I agree with the slow part but I wish he had the “Little Engine That Could” attitude. He could also draw more penalties if he could throw it into low gear and power through the crowds. I am not sure if Sam has either gear. He is a solid addition to the team but he is not going to win the tractor pull or the drag race.

    • I guess he’ll just have to make due with laser passes and seeing-eye-dog feeds through the legs to Ebs kinds of plays. I bet they’ll more than make up for the lack of salami between his ears.

  • JW – Finesse players with great speed and offensive skills always draw more penalties then they commit and the players you mention all committed very few penalties, especially Eberle. I am not suggesting this institutional bias includes calling more penalties against them. Stats are important but some things cannot be easily quantified. Sometimes you have to believe your eyes. As for stats, late last season I did the figures for PPs for and against for the final 10 to 15 games and there was a stunning differential.

  • book¡e

    Not to belabour the point JW, but wouldn’t you expect a Lady Byng candidate to take far less penalties than he drew? MP, a large, fast skating forward who likes to drive to the net took 4 pms in 41 games. Eberle totaled 10 pms in 78 games. RNH picked up 16 pms in 62 games. Those numbers aren’t just low they are INCREDIBLY low.

    Hall took 36 minutes and with his phenomenal speed and reckless style was surely the most fouled by far. He is also the most emotional and when obvious penalties were not called everyone in the building knew how he felt. This did not help.

    They are all fast skating, offensively gifted forwards, whom other teams often have to foul to stop. It is inconceivable that they would not draw far more penalties than they are called for.

    As many players and ex-players have said a great deal of what happens on the ice is determined by unwritten but accepted codes. One is that young players have to earn the referees respect before you get the calls the veterans get. Think of Mark Messier as one obvious example, as he got away with murder in his later years. The Oiler stars are every young and clearly it will take a few years for them to be given the respect that veterans get.

    Hall is a bit of a special case because he commits more penalties, though still not very many, and because he wears his emotions for all to see, as Messier did. Year by year, especially as the Oilers move up the standings, this will change in a positive way.