I love the NHL playoffs not only for their nightly life-or-death drama, but also because they remind me of what's best about the sport of hockey.  And no, I'm not talking about the officiating.


I'm talking about watching players rise up and take command of a game – even (and especially) those who are long overdue.  I’m talking about wincing as individuals physically sacrifice their bodies on behalf of their teams, often with gruesome results.  I’m talking about sitting stunned as the Holy Ghost of Goaltending once again possesses a netminder in a Canadiens’ sweater.


The intensity of the playoffs also reminds me of what I dislike about hockey.  Now I’m talking about penalties, especially the senseless ones.  And this brings me to my yearly internal debate about the value of counting PIMs in fantasy hockey.


PIMs in Hockey…It’s Complicated


Hockey’s a tough sport, and I like that.  You probably do too.  And as I was recently reminded during a minor dust-up with a MLSE front office executive over the Marlies’ 2009/2010 advertising campaign, many think that it helps sell the game.


Unlike the other big professional sports in North America, hockey doesn’t have much of a college campus pedigree behind it.  While there were those early scrimmages at the University of McGill, much of hockey’s youth was spent in the backwoods, and it was often played by hard men who made their living in lumber camps or frontier mines.  That’s how we got famous teams with names like the Trail Smoke Eaters, or the Dawson City Nuggets – who had to travel from their hometown in the Yukon to Ottawa, partly by dogsled, to play in the 1905 Stanley Cup (and the Red Wings thought their playoff travel schedule sucked).  Any of those guys would be probably as likely kill you with their pick-axe and eat you as answer today’s common interview question of ‘so, are you a cards-guy, movie-guy or a videogame-guy when travelling?’


Even amid the private jets and glamour of today’s NHL, there are many players that we idolize specifically because of their ability to drop the gloves and lay it down on behalf of their teammates.  Particularly in Canada, a player who can combine skill with an ability to brawl is quickly lionized – especially if they are polite and unassuming.


Consider Jarome Iginla.  I have no problem imaging myself trapped within a burning building (figuring I’ve written my last bit of hockey heresy), and seeing the Calgary captain emerge smiling and unscathed from a wall of flame in front of me before saying, “Hello, my name is Jarome Ignila.  Do you mind if I rescue you from this blazing inferno?”  For reasons I don’t fully understand, this little scene plays out Simpsons-style in my head.


Even if you now think I’m crazy, just try saying ‘Gordie Howe hat trick’ out loud without smiling.  Angus-Reid recently showed that 84% of hockey fans can’t do it (within 3% error, accurate 19 times out of 20).  So maybe the MLSE exec was right, at some level we all love our thugs.


But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of penalties in the NHL aren’t heroic, despite any efforts to paint them as such.  Often a pro-penalty fantasy argument goes something like this: ‘yeah, but he scored twenty goals and sat for 180 minutes last season, what a multi-cat stud!’  Implying that the 180 minutes of sin-bin time somehow made the individual a more complete player.  To me, this sometimes seems a bit like suggesting that your cousin is an upstanding guy, and he illegally parks in handicaps spaces.  Capital fellow.


Further complicating the issue, hockey is peculiar (maybe unique) in that most of us can agree that there is such a thing as a ‘good’ penalty.  The tricky part is to reach consensus on what that is exactly.


As a starting point, most of us can probably agree that anything that prevents a goal is ‘necessary’, while anything Todd Bertuzzi does is ‘heinous’.  Maybe we could create some sort of rule to differentiate between good and bad penalties.  But as soon as I consider that possibility, I hear my inner James Duthie and Bob McKenize arguing about ‘distinct Bertuzzi-like motions’.  I know there are some dedicated poolies out there, but in my opinion, there just is no practical way to separate penalties into categories like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for purposes of tabulating pool results.  PIMs are a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal.


I happen to love the elegance of a points-only pool, but don’t mistake that as the statement of connoisseur…it’s likely just nostalgia for the questionable Hockey Star pools introduced to me by the Toronto Star at a tender young age.  But I also love the complexity of more complicated formats, and so I can’t just walk away from the embedded practice of counting PIMs.


Should We Abandon PIMs in our Pools?


A hockey outsider probably couldn’t understand why we ever started competing in our pools over something that is generally considered a negative aspect of a player’s game.


The contradictions explored above notwithstanding, I think it may have happened because of a lack of options.


