Will the Flames take fewer penalties in 2018-19?

A problem the Flames had in 2016-17? They took too many penalties. A problem they had in 2017-18? They took too many penalties. A problem they might be having at times this preseason? … Well, penalties.

Over Glen Gulutzan’s tenure as Calgary’s head coach, the Flames were among the league leaders in penalty minutes: in 2016-17 they led the NHL in both minor penalties taken and total penalty minutes, and in 2017-18 they were fourth in minor penalties, and second league-wide in total penalty minutes. While we likely can’t attribute this entirely to Gulutzan, you have to go all the way back to the 2009-10 season to find another year in which the Flames were in the upper half of the NHL in terms of penalty minutes.

Mind, the Flames’ penalty kill percentage was in the upper half of the league both seasons, but it still stands to reason that taking fewer penalties is probably going to result in fewer goals against. (This was a problem for the Flames in 2016-17, but less so in 2017-18.)

In contrast, Bill Peters’ Hurricanes took the fewest minor penalties in the league over his four seasons as their head coach, and had the fewest total penalty minutes (except in 2015-16, when they only had the second fewest total penalty minutes, the monsters). The Hurricanes did have a similar record in 2013-14 as well – when Peters was still an assistant coach with the Red Wings – with the fewest penalty minutes taken in the league, but only the seventh fewest minor penalties. They also have pretty consistently been at least near the bottom of the league in penalties taken for a number of additional seasons prior to Peters joining the team.

Still, it does at least inspire one to wonder if, since Peters has enjoyed a consistent record of his teams just not really taking penalties, we can expect a sharp reduction in infractions committed by the Flames this upcoming season.

Beyond the coach, though, penalties will ultimately be decided by the players who take (or draw) them.

Via Natural Stat Trick, here are how the Flames (who are still in camp and actually have data to draw from) have stacked up over the past two seasons, listed in descending order by their penalty differentials:

Player Minor penalties taken Penalties drawn Penalty differential
Johnny Gaudreau 10 72 +62
Matthew Tkachuk 51 94 +43
James Neal 27 46 +19
Garnet Hathaway 26 37 +11
Elias Lindholm 17 28 +11
Austin Czarnik 6 14 +8
TJ Brodie 21 25 +4
Travis Hamonic 21 24 +3
Rasmus Andersson 2 4 +2
Mark Jankowski 14 15 +1
Curtis Lazar 9 10 +1
Andrew Mangiapane 1 0 -1
Sean Monahan 21 20 -1
Anthony Peluso 2 1 -1
Brett Kulak 17 13 -4
Dalton Prout 9 3 -6
Derek Ryan 24 18 -6
Noah Hanifin 21 10 -11
Sam Bennett 57 45 -12
Michael Stone 24 12 -12
Mark Giordano 51 38 -13
Michael Frolik 36 18 -18
Mikael Backlund 41 18 -23

Players like Czarnik and Andersson have had pretty limited NHL showings, but in the handful of games they’ve gotten in, their early returns are good. Meanwhile, newcomers Neal and Lindholm project to help get the Flames on the man advantage, while Ryan and, to a greater extent, Hanifin may struggle a little more in that department.

We see players who are utilized in highly defensive roles – Backlund, Frolik, Giordano, and Stone in particular – take more penalties than they draw, but that’s a part of playing that position. (If Frolik takes on a lesser role this season then we may see his numbers get better; meanwhile, Backlund is still great as the team’s top defensive centre – and penalty killer – but fewer penalties taken might go a long way.)

On the flip side of things, Gaudreau is just so good as a focused offensive dynamo that he’s far more likely to force the other team into an error than to hurt his own cause, while Tkachuk is becoming something of a penalty-drawing specialist himself. (Bennett is kind of Tkachuk’s worst case scenario: he commits a lot of penalties, but he also draws quite a few, just not enough to balance his numbers out.) Otherwise, most players fall somewhere in between.

