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Special Teams Efficiency (STE)

There are three historically bad special teams units plying their trade in the NHL right now.  It's no secret that the Oilers' penalty kill is on track to be the worst penalty kill in history, but the Florida Panthers are also headed towards an all-time worst of their own: the worst power play in NHL history.  The Panthers have converted just five of seventy-eight power plays for a jaw-dropping 6.41% success rate.  The New Jersey Devils, not to be outdone by just anyone, are lurking in the shadows with a 9.86% success rate, just in case the Panthers decide to go on a heater.  It's no surprise, then, that these three teams are at the bottom of the league standings.  The Toronto Maple Leafs have also done themselves in via special teams.  The Leafs rank 29th in penalty kill efficiency and 21st on the power play.  The combined effect may yet be enough to send another lottery pick to Boston.  It was the combined effect of penalty kill and power play efficiency, or inefficiency, that interested me.  How much of a real effect would this have over the course of a season?  To find out, I learned a bit from an old microstat friend, PDO.

As I read this article on PDO at Behind The Net Hockey, I was struck by how simply the metric was built and applied.  If we had a simple metric to apply to special teams, we could get a sense of just how much of an impact special teams can have on a season.  Since the league average for power play success percentage plus penalty kill success percentage is 100, why not add the two and use it as a baseline for measuring special teams efficiency?  Though the tendency to regress toward the mean may be somewhat less strong (but then again, maybe not!), it may still be useful as an evaluation tool.  In this case, we'll call the combined number Special Teams Efficiency, or STE.

Since the post-lockout orgy of power plays (2005-2007) the per team yearly average of special teams situations is 657, including this year's pace of 638 per team.  If all teams were to draw the same amount of penalties, a team with a 100 STE would net zero special teams goals.  It follows, then, that a team with a 105 STE would net 33 special teams goals more than average, and a team with a 95 STE would net 33 special teams goals less than average.

Of course, a team with the talent to draw more penalties than it takes, or a team that takes more penalties than it draws can alter the net goals, but outside of Detroit, Carolina, San Jose, and of course the game's best agitator, Patrick Kaleta in Buffalo to the good, and Anaheim and Ottawa to the bad, it doesn't seem this ability persists at the team level, at least at first glance (data can be found here).

Below is a table showing the current STE for each team in the league thus far in 2010-2011.  At the right is the calculated goals gained or lost compared to the league average.

Team STE
Goals Gained / Lost 
Vancouver Canucks  112.22 80
Tampa Lightning  110.92 72
Washington Capitals  108.62 57
Minnesota Wild  107.14 47
Pittsburgh Penguins  106.7 44
Montreal Canadiens  105.66 37
Anaheim Ducks  105.17 34
San Jose Sharks  104.93 32
Detroit Red Wings  104.81 32
Atlanta Thrashers  104.5 30
Boston Bruins  102.1 14
Philadelphia Flyers  101.42 9
Los Angeles Kings  101.09 7
Colorado Avalanche  100.88 6
Chicago Blackhawks  100.24 2
League Average 100 0
Long Island Islanders  98.96 -7
New York Rangers  98.62 -9
Ottawa Senators  98.3 -11
St. Louis Blues  97.82 -14
Calgary Flames  97.71 -15
Phoenix Coyotes  97.11 -19
Columbus Blue Jackets  96.22 -25
Buffalo Sabres  95.03 -33
Nashville Predators  94.44 -37
Carolina Hurricanes  94.32 -37
Dallas Stars  92.96 -46
New Jersey Devils  92 -53
Florida Panthers  89.51 -69
Toronto Maple Leafs  88.35 -77
Edmonton Oilers  83.31 -110


  • The Oilers' special teams are so bad that if they were to continue on their current pace, they would net -110 goals by the end of the season compared to an average team.  They would net -190 goals compared to the Canucks.
  • The combination of the below average power play and second-to-last penalty kill has the Leafs planted firmly in 29th in STE, giving away 77 goals.
  • The Islanders have average special teams - it's terrible even strength play doing them in.
  • Steve Stamkos' play with a man advantage gets all of the attention, but the 3rd ranked Tampa penalty kill has quietly vaulted the Lightning near the top of this list.
  • Tyler Myers is taking heat in Buffalo, but the Sabres are in the bottom five of the league in power play efficiency and 21st while short-handed.  They are nearly even at even strength.
  • Isn't Ilya Kovalchuk supposed to fix the power play?