Patrick Kaleta is a divisive player. From the fan base to the national media, you'll find varying opinions on the Buffalo Sabres' pest.
Kaleta has taken a great deal of criticism for his high elbows, flops and unwillingness to drop 'em. This season, he was heavily scrutinized and suspended by the NHL for a hit on New York Rangers forward Brad Richards.
But the debate over No. 36 go beyond whether he is a “dirty” player. Or whether he breaks the “hockey code” with his playing style and visor. There's also the matter of whether he actually makes the Sabres a better team.
A study of Kaleta's impact indicates he's more valuable than his counting stats (goals, assists, plus-minus) indicate.
An in-depth look at at his defensive skills, penalty killing and unique ability to draw penalties shows he is worth his $1.25 million cap hit and brings more value than you might expect for a player with just one goal last year.
Kaleta has been with the Sabres as a regular since 2007-08. His skating ability and ability to get other teams' best players off their game impressed the organization enough to give him a shot at the highest level – something most sixth-round picks don't get.
Kaleta's game has grown from a player who needed to face easy assignments to a solid defensive forward. During his first three seasons, the highest Kaleta ranked amongst Sabres skaters in Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (a stat that measures an opponents' puck possession ability) was 13th. Over the last two seasons, he's faced the 6th and 7th hardest competition of anyone on Buffalo's roster.
|Corsi Rel QoC Rank (min 20 G) BUF Skaters / NHL|
|07-08: -1.177 22 / 424|
|08-09: + .388 13 / 172|
|09-10: -.574 19 / 388|
|10-11: -.074 21 / 334|
|11-12: + .514 6 / 158|
|12-13: + .736 7 / 98|
The Angola native not only faced difficult competition the last two seasons, he did so in the most challenging situations. In 2011-12, he started in the offensive zone only 41.9%, which was the lowest percentage of offensive zone opportunities on the team. In 2013, only Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek (what?) had lower O-zone start percentages.
|Year||O-zone Start %|
But how did he perform against the tough competition?
The low O-zone starts and tough competition have natural effects on possession. And in Kaleta's case, his Quality of Teammates makes his task of being a shutdown forward even more difficult. He ranked 16th and 22nd amongst Sabres players in Corsi Rel QoT.
|Year||Corsi Rel QoT Rank (min 20G) BUF skaters / NHL|
|07-08||-4.011 23 / 416|
|08-09||-1.099 18 / 302|
|09-10||+0.536 6 / 152|
|10-11||+0.309 14 / 208|
|11-12||-1.902 22 / 343|
|12-13||-0.445 16 / 226|
Kaleta has had negative puck possession stats every year of his career, but during the last two years – the hardest in terms of competition – his possession stats have actually risen. And while the shot totals (missed, blocked, on-goal) aren't in the black, Kaleta's on-ice shots on goal and goals against has been strong over his career.
Shots on goal against per 60
09-10: 23.8 (1)
10-11: 23.8 (1)
11-12: 24.3 (2)
12-13: 30.8 (13)
Goals against per 60
09-10: 2.08 (3)
10-11: 2.38 (11)
11-12: 1.80 (2)
12-13: 1.67 (5)
Looking at the entire picture, it's pretty clear that Kaleta pulls his weight defensively. He's been trusted to difficult situations with poor linemates and still performs at a respectable level. Is he Pavel Datsyuk or David Backes? No. But the statistics indicate he can be used on the ice against some of the league's best and not shrink.
Kaleta has a secret weapon against the league's best players: Drawing penalties.
|Year||Penalties Drawn/60||Penalties Taken/60|
As you can see, he's darn good at drawing penalties and not taking them. In fact, his penaltie drawn best in the NHL at drawing penalties since he came into the league. The. Best.
In this video, watch him earn his team a 4-minute power play
Some quick math: 3 penalties per 60 at 10 minutes per game of ice time = 1 extra penalty every two games. In 82 games, that's approximately 41 penalties. At 15 percent power play scoring percentage, that's 6 extra goals per season based on Kaleta's drawn penalties alone. (Of course, he's yet to play an 82 game season).
And as the chart shows, he doesn't take that many penalties – and when he does, they are often coincidental.
Big Daddy Kane put it the best when he said: “Penalty Killing Ain't Easy.” Or something like that. In seriousness, killing penalties requires skating ability, instincts and toughness. And Kaleta has been the Sabres' No. 1 penalty killer over the last two years.
The PK unit has not been great for the Sabres recently, but it's near impossible to determine who was at fault. All we can really say is that Lindy Ruff and Ron Rolston wanted Kaleta on the ice eating up the most difficult minutes. That doesn't say everything, but it certainly says something.
PK time per 60 minutes:
09-10: 0.54 (7)
10-11: 0.63 (8)
11-12: 1.91 (2)
12-13: 2.25 (1)
In terms of value above a replacement player, Kaleta's isn't anywhere close to someone like Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews. His career high in goals scored is 10 and isn't going to be making any All-Star games.
It's also true that injuries caused by his playing style along with suspensions have hurt his ability to help the Sabres over the years.
But he's a heck of a role player. He can do far more than most fourth-line forwards. Many are either fighters like John Scott or pure grinders who hit. Kaleta's versatility and real defensive talent is unique.
Is he going to single-handedly carry a team to the Cup? No. His 10 minutes per game won't even carry a team to 8th place. But his positive contributions might be the difference between reaching 8th place and missing the post-season or the difference between winning and losing a Game 7.
*Thanks to Ryan Stimson for his assistance on charts