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Staying Out of the Box: The Cost of Penalties Last Season and a Look at the Penalty Kill

What can Dallas do differently on this side of special teams this season?

NHL: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Last season the Dallas Stars were actually the most disciplined team in the league with 6.7 penalty minutes per game - contrast that with the Nashville Predators, who had 12.6 penalty minutes per game, the most in the NHL. The Stars had a penalty killing percentage of 79% which was good for 19th in the league, however. Since they were so good at staying out of the box to begin with, they only gave up a total of 46 power play goals against, putting them at 12th best in the NHL in that regard.

It is easy enough to look up penalty minute (PIM) stats for a player and come to a quick conclusion on how disciplined that player was for the season, but there is much more to the story. As we all know, players play a differing number of minutes per game and a differing number of games in a season. In order to better understand these penalty minutes, we can standardize these numbers to be total minutes played per penalty minute acquired for each player. Below is what that looks like for the 2021-2022 season for most, but not all, of the Stars roster.

This table provides a better understanding of who the more disciplined players were on the team, but this still isn’t the whole story because not all penalty minutes are created equal and players, based on their skill sets, have different roles on the team. At first glance, Benn might seem like an undisciplined player only playing 15.7 minutes for each penalty minute acquired, but quite the contrary is true.

As the captain of the Stars, Benn has to look out for his entire team and set the tone for any cheap shots, misdeeds or slander coming from the opposition. The bulk of his penalty minutes are for dropping the gloves to set the precedent for what is and isn’t allowed on the ice. While fighting does rack up a quick five penalty minutes, it doesn’t leave his team short-handed and usually only serves as a shot in the arm to get the momentum rolling. Quite frankly, with the Stars not carrying a prototypical “enforcer” on the roster, if he wasn’t one of the most penalized guys on the team, it would raise an eyebrow.

Another player to look at is Jani Hakanpaa. While it is unfortunate that he makes as many trips to the box as he does (because he is a great penalty killer), his style of physical, bone-rattling play is much needed for this team and a certain number of penalties just come with the territory. Here is a table to show the total hits delivered for the 2021-2022 season, for which Hakanpaa led by a large margin.

Now looking at the penalty killing unit for the upcoming season, there is much to be optimistic about. Seven of the eight players who had the most short-handed minutes per game are returning this year to this point.

Michael Raffl is the one guy from the PK unit who will not be returning for the upcoming season. He had the 5th-most shorthanded time on ice, 4th-most hits for the season, 2nd-most shorthanded points, and the 5th-best faceoff winning percentage at 53.85% for the season. Clearly, the Stars have some big shoes to fill on the PK. So, who will step up to fill this role?

Marian Studenic and Riley Tufte got some looks throughout camp and preseason before being sent down to AHL Texas. Ty Dellandrea, prior to breaking his finger, and Jacob Peterson have also gotten time on the PK. These guys have favorable characteristics for penalty killing including: tenacious puck hunters that will limit time and space for the opposition’s power play, length to cut down seam passes, speed, and they are good on the dots to control those ever-important defensive zone faceoffs.

The reality is there will probably be a decent amount of shuffling in personnel to find a good fit, especially at the start of the season, as the coaching staff searches for the right personnel combination to form a successful penalty killing unit.