An Amicus Brief In Support of Dustin Penner


Brief of The Copper & Blue as Amicus Ludus In Support of Dustin Penner for Playing on the First Line.

Table of Contents

   1. Introduction
   2. Traditional Stats
   3. Power Play
   4. Microstats
   5. Conclusion
  

1.  Introduction
The Edmonton Oilers failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year in 2008-2009.  Craig MacTavish, an ineffective and overmatched coach for the entire season, unfairly used Dustin Penner as a scapegoat throughout the year.  Because MacTavish was outcoached by virtually the entire league, Penner was made to suffer, when in fact, he should have been on the first line for the entire season, playing with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.  Three seperate sets of statistics confirm the above argument.

2.  Traditional stats
Historically, hockey statistics have been based on the simple statistics found in box scores:  Goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, and beginning in the 1950's, Plus-Minus.  In recent years there has been a movement towards more granular statistics to bring game and player analysis to a new level, similar to the revolution that baseball experienced thirty years ago.  In this section, only traditional statistics are used.


Over the course of the last two seasons, Dustin Penner has played on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky in 72 games.  The results of those 72 games are broken out between '07-'08 and '08-'09 below:

Horpenskyboxcars_medium

When combined as a line, the Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky line produces just better than a goal per game.  The Rangers famous GAG line sent two players to the Hall Of Fame by producing at a similar rate.  Shawn Horcoff averages just under one point per game and Ales Hemsky averages just over one PPG while on a line with Dustin Penner. 

At that scoring rate, the "Horpensky" line is the 3rd most productive goal scoring line in the Western Conference:

Marleau - Thornton - Setoguchi - 94
Hossa - Datsyuk - Holmstrom - 86
Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky - 86
Franzen - Zetterberg - Samuelsson - 84
Sedin - Sedin - Burrows - 81

How do these two perform without Dustin Penner on their line?   Because Shawn Horcoff was injured to finish the '07-'08 season, the only available numbers are the '08-'09 season:

Horpensky09_medium

In '08-'09, Hemsky suffered a .5 PPG falloff and Horcoff falls by .4 PPG without Penner on the port side.  From the two-year average, Hemsky was off by .36 PPG and Horcoff by .43 PPG.  Over the course of a season, that amounts to 30 fewer points per season for Hemsky, and 35 fewer points per season for Horcoff.

In a broader sense, while together with Penner and Horcoff, Hemsky's scoring rate is 3rd among right wings behind Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfredsson.  Horcoff's rate is 10th among centers.  Without Penner, Hemsky's rate is 15th among right wings and Horcoff's rate is not in the top 45 in the league among centers.

With Horcoff and Hemsky, Penner's season equivalency is 24-32-56, a rate that puts him 20th in goals and 21st in points among left wings for the '08-'09 season.

Dustin Penner may not be good enough to carry a line in the NHL.  However, to call him a complimentary player is a slight.  He's good enough that his presence allows Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky to produce as world class players and gives the Edmonton Oilers a line to match any in the Western Conference.

3.  Power Play
Power Play statistics have not traditionally been separated from even-strength statistics when analyzing a player. In recent years, more granularity in statistical tracking has allowed the ability to measure players' effectiveness on the power play specifically, against teammates and opponents alike.

 

Using traditional statistics, Dustin Penner has been the third most productive power play forward for the Edmonton Oilers over the last two seasons as evidenced  by the following chart:

Pptraditional_stats_medium

His numbers dipped from 22 points in 07-08 to 11 points in 08-09, or a fall off of 50%.  Penner is second on the team in games played over that span, so there is the possibility that he is not as productive as initially indicated, or that the 07-08 season is an aberration.  We can check Penner's productivity against the team's productivity by using microstats.  We can check the details around Penner's performance on the ice with a man advantage by breaking the numbers down into time on the ice per player.  In this case, the useful stat is Goals For On the Ice per 60 minutes played. 

Oilersppgfon6007-08_medium

In this case, we can see that even though Penner's traditional stats were down, Penner outpaced all other forwards for the Edmonton Oilers and the power play was most productive when he was on the ice.  The team was only 4% less effective with Penner on the ice in 08-09 as compared to 07-08. Comparing Penner's GFON/60 % change to the other power play regulars:

Oilerspp_chg0708_medium

Even though Nilsson and Cogliano have a marked improvement year-over-year, they still lag far behind Penner in this category.  Looking at PPGFON/60 as a % of Dustin Penner's production provides a more stunning view of Penner's importance to the Oiler's power play:

Ppgfon60_ofpenner_medium

 
Only Ales Hemsky gets the same numbers out of his time on the ice with a man advantage.  Sam Gagner is beginning to look like he should be the team's primary option at center.  The rest of the team lags far behind.

