Who are the best penalty killers in the NHL?

Most often within those writing about advanced statistics for the NHL we hear about even strength numbers. This is largely because being on a power play or penalty kill tips the scales somewhat in either direction. At even strength we can better determine the player’s skill level without the bias that comes with the extra attacker or being down one teammate.

NHL teams often acquire players to specifically help them on their penalty kill and this is viewed as a developed skill. So who are the NHL’s most utilized and best penalty killers by the numbers? Well first I will look at last year’s numbers as the sample size (great buzz word in analytics) is far too small thus far this year.

From one of my favorite statistics sites, www.stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and based on players with 500 or more minutes shorthanded played (Roughly the top 40 in terms of shorthanded ice time) within the past three NHL seasons. I found the top penalty killers based on goals against per 60 minutes (GA60) of shorthanded ice time. The reasoning for using such a high number of minutes is that these players are clearly the most trusted on their teams if their coach is sending them out to kill off penalties this often.

The GA60 statistic tells us that over the course of 60 minutes the given number is how many goals will be scored against while that player is on the ice. Granted the quality of teammates also plays a role in the success of a penalty kill, however a good penalty killer can usually raise the level of his teammates as well.

The top five defenders includes: Bryce Salvador (4.1 GA60), Alex Pietrangelo (4.6 GA60), Anton Volchenkov (4.7 GA60), Dan Hamhuis (4.8 GA60) and Josh Gorges (4.8 GA60). These names are not all that surprising of course; however the much maligned Bryce Salvador may show people why the New Jersey Devils still value his contributions.  Perhaps his overall game is not something to write home about, but he is a valuable commodity that can contribute on the penalty kill.

Zdeno Chara may perhaps have one of the best perceptions from those around the game of being a great penalty killer. The reach he has with his stick alone often makes his side of the ice a black hole for the opposition. So where did he rank? The Boston Bruins captain came in at 14th place overall and tenth among defenders with 5.6 GA60.

Moving onto the forwards the top five were: Tomas Plekanec (5.1 GA60), Craig Adams (5.3 GA60), Matt Read (5.3 GA60), Maxime Talbot (5.5 GA60) and Jay McClement (5.6 GA60). Once again these players all make sense; the only one that slightly surprised me was Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers. Although he is an under appreciated for those outside of the Philadelphia Flyers fan base.

Speaking of the Flyers, the much heralded defensive play of Sean Couturier landed him at 23rd overall or eighth among forwards with 6.1 GA60. Still being in the top ten in the league is a great accomplishment.

The players that can contribute offensively and on the penalty kill are often locked up with longer terms and higher dollars. However those that are penalty kill specialists are often seen moving around the NHL to varying degrees. Both Maxime Talbot and Jay McClement have played in few different NHL sweaters to this point in their careers.

The most valuable players on these lists are definitely Tomas Plekanec and Alex Pietrangelo. Both can contribute a 200 foot game to the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues respectively. Do not expect either to be seen in a different jersey anytime soon. These types of players are too valuable to let go.

About Mike Burse

Mike will make the numbers make sense in the NHL for Puck Drunk Love.