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How Penalties and Power Play Chances Have Evolved Over The Seasons

It might surprise some to know that the number of power play opportunities across the league jumped by 3,963 in the first season after the '04-'05 NHL lockout - an increase of nearly 40%.

After many years of declining scoring, the league made it a priority to open up the game in an effort to increase scoring.

One of the main tactics was to crackdown on the clutch-and-grab side of the game, which had become standard defensive practice across the league. A crackdown that helped lead to the big jump in power play opportunities.

As a result, in the '05-'06 season the average goals per game increased by nearly a goal per game (5.12 in '04-'05 to 6.03) to a level that hadn't been seen since the '95-'96 season. The first post-lockout season also saw a total of seven players reach 100 points and five players hit 50 goals - there were none in the season prior.

Clearly, the number of penalties called over the season has an impact on the overall offensive output across the league.

We decided to take a look at how power play opportunities have evolved over the seasons and how this has impacted the game.


The clutch-and-grab era must have been extremely frustrating for offensive players like Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros and Joe Sakic. Not only was there far less space to move with stronger defensive systems and hooking and grabbing but the refs were putting their whistles away more and more. From the start of this era ('92-93) to the end ('03-'04), the average number of power plays per game declined from 5.27 to 4.24 hitting a low of 4.03 in the '99-'00 season.

For power play specialists, the '05-'06 season must have felt like something of a dream. After a cancelled season due to labour strife they were rewarded with a season where power plays were plentiful - the average power plays per game jumped over 1.5 per game from 4.24 in '03-'04 to 5.85 in '05-'06 (+1.61).

However, this jump was short lived as the next season saw a 2,455 decline followed by five more consecutive seasons of declines in the number of power plays. By the end of the '11-12 NHL season, power play opportunities had fallen to 8,132, a decline of 43.5% from the 14,390 peak.

But how did this impact offense?


Since 1990, power play effectiveness has averaged 17.41% which means for every 100 additional power plays across the league, scoring increases by roughly 17 goals.

For example, in the '05-'06 season, with 3,963 additional power play opportunities than the season before that is roughly 700 more goals across the league. On a per game basis, the jump in power play opportunities per game saw goals per game jump from 5.14 to 6.05, the highest level since the '95-'96 season.

More clearly, as you can see in the chart below increases and decreases in the number of power play opportunities leads to general increases and decreases in goals per game.

This relationship illustrated between the '92-'93 and '99-'00 seasons when power play opportunities per game dropped from 5.27 to 4.03 goals per game declined from 7.25 to 5.49 as well as after the '04-'05 lockout when goals per game declined from 6.05 to 5.32 in '11-'12.

But the relationship isn't always one-to-one as illustrated by seasons like '97-'98 and '08-'09 where power plays per game and goals per game moved in opposite directions.

Additionally, changes in power play opportunities aren't always as impactful, as can be seen after the lockout when there was a 43.5% decline in power plays but only a 12% decline in scoring. 

But in general, when power plays increase so does offense and as a result this does trickle down to impact players.

We decided to look at this impact.


To determine the players most impacted by changes in power play chances we calculated the percent of players points that come from the power play for all active players in the NHL (as of the 2013 season) with more than 20 career power play points.

Currently, there are 312 active players in the NHL with more than 20 career power play points - 100 defenceman and 212 forwards. On average, the career percentage of points that come off the power play for defenceman is 39.1% while for forwards it's 28.5%.

From a high level view, defenceman are most impacted by changes in power play opportunities. This was illustrated in the '05-'06 season when there were three defenceman who averaged more than 0.90 points per game (Nicklas Lidstrom, Bryan McCabe and Sergei Zubov) when power play opportunities peaked - there hadn't been a 0.90+ points per game defenceman since the '00-01 season (Brian Leetch).

But digging a bit deeper, we decided to look at specific players who have a relatively high percentage of their points coming from the power play.

Defenceman with the highest career power play point percentage:

Career Power Play Point %
Kurtis Foster 59.4%
Kimmo Timonen 58.5%
Cam Barker 54.7%
Andrei Markov 54.5%
Marek Zidlicky 54.4%
Dion Phaneuf 54.4%
Chris Pronger 53.6%
Sergei Gonchar 53.0%
John-Michael Liles 52.9%
Marc-Andre Bergeron 52.4%
Dennis Wideman 52.1%
Mark Streit 50.2%
Sami Salo 50.2%
Tomas Kaberle 50.1%
Kyle Quincey 50.0%

Forwards with the highest career power play point percentage:

Career Power Play Point %
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 44.1%
Tomas Holmstrom 43.2%
Michael Cammalleri 43.1%
Ryan Getzlaf 41.9%
Jarret Stoll 41.7%
Brad Richards 41.5%
Marc Savard 41.4%
Ales Hemsky 40.8%
Teemu Selanne 40.7%
Jussi Jokinen 40.1%
Nicklas Backstrom 40.0%
Andrew Brunette 39.8%
Ray Whitney 39.5%
Sidney Crosby 38.9%
Anze Kopitar 38.7%

The above players, at least historically, are the most sensitive to swings in overall league power play opportunities. If power plays were to greatly increase in the next few seasons, it would be these players that would likely benefit the most.


There is little doubt that the game will continue to change and evolve. But as the above data has shown from an offensive point of view, the power play will have an important role. It's clear that the more times the referees blow their whistle the more often the goal horn will sound.



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