When the Anaheim Ducks loaded up on muscle, led the NHL with 1,457 penalty minutes and won the Stanley Cup in 2007, there was this moment where the hockey world wondered if the paradigm for success had shifted dramatically. Just like when teams started becoming Junior Jacques Lemaires after the 1995 Cup for the New Jersey Devils, some NHL franchises (most notably the Minnesota Wild) began adding a few more penalty-minute princes to their rosters.
Has the trend held? Do teams that pile on the PIMs have more success on the ice?
Last season, five of the top 10 teams in penalty minutes qualified for the playoffs; the Detroit Red Wings weren't one of them, winning the Stanley Cup while finishing dead last in penalty time during the regular season. They also finished 80 PIM behind the runner-up Pittsburgh Penguins in the postseason, despite playing two more games than the Pens.
The Puck Stops Here has plotted out the penalty minutes earned and success rate for all 30 teams thus far this season, and they believe the results indicate that Brian Burke goon hockey has (or should) give way to a more pacifist approach:
As we can see, although there is quite a spread in the data points, the top teams in points this season all have less than average penalty minutes per game (Detroit, San Jose, Boston, Washington). All of the weakest teams are clumped toward the middle or high end in penalty minutes (NY Islanders, Colorado, Tampa Bay). There are four reasonably strong teams with the highest penalty minute totals (Philadelphia, Anaheim, Vancouver and Calgary). The correlation between points and penalty minutes is -0.241. In general, the more points a team gets, the less penalty minutes it will have. This makes sense because killing penalties is not the best way to win hockey games.
Looking at the PIM leaders this season, we're probably going to see about five playoff teams and five non-playoff teams again, so it's hard to argue for against the trend based on that measurement.
But if you want to believe that fewer penalty minutes equals more on-ice success, then here's a team to watch: The Boston Bruins, who despite some genuinely tough characters and an aggressive style have 961 PIMs on the season. Anyone else a little surprised by that?