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On Paul MacLean and Penalties

April 3, 2014, 11:57 AM ET [75 Comments]
Travis Yost
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Paul MacLean said something interesting in the post-game yesterday. For a guy I've given something of a pass to this year, largely because I believe there's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, the comment was sort of infuriating.

The Ottawa Senators are what I would consider an average hockey team at even-strength. The problem is, at least relative to their peers, they're never playing five-on-five.

MacLean's foisting the blame here onto the shoulders of the players, but I wonder at what point the coaching staff has to start holding some accountability for this issue. Is three years long enough? Yes, I would think three years is long enough.

Here's a fun (no it's not fun) compilation of minor penalties taken by each team over the last three seasons, which encompasses every game Paul MacLean's coached at the NHL-level.

What if we focus on just this season, for argument's sake? Is the problem getting better or worse?

Well, that's not good, and certainly a bit of an indictment on the head coach. You can probably send this down two roads. One, why are the players individually (and collectively) taking so many penalties? Two, are they being punished for committing these infractions over, and over, and over?

I think the second should answer the first, because in a normal hockey world, players who frequently take penalties without contributing above and beyond those minors would generally see a reduction in ice time -- if not for being bad at hockey, for being bad at hockey and sandbagging the team.

ExtraSkater does an excellent job of quick-tracking individual penalties and penalty differential. I think the second is important -- if you're able to draw penalties and get your team on the power-play with more regularity than the average player, a team should be able to cope with your occasional hook or trip or whatever.

So it's basically comical at this point how much of a liability Chris Neil is. And actually, a lot of those guys on the left side are. The one oddity would probably be Clarke MacArthur -- for everything he's done great this year at just about everything hockey-related, I guess the one knock is he takes a lot of minors.

Of that negative group, which guy do you live with? Here's a Corsi% REL and GoalFor% REL graph of each player. Corsi% REL indicates the possession advantage the team holds with the player on the ice as opposed to off; GoalFor% REL does the same, but with goals instead of shots. Basically, the guys we are trying to identify are the exceptions -- negative penalty players with strong shot and goal numbers that would justify ice-time beyond taking dumb minors.

Really, does this surprise anyone? Clarke MacArthur's minors are irrelevant when you consider everything else he's done. Ditto Bobby Ryan -- playing through a hernia all year, mind you -- and Patrick Wiercioch (despite, bizarrely, being in the coach's dog house). Even Eric Gryba doesn't look horrible here, though I note that you'd rather see strong possession numbers than strong goal numbers, if you had to choose.

And the guys who are total nuisances -- Chris Phillips, Chris Neil, Zack Smith -- are regularly being sent over the boards, rewarded with ice-time when things maybe aren't going in the team's favor. Why? I have no discernible idea. I hear often how these guys give an "honest shift", playing hard through and after the whistles. That's fantastic. They're killed in the areas where hockey matters, energy or not, and they've certainly contributed adversely to this team's position in the standings more than a lot of the other guys.

Jason Spezza looks horrible here, but things have been improving a bit for the captain over the second-half of the year. Still, it outlines a few things. One, how horrendous he was early in the season. Two, just how much trouble this team is going to have extending him. Remember, it was *checks clock* not even 24-hours ago that he walked into the coaching staff's office and privately told Paul MacLean that his back was "tightening up" again.

Basically, all of this above to say that Paul MacLean's rationale for rewarding the "energy line" and "energy pairing" for ice-time is impossible to reconcile with his anger over the team taking minor penalties, since, uh, the guys he's rewarding are always taking minor penalties.

I have no idea why so much time this season has been spent sending messages and banishing productive players and rewarding guys who just get obliterated against the competition, but that's more or less what's occurred here.

Hope it was worth it.


Thanks for reading!
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