 

The Oilers shift towards a system oriented around a shot from the point is likely the reason for the fall in Penner's traditional numbers.  It might also explain why the team was most effective with Penner on the ice. David Staples, a writer for the Edmonton Journal's Cult Of Hockey blog, wrote a column on Penner's effectiveness on the power play. In it, he details why Penner is so effective:

This year, I've been keeping track of the times that players made good plays that were key to a goal being scored, but they weren't given an official assist for one reason of another. Most of these unofficial assists are handed out to players who make a hit that leads to the goal, or screen the goalie, or make an excellent early pass in the scoring sequence. Dustin Penner leads the Oilers in unofficial assists with 22. Almost all of these have been awarded for the immensely effective manner in which Penner screens the opposition goalie. When he's out there, planting his 6-foot, 4-inches, 245-pounds in front of the goalie, few forces in the hockey universe can move the guy, not even a Chris Pronger crosscheck. He puts on the goalie a total eclipse of the shooter, and that's why the Oilers powerplay has been so effective as a unit when he's on the ice. In fact, the unit has more success with him out there than with any other Oilers player, including Sheldon Souray and Ales Hemsky. No, Penner doesn't get many powerplay goals or assists, but his screening of the goalie is such an effective strategy it loosens things up for every other Oilers shooter. That's a fact.

Emphasis mine.

With a barrage of shots coming from the point, Penner's play in front created many of the scoring opportunities that the Oilers capitalized on.

in 07-08, the Oilers lost Sheldon Souray to injury.  The power play did not focus on shots by defensemen, rather it was a more distributed system amongst the forwards.  Dustin Penner produced 22 power play points and a GFON/60 of 7.13.  In 08-09, in a system where the puck was distributed to the defensemen, Penner's traditional production slumped, but the team was just as effective while he was on the ice due to his play low in the offensive zone.  The versatility shown by Dustin Penner in his ability to operate in both systems wasn't fully taken advantage of during the 08-09 season.  In fact, his power play time was reduced by 25%.  It was a significant mistake.  As evidenced by the numbers above, Dustin Penner should be a fixture on the primary power play unit.

 

4.  Microstats
Historically, hockey statistics have been based on the simple statistics found in box scores:  Goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, and beginning in the 1950's, Plus-Minus.  In recent years there has been a movement towards more granular statistics to bring game and player analysis to a new level, similar to the revolution that baseball experienced thirty years ago.  In this section, we examine those granular statistics as applied to Dustin Penner.

 

A.  Even Strength Play

Even strength play allows for a deeper look into a player's performance without the influence of cherry power play minutes or the much tougher penalty kill minutes.  In Dustin Penner's case, even strength production tells a compelling story, and that story is that Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff suffer greatly when not on the ice with Dustin Penner:

Ales Hemsky & Dustin Penner 2007-2008

Hemsky's production with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Hemsky w/o Penner: .700 GF/20 -- 224th in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2007-2008
Hemsky w/ Penner: 1.019 GF/20 -- 34th
in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2007-2008

Hemsky's +/- with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Hemsky w/o Penner: -0.08 +/- per 20 -- 202nd in +/-
Hemsky w/ Penner: 0.00 +/- per 20 -- 148th in +/-

Ales Hemsky & Dustin Penner 2008-2009

Hemsky's production with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Hemsky w/o Penner: .712 GF/20 -- 224th in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2008-2009
Hemsky w/ Penner: 1.244 GF/20 -- 10th
in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2008-2009

Hemsky's +/- with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Hemsky w/o Penner: -0.15 +/- per 20 -- 200th in +/- 
Hemsky w/ Penner: 0.508 +/- per 20 -- 14th in +/- 

Ales Hemsky without Dustin Penner scores, at even strength, at the same rate as Richard Park and Blake Comeau of the New York Islanders.  With Dustin Penner, Hemsky scores at a rate similar to Sidney Crosby.

Over each of the last two seasons there are only three forwards with a better even strength scoring rate than Ales Hemsky while Dustin Penner is on the ice.  Those men are Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin.

 

Shawn Horcoff & Dustin Penner 2007-2008

Horcoff's production with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Horcoff w/o Penner:  .842 GF/20 -- 135th in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2007-2008
Horcoff w/ Penner: 1.092 GF/20 -- 37th in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2007-2008

Horcoff's +/- with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Horcoff w/o Penner: -0.38 +/- per 20 -- 298th in +/-
Horcoff w/ Penner: 0.40 +/- per 20 -- 22nd in +/- 

Shawn Horcoff & Dustin Penner 2008-2009

Horcoff's production with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Horcoff w/o Penner: .834 GF/20 -- 151st in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2008-2009
Horcoff w/ Penner: 1.104 GF/20 -- 42nd in ES scoring for all qualifying forwards in the NHL in 2008-2009

Horcoff's +/- with and without Penner on the ice at Even Strength:

Horcoff w/o Penner: -0.15 +/- per 20 -- 143rd in +/-
Horcoff w/ Penner: 0.424 +/- per 20 -- 25th in +/-

Shawn Horcoff without Dustin Penner scores, at even strength, at the same rate as David Perron and Pascal Dupuis.  With Dustin Penner, Hemsky scores at a rate similar to Johan Franzen and Martin St. Louis.

Over each of the last two seasons there are only nine forwards with a better even strength scoring rate than Shawn Horcoff while Dustin Penner is on the ice.  Those men are Jason Arnott, Nicklas Backstrom, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Ales Hemsky with Dustin Penner, Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Corey Perry.

