For some unfathomable reason, NHL general managers have seen fit to go gaga for goons this off-season. It's a position with only thirty job openings worldwide and about 250 applicants, yet general managers are treating goons like a commodity in short supply.
The Flyers started the crazy by signing Jody Shelley to a three-year $1.1 million per year deal in the first three hours of free agency. Apparently, Riley Cote, Darroll Powe and Dan Carcillo weren't enough - it was the fourth fighter that was going to get Philadelphia over the hump. Not to be outdone by their rivals, the Rangers stepped up to the plate. Glen Sather's annual off-season crazy centered around Derek Boogaard. Boogaard, the man that costs the Wild about two points per year in the standings, despite playing only five minutes per night, was given an insane four-year contract worth $1.65 million annually.
The cap-stressed Blackhawks thought that defenseman John Scott, a pair of knuckles that dresses every once in awhile, was a worthwhile investment, so Stan Bowman signed him... to a two-year contract, because one year wouldn't have been enough for a goon to sign a guaranteed contract. Darryl Sutter, not one to be outdone when it comes to poor decisions, threw two years at Raitis Ivanans, the worst player in the league at giving away power plays, because one year just wasn't enough for a player of his ilk. Not content with just one goon to make the Flames a three line team, Sutter also signed Tim Jackman... to a two-year deal.
Steve Tambellini jumped into the fray and brought back Steve MacIntyre, a nice guy that punches hard but isn't much of a hockey player. Tambellini gave MacIntyre his first-ever one-way contract, and though he was well-liked by the Oilers during his previous stint here, there is a reason that this was his first one-way contract.
Yesterday, George McPhee thought enough of D.J. King to pull off the always-rare sign-and-trade with the Blues, sending away middling prospect Stefan Della Rovere. But at least the Capitals have that very difficult-to-fill goon position taken care of for... two years.
Why the rest of the league followed and escalated the stupidity arms race started by the Flyers and Rangers is a mystery. Is there some hidden value to goons that we aren't aware of? After the jump, I look at the value that a goon brings to the bottom line in the NHL.
To figure out the value of a goon, I used Desjardins' BehindTheNet.ca to average the time on ice and goals for / goals against for every goon in the league over the last three seasons. The average goon plays 6.9 minutes per game and 51 games per year. The average goal differential per 82 games is -5.55.
The best goon is George Parros at +15 in 1205 minutes of ice time. The worst is our good friend Raitis Ivanans at -26 in 1317 minutes of ice time.
One other aspect of the game that a goon has an influence over is penalties taken and penalties drawn. A "good" goon will minimize his impact when not fighting, while a "bad" goon will take unnecessary minor penalties and put his team on the penalty kill.
Desjardins has looked at penalty differential a couple of times, focusing mainly on the skill of drawing penalties. He's found that Dustin Brown is the best regular player in the league at drawing penalties and Patrick Kaleta has a talent for drawing penalties that contributes to a not-insignificant number of wins for the Sabres. I looked at the flip side of that - the worst players in the NHL at taking penalties.
The average NHL goon has a penalty differential of -6.43 per 82 games. As Desjardins showed in the linked posts, a minor penalty is worth about .2 goals based on the value of the power play. Using that information, we can see that the average NHL goon gives up 1.28 goals per season based on penalty differential alone.
Jared Boll led the way with a differential of +16 in 1727 minutes of ice time, though Darcy Hordichuk had a differential of +15 in 964 minutes of ice time. The worst is our good friend Raitis Ivanans at -48 in 1317 minutes of ice time, or approximately -3.74 goals per season.
Ivanans has been on the wrong end of 29 goals in the last three seasons. As Tyler at MC79hockey has shown, a differential of just shy of six goals is approximately one win or loss per year, so Ivanans has cost the Kings five wins in the last three years. Tim Jackman has been on the wrong end of 25 goals over that same time period, and cost the Islanders four wins.
Using these numbers, the average NHL goon is responsible for -6.83 goals per season, or one loss per year, yet this summer general managers have become enamored with them.
I'm not taking other factors like qualcomp (goons are always in the bottom three for each team) or WOWY into account, but in a straightforward analysis, goons are not a worthwhile investment. There are players like George Parros and Zack Stortini that can hold their own against other fourth lines, but the rest of the "true goons" list is plastered with nothing but minuses.
By the way, a big thank you to the Calgary Flames for signing Raitis Ivanans; he should be a great help to the rest of the division next season.