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A Hart-Breaking Issue

It's been a couple weeks, so the Penalty Plus/Minus numbers have been refreshed to capture the NHL games up through Sunday night, November 25. Alexander Ovechkin has taken the lead over Sidney Crosby, with a +18 to Sid's +15. We still see this list overwhelmingly dominated by big-name talent, as opposed to energetic grinders.

Perhaps one way to use this new metric is to provide another factor for the Hart Trophy debate; after all, if you're focusing on the top players in the league in order to figure out who should be the MVP, you might start with the current scoring leaders:

NHL Scoring leaders as of Nov. 26, 200
POS Player TM GP G A PTS +/-
C Vincent Lecavalier TAM 23 16 22 38 10
C Sidney Crosby PIT 23 12 21 33 3
LW Ilya Kovalchuk ATL 23 19 14 33 4
LW Henrik Zetterberg DET 23 16 16 32 10

Convincing arguments could go in any number of directions from here. Lecavalier is our leading scorer, but Sid's close behind and the reigning MVP. Kovalchuk is leading a resurgent post-Hartley Thrashers team, and Zetterberg is a dynamic two-way star on the best team in the Western Conference. But let's bring Penalty Plus/Minus into the mix...

Penalty Plus-Minus for NHL Scoring Leaders
POS Player TM Committed Drawn Penalty +/-
C Vincent Lecavalier TAM




C Sidney Crosby PIT




LW Ilya Kovalchuk ATL




LW Henrik Zetterberg DET




Now we start to see some separation; Crosby and Zetterberg aren't just lighting the lamp themselves, but they're also putting their respective teams in better position to succeed by drawing penalties and generating power plays. Lecavalier and Kovalchuk aren't doing so to anywhere near the same degree. While some may scoff and say that creating 15 extra power plays may only result in 3 or 4 extra goals for a given team, one has to remember the defensive component as well; not only does the team on the PP stand a decent chance at scoring a goal, but they also enjoy the benefit of their opponent striving merely to clear the zone and rag time off the clock.

Vincent Lecavalier in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2003

Penalty to Vincent Lecavalier, 2 Minutes for Holding...

As we head into the later stages of the season, it will be interesting to see how this leaderboard changes over time. Since this is a new metric, there's nothing to say that current trends will hold true throughout the rest of the year. Opposing defenses could start hauling down Lecavalier to prevent his scoring chances, or Crosby could get frustrated with Pittsburgh's on-ice disappointments and take more penalties himself.

And for the curious, Sean Avery currently stands at 11 penalties drawn against 8 committed, for a +3 figure. As the poster child for the question of whether agitators commit or draw more penalties, his numbers will be followed closely.