 

Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky

In 2008-2009, the Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky line appeared in 39 games together (this does not mean that they played the entire game together).  During that time, the line scored 21 ES goals and gave up 5 ES goals.   For the rest of the season, when playing together on a line without Dustin Penner, Horcoff and Hemsky scored 14 ES goals and gave up 17 ES goals.

In those 39 games, the Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky outshot the opponent 174-110 (+64).  Without Dustin Penner, the Horcoff-Hemsky line was outshot 208-222 (-14). 

Corsi, a measure of territoriality, is total net value of all shots at net for and against while a player is on the ice at even strength.  Shots directed at the net includes blocks and misses.  Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky combined for a Corsi of +130.  Without Dustin Penner, the Horcoff-Hemsky line posted a Corsi of -23.

Shots

In 2008-2009, the Edmonton Oilers were outshot 1756-1991 (-235) at even strength.  While Dustin Penner was on the ice, the Oilers outshot their opponents 463-426 (+37).  The Oilers team Corsi was -359; Penner's Corsi was +93.  Penner led the Oilers in Corsi/mins played at +2.3 shots/20 mins.

Average shot distance can be used to determine where a player spends their time in the offensive zone.  Penner led the Oilers in shot distance, and was 22nd in the league by this metric.

 

Degree of Difficulty

Next, we can look at three stats, Zonestart, DefPct, Zoneend, and Zoneshift.  Put simply, Zonestart is defined as [Defensive Zone Faceoffs taken - Offensive Zone Faceoffs taken],  this number in an indicator in which end of the ice a player starts his shifts.  DefPct is the percentage of faceoffs the player took in the defensive end.  Zoneend is defined as [Shifts ending in the defensive zone - shirts ending in the offensive zone], which indicates where a player ends his shifts.  Zoneshift is [ZoneEnd - Zonestart ] and shows whether or not the player is driving the play or being pushed and held in his own end.  The NHL average for Defpct is 30%, meaning the average NHL player takes 30% of their faceoffs in the defensive zone.

In 2008-2009, the Oilers had two forwards take an abnormally high level of defensive zone faceoffs, Shawn Horcoff and Kyle Brodziak.  Besides those two players, Fernando Pisani and Ethan Moreau, noted for their defensive prowess also took nominally more defensive zone faceoffs than offensive zone faceoffs.  The rest of the Oilers regular forwards can be found in the chart below:

0809forwardszs_medium
 

Penner had a Zonestart of -39, meaning he started in the offensive zone 39 more times than the defensive zone, tied for last on the team.  However, of the forwards not considered defensive specialists, only Ales Hemsky had a higher percentage of defensive zone faceoffs.  What's most interesting is that of all of the forwards with a negative zone start (started in the offensive zone more than the defensive zone) only Dustin Penner has a positive zoneshift (+4), meaning he ended in the offensive zone 4 more times than he started.   He was holding the puck in the offensive end or driving it towards the offensive end when he was on the ice.

 

Scoring Chances

Below is a chart showing the regular forwards that took the ice for the Oilers during 2008-2009.  The chart indicates scoring chances while on the ice at even strength.  Included on the chart are even strength scoring chances for (EV+), even strength scoring chances against (EV-), and those chances broken out by even strength time on ice, in increments of 15 minutes.

Chancesper15_medium

When measuring chances for and chances against, Dustin Penner had the largest differential on the team, and clearly outpaces those with similar starting positions as noted above.  Note that Ales Kotalik, the late-season replacement, surrendered more than one extra scoring chance per 15 minutes than Penner.

The final chart shows scoring chances amongst the forwards that played regular power play shifts for the Oilers in 2008-2009. 

Ppchper4_medium

Penner leads the Edmonton Oilers in scoring chances for while on the ice for the power play, besting noted power play ace Ales Hemsky. 

 

A common phrase in hockey analysis is "Who drives the bus?", roughly translated to "Who is carrying the play?".  In the case of the Edmonton Oilers, the answer has been Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky.  However, as demonstrated above, they tend to spin their wheels without Dustin Penner around.  Horcoff might drive the bus, but Dustin Penner is the vehicle that delivers results.

 

5. Conclusion

On the current version of the Edmonton Oilers, Dustin Penner acts as a catalyst.  Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky are outstanding players, but when they are on a line with Dustin Penner, they perform as one of the best lines in the league.  Penner's own body of work is not superstar-like on the surface, but a deeper look into the numbers and the numbers of his teammates shows that there is a reaction when he's on the ice.  His size creates space for his linemates by attracting the attention of the defense and allows Horcoff and Hemsky to move more freely in the offensive zone.  His presence in front of the net makes the power play more effective by screening the goalie during the Oilers point-heavy attack as well as keeping the defensemen lower in the zone and giving Ales Hemsky space to create opportunities.  His ability to battle on the boards and hold the pick in deep takes the puck handling workload off of Ales Hemsky and creates more scoring opportunities than any other Oiler. 

The statistics used in the first three parts of this brief lead to one indisputable fact:  the Edmonton Oilers are a stunningly better team when Dustin Penner steps onto the ice with the first line.

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