As fans speculate about the different players that they hope (or dread) their GM acquires in the next couple days, there's one critical aspect of their performance that is likely to be overlooked. Sure, you know how many goals and assists each guy has, and maybe an understanding of their contract situation, but there's one other point worth looking at.
How often do they generate power play opportunities for the team, or, in the negative, how often do they leave their mates shorthanded?
For the last two seasons I've been keeping track of something I call NHL Penalty Plus/Minus, which tries to illuminate this very question. Starting last season, the NHL began listing a "Drawn By" designation with each penalty within a given game, to show which player on the opposing team was the target of the infraction (some penalties, like Delay of Game, have no such "victim").
What I do to compile these figures is to focus solely on the 2, 4, and 5 minute penalties, since Misconducts don't affect the number of skaters on the ice, and tally up the Draws (how many that player makes the other team take), the Fouls (how many they commit), and use the difference to determine a Penalty Plus/Minus figure, which is the net number of power plays (or penalty kills, if negative) that a player contributes to his team.
Now, as with any stat, the context of these numbers must be understood. Defencemen, due to the nature of their work, tend to have negative numbers here; as they try to maintain position on an opponent, quite often they'll get beat and have to take a penalty as a result. Skilled forwards, likewise, would be expected to boast positive numbers by drawing such calls, and not committing needless penalties themselves.
So who sticks out? Dustin Brown from the Los Angeles Kings is running away with the title this year, with a +48 figure that is nearly double his nearest competitors, Jarome Iginla and Patrick O'Sullivan (+25 each). This is no fluke, as Brown led the league last year as well with a +43 ahead of Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, and Alexander Ovechkin. There is simply an undeniable determination and discipline in Brown's game that creates advantageous situations for his team.
On the downside, we have San Jose's Rob Blake (-30), who has the good fortune of a rock-solid supporting cast around him to clean up those PK's he creates (his overall ability makes up for this flaw as well). Not so fortunate, perhaps, is Vancouver's Shane O'Brien (-26), who isn't such a well-rounded contributor. Among forwards, the worst performer here is New Jersey's Bobby Holik, at -17.
So peruse this list (click the link at the bottom to open up the publicly available Google Spreadsheet) to see whether that new acquisition is going to create more power plays or headaches for your team; with the playoff races as tight as they are this year, every little bit makes a difference.
Data updated each Monday during the season
Click here to go to the Google Doc