The players the Flames have lost over the offseason matter a lot here, as well. In 2017-18, Dougie Hamilton led the Flames with 25 minor penalties taken. Matt Stajan was tied for fifth with 12 penalties. Hamilton and Stajan were also second and third, with 20 and 19 minor penalties taken, respectively, on the team in 2016-17. Though the Flames still have a number of guys who take a lot of penalties, it is possible they may see some addition by subtraction in this department. (However, that isn’t a guarantee: remember, we’re talking about a top pairing defenceman and a centre who took a lot of defensive zone draws. Their replacements may end up committing a number of infractions as well.)

Ultimately, though, more disciplined play – perhaps under this new coaching staff – and a slightly changed roster of players featuring more newcomers who have a positive differential than not could see the Flames’ penalty fortunes take a turn for the better this season. Neal and Lindholm will likely get big minutes. Hanifin probably still has room to grow. And a rookie like Dillon Dube remains a total wild card.

But if the team is able to turn their penalty-taking fortunes around and their special teams follow suit, it’s another area in which the Flames may be able to tack on a few more wins, and that could make all the difference by season’s end.

  • freethe flames

    Players are going to take penalties and some are good penalties and some are bad penalties. I expect over the season to see the bad, lazy and selfish penalties go down as I think BP will us the one tool a coach has and that is reducing ice time. With the depth at every position it is much easier to sit a guy than it has been in the past. The other hope is with the depth of this group that guys will take less tired/lazy penalties as time goes on.

  • The GREAT WW

    So you’re saying Backlund is the worst…..Bennett was up to his old tricks again last night taking lazy penalties…..
    At least Hamilton is gone…..

    So yeah; less penalties, but still a lot unless Backlund and Bennett play a less lazy game….


    • freethe flames

      WW: Backlund’s penalties frequently look lazy but I would suggest it is more from being tired and frequently being asked to do more than others. He plays 5 on 5 and usually against the other teams best forwards, plays on the PP and is one of the best Pkers on the team. Seldom does he take selfish penalties.

      Bennett frequently takes careless and lazy penalties and sometimes it is because he is trying to do too much. Others on this team take selfish penalties.

      • cjc

        “He plays 5 on 5 and usually against the other teams best forwards”

        This. If you are lining up against superstars night in-night out, then yeah, you’re going to take a few more penalties. I’m not ready to say this aspect of Backlund’s game is acceptable, but I also need more context before I dump on him. I would like to see it broken down by ice time (net penalties/60) and I’d like to see a comparison with other players in the league (i.e. similar ice time, QoC and zone starts).

        Also, last year was a bit of an anomaly for him. Before that, Backlund averaged 27 PIM/82 games, so the jump to 76 PIM last year was strange – maybe it was Gully’s desired playing style that led to that? Maybe it was the fact that they were constantly chasing other teams? Alternatively it could be a sign that Backlund is slowing down (though it’s pretty rare for PIM to jump that much as players age – if anything they decrease). My guess is it was just an off year, but we’ll have to wait and see.

      • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

        Way too many of Bennett’s penalties are from behind. Whether that is laziness or being caught out of position I don’t much care. Clean it up Sam!

      • Baalzamon

        Bennett is an extremely lazy player. If he had half Dube’s drive he’d be a superstar.

        The games where Bennett is good are the ones where he works. When he doesn’t he’s completely invisible, and there are far more of the latter than the former.

        • canadian1967

          Baalz!!! If there’s one thing you can’t call Bennett on; it’s his drive.

          You should stick to using analytics, because if you actually think your statement above is correct, then you should make an appointment with your optometrist, because your eyes are broken.

        • HAL MacInnis

          I don’t see Bennett as a lazy player either. However, he lacks good hands and a scoring touch; which probably makes him play with frustration, more than perceived laziness. Even when he impressed us with his playoff debut way back with Hartley, the pucks went in from crashing the net hard; not from dekes and accuracy. Don’t get me wrong, I want Bennett to succeed, but we ruined his development by skipping his duties in the AHL. Not every player is a Tkachuk. I hope Bennett’s story this season is one of redemption.

