One way to shed a little more light on the play of defensemen is to examine how many minor penalties they take relative to their ice time. For example, if two stalwarts play twenty a minutes a game, but one takes twice as many minor penalties (leaving his teammates shorthanded) as the other, surely the player who commits fewer fouls is a greater help to his team, all other factors being equal. Sergei Gonchar, for example, has led the league two years in a row in Hooking calls, but if a goal gets scored while he's sitting in the box, his plus/minus doesn't take a hit.
Today's tables outline those defensemen taking both the fewest and most minor penalties given their ice time (minimum 41 games played). Those minor penalties have then been converted into a "Goal Cost" figure, reflecting a calculation done in a piece by Alan Ryder that provides a guideline, stating that the average shorthanded situation costs its team 0.153 goals, and that 12% of minor penalties are offsetting, meaning that 4-on-4 or something similar results. Therefore if a given player takes 40 penalties, we take 40 times 0.153 times 0.88 to yield a Goal Cost of 5.39, which is worth right about two points in the overall league standings. That may not sound like much, but for teams such as the Lightning, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Flames and Avalanche, it meant the difference between making the playoffs or not. Bringing this aspect of a defenseman's play into focus can help round out the view of their total impact on a team.
To start with, here are our elite defensive performers...
It's interesting to see the number of young players near the top of this list, as you typically think of more experienced blueliners not allowing themselves to get caught out of position and taking penalties as a result. And now, those defenders spending way too much time in the sin bin...
You have to feel for poor Wade Belak - perhaps one reason he only snagged 5:01 per game of ice time is that his coach couldn't trust him to stay out of the box. 5:01 per game? Yeesh, that's hardly worth the effort of lacing up your skates. And look at the dynamic duo of Brendan Witt and Sean Hill for the New York Islanders - cutting down a few trips to the box between those two could easily have bumped them up a seed or two in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So keep this in mind during the long months of the upcoming regular season, as you see the same defenders going to the box time and time again - over the long haul they truly hurt their team. By comparison, those blueliners who take fewer penalties are often underappreciated, and even labelled "soft" for having disappointingly low PIM totals.