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Exploring new Blackhawks forward Ryan Carpenter’s penalty kill numbers

Chicago’s less-heralded offseason acquisition has been advertised as a solid penalty-killing forward. Do the numbers back up that claim?

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks desperately needed help with their penalty kill.

In the 2018-19 season, Chicago killed just 72.73 percent of its penalties, worst in the NHL and the lowest mark by any NHL team in 30 years.

Naturally, general manager Stan Bowman made fixing that penalty kill a priority this offseason and believed he alleviated some of those problems by signing former Golden Knights forward Ryan Carpenter on Monday.

Bowman said as much when he met with the media after the Carpenter deal became official:

Carpenter offered a similar assessment of his own abilities in this Associated Press recap of the deal:

“My role as a player is a bottom-six forward, a good PKer, a good right-handed faceoff centerman,” Carpenter said, “and I think a guy that just does the little things right. Teams that win and make the playoffs and go on long runs, they need those kinds of players to be successful.”

Carpenter was one of six forwards who played at least 50 minutes on the Vegas penalty kill last season, which ranked 14th in the league at an 80.87 PK percentage.

There’s just one issue with all of this, though:

By virtually every statistical measure, Carpenter was Vegas’ worst-performing penalty kill forward last season.

Data from Corsica is summarized in the table below, with four stats being expressed at a rate of per 60 minutes: Corsi events (aka shot attempts) against, shots on goal against, goals against and expected goals against. Faceoff percentage while on the PK is tabulated in the fifth column. The players listed below are the six VGK forwards who spent at least 80 minutes of ice time on the PK, arranged in descending order by ice time:

Doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, does it? Carpenter ranks last in every category except for faceoff percentage (more on that in a second). For comparison’s sake, here are what Carpenter’s numbers look like when juxtaposed with the five Blackhawks forwards who were PK fixtures last season, also sorted in descending order by their PK ice time. Keep in mind, again, that the ‘18-19 Blackhawks penalty kill was historically inept:

Seems like there’s not enough of a gap between Carpenter’s numbers and that of the players responsible for the worst PK the NHL has seen in three decades. The faceoff percentage can be a positive, though, as one faceoff win can be responsible for 20-30 seconds of easy PK time. But penalties are not killed by faceoff wins alone, and there’s reason for skepticism about whether or not Carpenter’s presence on the Chicago PK is going to do anything to turn around last season’s dreadful performance.

The news isn’t all bad. Hockey analytics guru Micah Blake McCurdy described Carpenter as, “A very good play-driver who won’t put up totals of his own,” posting this chart to support his claims:

Chart via Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath on Twitter)

Carpenter won 52.6 of all his faceoffs last season, an area where Blackhawks not named Jonathan Toews have seemingly struggled forever.

All of Carpenter’s 5-on-5 metrics are in the positive: 57.46 CF%, 3.41 Rel CF%, 56.8 xGF% and 0.39 Rel xGF%, although he did benefit from relatively friendly zone starts (56.98 Zone-Start Ratio).

But if we’re to be convinced that Carpenter’s addition will make for a significant improvement in the Blackhawks PK performance ... that part may require it to be confirmed on the ice before it can be believed.