The NHL didn’t always track all the statistics that is does today, but along with goals and assists, penalties have been tracked from the beginning.  Over the course of a game, these are all easy items to mark down on a scoresheet for a ref, and they are often the only stats tracked in today’s beer-leagues.  Yet, it’s easy to forget that the professional NHL didn’t always track these numbers.  For instance, if you start to ask innocent questions about Howe’s faceoff percentages during the Wings’ 1955 Cup run, or Bobby Orr’s number of blocked shots in the spring of 1970, large men in dark suits show up at your door bearing bulky cease-and-desist orders.


We’re not completely ignorant of these numbers, but the NHL simply wasn’t as enthusiastic about tracking statistics as the many other sports were until very recently – perhaps partly due to its backwoods ancestry.


The plus/minus category wasn’t officially tracked until after the original-six era ended in 1967, while shots-on-goals weren’t tracked by the NHL until the early 1980s.  And it wasn’t until 1997, when the Real-Time Scoring System (RTSS) was implemented, that the league started to track the now seemingly indispensible stats of: hits, faceoff percentages, blocked shots, give-aways and take-aways, and ice-time.  If you’re under the age of 20, you might well wonder how the colour guys on TV ever filled the airtime during breaks in the action before everyone had access to these statistics.


Sp poolies can perhaps be forgiven if we have clung to PIMs as a competitive category longer than we should have.  For a very long time, we didn’t have much of a choice.  But since the RTSS was launched, we now have a much higher resolution picture of what transpires on the ice (statistically speaking anyway).  And as a result, we now have so many more unquestionably positive aspects that we could use to compete over in our pools.


It was a long road from Dawson Creek to here, but if the ever-conservative world of professional hockey can evolve, maybe we poolies should to.





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Richard J. DAngelo said:

No PIM but instead............. Hockey is about scoring. Whoever scores the most wins the game, not whoever gets the most penalties.

My league has been around for over 20 years and we don't count PIM - never have, never will.

However where I think most fantasy leagues are deficient is in not including SHP. The shortie is special and before computers (when we did this all by hand) we would count a shortie goal as 5 compared to 1 for a regular goal.

Now we simply give it its own category. And unlike SOG, where you find that you're 150 points behind the guy in front, your SHP position can change quickly.
May 17, 2010
Votes: +0

brad phillips said:

... PIM's should never count in hockey pools...how is it a positive stat?
May 13, 2010
Votes: +0

James said:

... just count hits and blocked shots too, those two combined should cover the "toughness" category
May 12, 2010
Votes: -1

Vasilios Christopoulos said:

PIM Category with a twist Greetings Fellow Poolies,

We have had a rotisserie style pool going since 1987 and I even remember having to do the stats by manual process, keeping 2 3" binders with all the players having their own pages, but that was then, and I thank IBM for the computer every time that we do the stats now. We have a 19 team keeper league and what we do with the PIM category is rank all the team PIM's from low to high and award the most points (19) to the team in the "sweet spot" position which would be the median. In a 19 team league this would be position #10. There would be 9 teams above and 9 teams below. We then peel away from this position and award 18 points to whoever is closer, either higher or lower then 17 points to the next closest and so on until all the teams have points awarded from 19 points to the team furthest away either high or low being awarded 1 point. I have tried describing this to Fantrax and I am hoping that they will implement it for the upcoming season. With this method you are rewarded for being tough, but not too tough and it does promote activity as well as trading. It does throw a bit of a wild card factor into the mix as well.The pansie teams will have to pick up some toughness to get into the sweet spot area.

Just some thoughts from a long time commissioner who has made "The Alpha Hockey League" a labor of love. If you like this idea email Fantrax and it might help get it implemented because as it is now this part is being done manually and the stats are adjusted weekly
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Greg said:

mcsorely and bertuzzi???? good read.. great topic... i have tried to get rid of PIM in the leagues that i am in but to no avail.... why should someone get credit for a mcsorely baseball bat swing or a bertuzzi cheap shot??? but for some reason guys like having them..i would love it if yahoo would count them as a negative instead of a positive... last time i checked we try to run these teams like a real team... and i know i don't need a mcsorely on my team!!!
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Ryan Van Horne said:

Think like a real GM If you're the GM of a real team, how would you feel if your team took a lot of stupid minor penalties? Would you be happy? No.

My league counts penalties as a negative. It uses a PIM ratio and the lower your ratio the better.

