At about this time last year I speculated about the possibility of Jamie Benn taking a bigger role on the penalty kill. I detailed the possibilities in this post on the penalty killing at large. The relevant portion for us is screen capped below:
The Dallas Stars did end up giving Benn about 30 seconds more penalty killing time per game and managed to keep his ice time under 20 minutes per game. How did he fare in those minutes?
One of the selling points of Benn as a penalty killer is his offensive ability. It's a bit counter-intuitive, but his ability to push the attack away from his own net is a valuable penalty killing skill. If the power play doesn't have the puck in your zone they can't score. Benn, once again, was one of the top shorthanded scorers in the NHL
Of all players who consistently killed penalties ( > 50 games played, > 1 minute per game on the PK) Benn was 4th in Points/60 in the league.
Look at all those Americans on that list. It's nice to see America represented so well with Derek Stepan, Max Pacioretty, and Blake Wheeler. As nice as that is, it's also good to see Benn so high. I have a hard time taking the production of Tyler Toffoli too seriously given his second in the league PDO of 1214, but I suspect most players who score consistently shorthanded will have higher shooting percentages given that they are more likely to be on odd man rushes. So maybe he is for real. Regardless, go Benn.
Benn was a quality penalty killer in more ways than just scoring. Every underlying measure you want to look at shows that he was a good penalty killer for the Stars, but to get a better idea of how valuable he was we need to compare him to his teammates and the rest of the league.
There is a little sorcery here, but not much. I pulled Scoring Chance, Corsi, and Fenwick data from War-On-Ice for the Stars six primary penalty killing forwards. The three metrics say Delta for lack of a better name because I subtracted what they allowed from what they generated to show how much net positive each player produced. So SC Delta is Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes minus Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes and so on.
Rank is the aspect really worth focusing on. I pulled all forwards who took 60 minutes of penalty killing time from across the league. This gave us a full group of 176 forwards, or five to six per team.
* Ryan Garbutt is a really good penalty killer. He was 31st in the league amongst forwards in Scoring Chances and top 20 in both Corsi and Fenwick. He still has the ability to bring a ton of value to the Stars if he can limit penalties.
He ended up fourth among Stars forwards in time on ice shorthanded. Vernon Fiddler, Cody Eakin, Antoine Roussel, Garbutt, Benn, and Shawn Horcoff ended up one through six. Garbutt would be more than worthy of a big bump in penalty kill time if he could just be depended upon to play a smarter game. It's a travesty that he hasn't been able to up to this point in his career because he could be such a valuable player in a depth role for a team needing this skill set.
* The Stars first and third most commonly used penalty killers ranked in the lower half of the league in all three of these metrics. The Stars underutilized Eakin as a penalty killer. He and Benn made a formidable unit. It would be worth considering to make them the Stars key penalty killing unit.
A big reason why Fiddler and Roussel struggled was an inability to take the attack the other way. Yes, penalty killing is about killing penalties. It's easier to do if the puck isn't in your own end of the rink though. The ability to minimize time in your own end helps the goal of playing a stronger defensive game.
Not to always fall back on quoting Dave Tippett, but this quote is always relevant:
"Then we had another guy, who supposedly couldn't defend a lick. Well, he was defending only 20 percent of the time because he's making good plays out of our end. He may not be the strongest defender, but he's only doing it 20 percent of the time. So the equation works out better the other way. I ended up trading the other defenseman."
This even applies, within reason, to the penalty kill.
* Antoine Roussel grades out better in Fenwick than Corsi because, once again, he's a good shot blocker. He has the skills to push the attack a bit more though. He had the same problem at even strength, and once he figures out how to appropriately do that he will develop further.
* Horcoff should probably not kill anymore penalties if he isn't going to try to push it a little more offensively.
* I was also surprised a bit at the list of the top penalty killing forwards across the league.
You may also notice that the forwards who were more proficient at scoring than Benn are all on the list. Tyler Toffoli, Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan all show up. The top penalty killer in the league was Andrew Cogliano of the Anaheim Ducks. Congrats on the success and on not being Corey Perry.
In closing, it would be a good idea for the Stars to focus their penalty killing efforts around the triumvirate of Benn, Garbutt, and Eakin with some help from a reoriented Roussel. Given how successful Patrick Eaves was at even strength defensively utilizing him more in lieu of Fiddler could also be worthwhile. A key problem here is they need Fiddler for faceoffs.
It could make some sense for the Stars to pursue a penalty killing center capable of being more successful than Fiddler was on the penalty kill. The Benn experiment was a resounding success though. It wouldn't be entirely surprising to see the Stars expand the Art Ross winner's role in the future.