Florida Panthers: Least-Penalized team In the NHL
Many experts believe that today's NHL is won or lost on the power-play. Unfortunately for the Cats, their power-play, while improving, still ranks dead last in the league. There is a lone bright spot though; the Florida Panthers have given up the fewest amount of penalties (both in terms of minutes served and total penalties) in the entire National Hockey League, so while their opportunities to capitalize might be underwhelming the chances they offer are few and far between. Lets face it, hockey is a rough sport, and only the truly courageous armor up and take to the ice, but in a league where headshots and even violence are hot button issues, it shows great control, discipline and of course coaching to set the bar for limiting your oppositions chances on the power-play.
While this statistic might seem irrelevant, the long line of strong calibre teams that have and continue to limit their oppositions man-advantages is most apparent. In fact the top 5 teams in this category over the past three seasons have have won 1 President's trophy, 6 Division titles, they made the playoffs 73% of the time (to add to that, three of the four non-playoff teams were the 2008-2009 Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, and Nashville Predators who were a combined 5 points out of the race finishing 9th, 9th, and 10th respectively) and of the 6 Stanley Cup finalists in the past 3 seasons, three ranked in the top 5 in terms of fewest penalty minutes.
It is very important to note that while the logic of limiting your oppositions chances on the PP is fairly sound, every year there are exceptions. Rough and tough teams that march to the penalty box in enmasse like last years Philadelphia Flyers, do have success during the regular season and do make it to the playoffs, but their postseason success largely hinges on their playoff discipline. In fact the aforementioned Flyers of last year were a very different squad during the postseason ranking 6th in fewst PIMS per game (0.1 PIMS/G out of 5th) lowering their regular season average tenure in the sin bin by 5.6 minutes (a 33% change). The teams with lots of high end skill can perhaps get away with being careless over a long 82 season, but it's the teams with deficiencies in that regard that are forced to work for their wins.
The Panthers are playing very smart and responsible hockey, and this is a testament to the very undervalued coaching of Peter DeBoer. The team is compensating for their lack of skill with hardwork and discipline; something GM Dale Tallon demanded of this years team when taking the helm. When you look down the list of head coaches currently among the top 5 least penalized teams, Coach DeBoer is in great company; perhaps there might even be a new found respect for the often mob chased man . Mike Babcock, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville, and Dave Tippett are coaching their team to stay out of the box and all are either past Jack Adams award winners, or perennial nominees for the coaching trophy.
Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is the fact the Panthers are the only team this season to avoid getting a misconduct, game misconduct, or match penalty. This is a feat that has only been accomplished once since the lockout, by the 2008-2009 Carolina Hurricanes. While these types of misconducts do not have a direct correlation to winning, it makes sense to use restraint, or as Florida captain Bryan McCabe said after the Mike Richards hit on David Booth, "We're in the thick of things here. We can't go out of our way for retribution". As valorous as it is to stand up for your teammates, there is no sense in hurting your teams chances of winning because of stupidity; retribution can be had, and the Panthers are not against dropping the gloves (they've done it 11 times this year), they just do it smartly and not at the cost of the main goal of winning.
The Panthers currently sit five points out of the playoffs, but they have two games in hand over the 8th seeded Atlanta Thrashers (who themselves have limited their penalties per game and sit 8th in that category) only time will tell if cooler heads will prevail and the Panthers end their 10 year streak.