A Snapshot and Contextualization of Penalty Minutes in the NHL Metropolitan Division

Penalty minutes are an important thing to watch in the National Hockey League as the sports world continues to grapple with increased levels of controversy surrounding injuries and their long-term consequences.

Hockey is, in particular, an incredibly physical game. It is a sport where in some instances physical violence is promoted or even encouraged as an element of the game’s logic and play. For example, tactical fighting can be incited in order to energize or redirect the flow of the game. Perhaps more so than in other sports, drawing penalties is an active part of the competition, and teams can shape their dynamics based on their physical approach to the game.

The NHL has had quite the past two years. Two significant events have presented challenges for teams these two seasons.

1) The Lockout: The expiration of the NHL’s CBA led to a lockout-shortened season in 2012-2013. The NHL season, typically 82 games, was shortened to 48 games with no inter-conference play.

2) Realignment: The league has been completely realigned for the 2013-2014 season to account primarily for the Atlanta Thrashers’ return to Winnipeg in 2011. Originally, three divisions of five teams played in each of the two NHL conferences. Now, two divisions of eight teams play in the Eastern Conference and two of seven teams play in the Western Conference. This has caused teams to interact with each other in different ways than before and to face a different set of teams more often – this, in turn, may effect how players spend time in the penalty box.

The dataset focuses on penalty minutes on teams in the current Metropolitan Division both in the current season to date (as of December 2, 2013) and in the lockout shortened pre-alignment season. Historically, the pre-alignment Atlantic Division – home to both New York teams, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Philadelphia – has been renown for its high competition, rivalries and competitive play. Enforcing is not an unusual thing for most of these teams. For example, Philadelphia Flyers fans refer to their team affectionately as the “Broad Street Bullies.” All five of these teams, joined by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes currently populate the Metropolitan Division.

Lockout-Shortened 2012-2013 Season:             Post-Realignment 2013-2014 Season:


The percentage of total penalty minutes clocked by each team has not varied greatly between this season and the last despite the influence of realignment. The map feature of the data set shows the locations of each team’s arenas (to indicate the geography of the Metropolitan division) with color-coded points based on the number of penalty minutes acquired.

Lockout-Shortened 2012-2013 Season:             Post-Realignment 2013- 2014 Season:

map1 map20132014

The chart represents the data best, outlining the breakdown of penalty minutes in a color-coded pie. Philadelphia remains the leader in penalty minutes, holding 15% of the now Metropolitan divisions penalty minutes this season and 14.7% in 2012-2013.

Percentages for the teams behind Philadelphia in penalty minutes vary between 10.8 and 13.3 percent. Some teams are clearly having less or more penalty ridden games this season than the last – take for example, New Jersey, whose penalty minute count fell from 13% last season to 11.3% in the current season.

This data, while important, cannot be taken in or understood in its own right. In order to understand better the role that penalties and physical play have in the game, other variables must be accounted for. Games played, penalties per period and the nature of the individual penalties are important in gaining a better understanding what these penalties mean.

Data Source:

National Hockey League

Direct Link to the Google Drive Dataset