March 10, 2014

Ryan O'Reilly's Clean Slate No Guarantee of Lady Byng Trophy

With his missing tooth Ryan O'Reilly looks like your stereotypical hockey player - rugged warrior who will do whatever it takes to win.

Well that's only partially right. He is a great player and warrior in his own right, but he will only do whatever it takes to win within the rule book.

In fact, Ryan O'Reilly may complete one of the rarest of feats this season - a full season without a single penalty taken.

The Colorado forward has played 62 games with 24 goals and 51 points but he has not been banished to the penalty box once.

If he can complete the season with a clean slate, it will mark only the 15th time in NHL history that a player has not taken a single penalty (minimum 60 games played).

The list of names to accomplish this rare feat is impressive. Butch Goring, Bob Nevin, Craig Ramsay and Matti Hagman join Hockey Hall of Famers Buddy O'Connor, Bill Quackenbush, Harry Watson and Edgar Laprade.

Quackenbush is the only defenseman on this esteemed list.

Jimmy Peters, Lew Morrison, and Rick Kessel are lesser-knowns to appear on this list.

As is Val Fonteyne, a penalty killing specialist who amazingly accomplished the penalty free season three times including back-to-back in 1970-71 and 1971-72. His other clean season was 1967-68. In 1968-69 and 1969-70 he was only assessed a single minor penalty each season.

In fact, Fonteyne should be credited with another penalty free season in 1965-66. He had 0 minutes in 59 games that season, but the NHL schedule was only 70 games long back then. (Same goes for O'Connor, who had a clean season when he played 48 of 60 games in 1947-48)

Fonteyne played 820 NHL games and only took 26 minutes in penalties. He had consecutive game stretches of 185 and 157 games without taking a penalty!

And here's the kicker - Val Fonteyne never once won the Lady Byng trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player! He was never even a top three award nominee!

In fact, of the 14 previous penalty free seasons, only the defenseman Quackenbush won the Lady Byng. Goring, O'Connor, and Laprade all won the Lady Byng but did so in seasons when they did take penalties.

So Ryan O'Reilly's impressively clean season by no means guarantees him the Lady Byng trophy in 2014.

Other top Byng candidates this season include Martin St Louis (6 PIMs), Tyler Seguin (4), Duncan Keith (18),  Phil Kessel (21), Ryan Getzlaf (22), and Patrick Kane (18).

I mention Keith because he is also very possibly to be nominated for the Norris trophy as the league's top defenseman. It is so incredibly rare for a dman to win the Byng - only Quackenbush, Red Kelly (three times) and Brian Campbell have ever won the Byng.

Traditionally defensemen are expected to be rugged and take more PIMs than forwards. But there are a lot impressive disciplined numbers out there among defensemen this season, though none are likely to win the Byng.

45 defensemen have taken 20 or fewer PIMs so far this season, led by Jamie McBain (6), Chris Tanev (8) and Nick Leddy (8). Also included in that list are some of the league's top dmen - Alex Pietrangelo (16), Jay Bouwmeester (16), Dan Girardi (14), Marc Staal (14), Ryan McDonagh (20), Olli Maatta (14) and Brent Seabrook (16). Even the NHL's highest scoring defenseman, Erik Karlsson, has only 26 PIMs so far this season.

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