With the regular season coming to a close, we have the opportunity to examine some ideas we’ve had throughout the year. After a game against the Coyotes in October, I wrote that Patrick Kaleta might be the NHL’s best agitator, but with reservations:
For Kaleta to be one of the league’s best at what he does, he’ll probably have to start producing more offensively (he has 14 points in the last two seasons), maybe taking on a role similar to Dustin Brown in Los Angeles. But for now he could certainly be considered one of the best deals in the league for a player with his role.
While Kaleta still is no offensive dynamo, his game has evolved, and it has shown both on the ice and on the scoresheet. This year, Kaleta has played with more of a nose for the puck, leaving behind the days when Sabres fans could expect to see him flying into the corner ahead of the opponent only to let up and take the body every time. With his increased ice time and number of games played, his offensive numbers are continuing to climb from his five points in 40 games two years ago. This year, he almost doubled his career point total, notching 15 points in 55 games played.
While the scoring is a nice touch that certainly adds value to Kaleta’s contract, any fan that knows Kaleta’s name knows that scoring isn’t what the Sabres expect out of him. (Well, except for Rangers fans). Kaleta’s role is clearly to get out there and rile up the other team in an effort to draw penalties, and according to the ratings at BehindTheNet.ca, he is the best NHL regular (counting all skaters with at least 10 games played) at doing just that for the third consecutive year. Not only has he drawn the most penalties per 60 minutes, but he also has the largest positive drawn/taken differential in the league per 60, according to Behind the Net.
Kaleta’s ability to draw penalties even after opponents have gotten to know him and despite adopting a more complete game make his play in the 2009-10 season even more impressive.
To back up my claim that Kaleta could be the NHL’s best at what he does, I put together some of the numbers for a few of the players generally considered to be some of the best agitators in the league. There are probably lots of ways to try to quantify an agitator’s contributions, but penalties drawn versus penalties taken makes the most sense to me.
I’ve included each player’s time on ice per 60 minutes, since players with more ice time are generally more valuable, and because they can likely be expected to experience a drop off in penalties drawn with more minutes played (although, admittedly, that’s just my own guess). These points are also true for skaters playing against stronger competition, which is why I’ve included quality of competition ratings for each.
In my opinion, while these categories might be relevant to determine who gives their team most value, I don’t think either is important in deciding which players are most effective as agitators; a minor drawn is a two-minute man-advantage no matter who’s in the box.
So what does this all mean? I don’t know. There are too many variables here to draw any real concrete conclusions. But this data certainly gives Kaleta a pretty good case for MVP.
Most valuable pest, that is.