          • wot96

            Bennett was thought to be the best stickhandler in his year. His hands are just fine.

            Imo, he needs a role that suits him and he needs to know it and play within it. He can’t and shouldn’t try and do it all at this level. I think he should be perfectly suited for the hard forecheck game of dump, crash, retrieve. Might not get 60 points a year, ever, hell may never get 50. But he could be a very effective player in a forechecking role.

            We just need to accept he isn’t what we hoped he would be. And so does he.

    • buts

      I’m not a big Bennett fan, but after Kane slashed I think it was Czarnik, Bennett flattened him which he deserved, pissing Kane off and drawing a penalty. We need that grit in the lineup…..cudos to him. Bennett had 2 years of GG ruining him…..he will bounce back.

    • Flaming moe

      WW I have to admit you were right about something. I seen Brady Tkachuk play last night. Holy cow this kid is a Gamer. I thought Matt was feisty. This Brady kid is crazy and good. He runs at Veteran players. Lips them off. Laughs at the refs when they penalize him. Crashed the net like a mad man. He is arising gojng to be a force in this league. I know a number of us laughed at your baby byng suggestions this summer but he is a stud.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        Brady used to kick Matty’s bass routinely as kids whether they were playing with fungo bats or jousting sticks. That chestnut from Mama Tkachuk. In a word, Brady is intense.

      • Avalain

        I’m still not sold on Brady Tkachuk. I think that he’s going to make it into the NHL, sure. But I doubt that he’ll have as big of an impact as his brother.

        The fact that he’s throwing himself around is great, but I just don’t feel that he has the same game sense that Matt has. There’s a reason why Brady has less scoring at every level of hockey compared to his brother. He’s bigger, meaner, tougher, plays with more of an edge, but simply doesn’t have what Matt has.

  • Off the wall

    I played hockey last night. I was a bit upset from the previous week…there’s a player who always gets under my skin. I’ll call him Dick.

    Dick thinks he’s in the NHL, tries to go around everyone (all alone) and has the personality of a fish.
    He tripped me twice last night, and laid a pretty heavy check on me.Yah it hurt.. big time. He should of been penalized, however our game isn’t ref’d.

    I wanted to two- hand him, but I know better. I went to the bench after the hit, just to collect myself. Sitting on the bench, talking to my fellow hockey players, they encouraged me to lay a body check on him. So I did.

    I waited for the perfect opportunity, then I hip checked him against the boards. I’m 5’6 , 150lbs. He’s 6’1 190lbs. We’re not supposed to check in old timers- but this guy is in his late 20’s and he’s a Dick. I’m 54, I’m old.

    Well, his body crumpled from the hit.
    My bad. Although, it felt good to get even with him, I gotta admit, it was not a great idea.
    He was chasing me all night long, trying to finish me off.

    I’ll admit, I was a bit scared, this big ass boy was going to get even more aggressive.

    It took me off the game, and I spent the night watching out for every time he was on the ice.
    And this is frickin old timers.

    I can’t imagine how our NHL boys feel, when they get involved with someone that gets under their skin .. repeatedly.
    I’m not here to defend lazy penalties or say that players should know better. They should.

    But it’s sure difficult when you’re involved in the heat of the moment.

    I’m hoping Dick misses next weeks game. I think he’s put a target on my back and I don’t like it…

      • Off the wall

        I agree Free. But late time slots for hockey doesn’t help.

        The coordinator is a great guy, we just don’t have enough bodies this season for the young ones to be kept off the roster.

        It’s a bit frustrating, the last two games, we’ve only had two substitutes for each team. One for D, one for forwards.

