One of the most maddening elements of hockey analysis over the years has been the, at times, glorification of penalty minutes, from its inclusion as a key figure in fantasy hockey, to the way penalty minute leaders are often held up as a standard of toughness and “gritty” play.Last season, an opponent in a fantasy hockey league got a huge boost when his player Milan Lucic had a night that should be standard for him but which rarely happens, since the refs seem to give him a wide berth, for some reason. On that night, he got a two, a five and two tens, something crazy like that, and the fantasy team owner got something like five or six points out of it. I went to the highlights and found that it wasn’t like Milan did a great job of righting a wrong or sparking his teammates, he just did something stupid and mouthed off to the refs and it degenerated from there.
I can’t remember the situation but I assume the ref got his walking papers from Daddy Campbell last summer. In any case, the Bruins forward didn’t get his penalties from his bruising, intimidating style, but rather from throwing a tantrum, and somehow the fantasy league team made points off that. Madness.
The penalty differential described in the linked article is a useful way to look at this. To go one step further, we should differentiate the lazy or dumb penalties, the hooking and tripping and other such administration of the game calls, from the type of penalties a player who brings toughness would sensibly be expected to take. So a Steve Downie would be excused if he got elbowing, crosschecking or boarding penalties, but not so if he got a holding the stick call, or misconduct calls from unsportsmanlike behaviour.
That might be a useful stat, if we do indeed accept the postulate that these players bring an intangible benefit to their team by playing a physical style.