All players points count, but you designate one guy as your goon (guy on your active roster with most PIMs) and a Designated Hitter or DH (guy on your active roster with second-most PIMs)

You add up all your other players' PIMs, then subtract your goon's total from that. Your DH's PIMs don't count at all. (Say it adds up to 300 PIMs

Then, you add up the games played of everyone on your active roster and divide PIMs by games played. (300/1500 = .20). A PIM ratio like that would usually lead my league.

Basically, if you have a guy who takes a bunch of stupid minors, he hurts you. You get one guy whose PIMs help you and one Mulligan (your DH) whose penalty minutes don't count.

I like the way this works and this was one of the reasons I found the league so appealing when I joined in 2000. We've had this type of system in our league since it started in 96-97 and we've only made a few minor modifications.
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Mabus said:

... Whenever I see a problem, I try to find a way to blame it on the leafs. I'm sure back in the 80s, most Toronto fans listed Wendel Clark as their favorite player. I also heard the Cam Neely is a better hockey player than Mario Lemieux argument one too many times for my liking. Why did they like these guys, because they were tough. I'm guessing it drove them crazy that the guy they would call - the best - would be selected in the 5th round in fantasy so they changed the rules. Unfortunately, somehow we ended up with PIM, and until I hear definitively otherwise, I'm stating emphatically that this didn't come from those of us living out west or in the prairies.

Where do we go from here - one step at a time we systematically remove PIMs as a positive stat. They used to represent "toughness" much like stolen bases represent "speed" for fantasy baseball. At the time, PIM was the only stat published that could easily translate toughness, so it was used. Now with all the available stats, it makes no sense to continue to use it as a toughness metric. If you want to count toughness, include fights or body checks (although I admit I am skeptical at the way body checks are calculated).

I also don't see why this is even a debate anymore. Does any true fantasy fan actually use default rules for their leagues? Nobody in my league likes PIM as a stat, so we don't use it. I suggest you do the same for your league. I bet I'll see a Canadian team win the cup before I see Yahoo, CBS or ESPN change their default settings to something that makes sense, so you need to do it yourself.

May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Markus said:

Don't Ban them - count 'em negative I started a thread about PIMs on the Forum a while ago, because I want to start a Keeper League that reflects them more realistically. I wouldn't go so far as to ban them from Fantasy, they are a part of the game, after all, but I would count the Minor Penalties negatively, i.e. the less the better and count Fights/Major Penalties as a seperate, positive category. Many Fantasy Sites offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to stat categories, so why not use them?
With Minor Penalties negative, it makes sense to include Hits as another category, to make up for the hit in value the prototypical Power Forward will take experience. But honestly - from a GM's viewpoint, the most valuable Power Forward is one who Hits without causing too many penalties...
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Veritas0Aequitas said:

Count these instead! I've been saying it for as long as Dobber has... count Penalties Drawn (PD) but also count Fights (FIG) as a category.
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Jon Dey said:

Get rid of 'em I would say get rid of them.
I am very good at tracking good PIM players, but I have always wanted a free pool hosting service that allowed for reverse scoring in PIMs, meaning in yahoo rotissirie that you would get 12pts for having the least amount of PIMs. They are called PENALTIES for a reason. Your team is penalised for essentially cheating on a play. The argument for good penalties is preposterous because it is an argument for the merits of cheating or deliberately doing something you are not supposed to in order to save your team from being scored on, or put in a spot where there is a chance the opposing team could score. That's not smart play that's lack of skill or ability, and you are penalized for it. Which results in your team being put in a worse position for a duration of time. It is not a good thing, but pools reward it as such. It also makes certain players fantasy relevant even though they play less time then they are penalized for. A goon can step on the ice have a charge a guy from behind, get in a fight, and get a game misconduct for 30+pims or so in one infraction, and yet played less than 5min of hockey. I would much sooner support hits, face-offs, or blocked shots becuase they create, start or stop plays. Penalties is just rewarded cheating that has nothing to do with skill.
May 12, 2010
Votes: -1

James said:

No More PIM's! PIM's should be removed from fantasy hockey and replaced with hits and blocked shots to show the defensive and tough side of the game.
May 12, 2010
Votes: -1

doulos said:

dawson... Great article Brent.

Just as a quick fyi, I live in Dawson Creek (which is in northern BC) and it is a different city then Dawson City (which is in the Yukon).
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Matt said:

brilliant great read, Brent.
May 12, 2010
Votes: +0
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