        I won’t give up, just because we have younger players. It definitely raises the tempo of the game. I don’t mind that. It’s just the one or two ( Dicks) that spoil it for the rest of us.

        I just need to keep my emotions in check. And play by example, rather than letting someone else determine how I’ll play.

      • Rudy27

        Yeah, we kicked a player out of our leagues years ago for the same thing. We told the team, get rid of that guy our your team is out of the league. We are not in the NHL… we all need to go to work tomorrow!

    • freethe flames

      OTW: I’m older than you. If you want to tell stories I will give you one.

      First I never played ice hockey as we were to poor for the registration fees and the hockey gear that it would have entailed, but we played ball hockey a great deal.(I used other peoples stick shafts with plastic blades) until I was old enough to work and buy my own. So I never learned to skate and with my bad old knees and bad feet I’m not about to try now.

      Back to my hockey story. The group of guys I played ball hockey ended up renting a school gym to play but in order to keep the cost down we had to include others. We always allowed a certain level of hitting but seldom did it get out of hand. We had a younger guy who played out of control and was hitting people a bit to recklessly but he also played with his head down quite a bit. So one game he was being his crazy self so I hit him with a hip check(sounds like yours) and he went down like ton. He wanted to get me after that but I seldom put myself in a position to take a hit. From then on I called him “dead meat” or just “meat”; when ever he would get out of control or play with his head down frequently barreling down the wing at me I would just yell “Meat” and he would just stop and take stock of himself. I never had to send him on his butt again nor did he ever really get out of control again. Hopefully your Dick gets the message.(if he has any friends in your group they should be talking to him)

      • Off the wall

        Love it Free! Great story. Thanks.

        We were poor as well. I Grew up in Northern Ontario on a small farm. 10 kids in the family! We had our own hockey team in numbers, (6 boys- 4 girls) but always had really old, dull skates. No gear ever. There were few that had money back then to play in leagues. I think that’s why we all enjoyed it so much. We were all in the same situation.

        I never played hockey until I became an adult. I learned to skate by having old -hand -me downs and a frozen pond by our local school. We’d play for hours there until our feet became so numb we couldn’t feel them anymore.

        My skates were usually two or 3 sizes too big (older brothers) and had broken ankles. I had to stuff cardboard in them just to stiffen up the ankles. I never got to play with the hockey team at school, I was too young. We always played the neighboring town and always got handily beaten. I wanted so badly to play but the principal wouldn’t let me. Told me I’d get killed. He was right.

        I didn’t really play hockey until I was married and could afford it.
        It’s expensive, I agree, but I just love it sooo much. I can’t imagine life without it.

        I like your way of dealing with Meathead. Stay tuned for next week. I’ll let you know if something similar works.
        Thanks for the advice!

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Cut the basket off at the knees if he runs you. I’m shorter than you and I have put out of business a number of big galoots who were obsessed with the idea that size matters.

  • RKD

    The difference is that Gio for the most part takes good penalties, Bennett takes a lot of dumb stupid penalties. Bennett really needs to cut it out of his game. Assuming none are fighting majors that’s 114 minutes lost for Bennett. Some of the vets need to do a better job of drawing more penalties instead of the lazy hooking, slashes and lazy crosschecks.

  • Derzie

    Players take penalties when they are playing superior players, either physically or mentally. It’s logical that the shutdown assignments will have the worst differentials (Backlund, Frolik, Gio, Hamilton). Negative differentials for anyone else (Bennett, Stone) is a red flag.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I know this has been said a number of times but Tkachuk needs to be on an offensive line. Bennett would be a good replacement if he could cut out the lazy penalties. Tkachuk-Janko-Neil needs to given a try. This leaves a 3rd line of Dube-Ryan-Czarnik which be defensively responsible with some offensive pop. I feel Janko and Bennett are a good tandem at killing penalties but not as regular linemates. I also feel that Backlund and Frolik are able to adapt to Bennett’s game…which is not always easy.