Monday, April 23, 2012

How Often Were Suspendable Plays In The Regular Given Penalties On The Ice? (And Some Ideas On How To Change This)

The world seems to have moved on from suspension talk - the playoffs are back to being the focus of the NHL bloggers and media. Still, I find it interesting how within the debates about the length of suspensions and size of fines, how little talk there is about the NHL's responsibility to the team against whom a suspendable foul was committed. NHL suspensions, after all, are served during a random set of games during the regular season - a player commits a suspendable foul, his foul and history are spun around on the NHL's Wheel of Justice, and he gets suspended for a length of time. But what about the team against whom his foul is committed? Odds are, the suspended player won't miss a game against the team whose player was fouled. The NHL's system is a deterrent towards committing suspendable acts, yes, but the team whose player may have incurred an injury as a result of a suspendable hit finds little or no redress. One of the only ways it might find redress is if the referees have determined that the suspendable incident is worthy of a penalty when it occurred on the ice - whether it merits a penalty, and what length of penalty. I recognize that officiating an NHL game is difficult, and it's precisely those sorts of suspendable plays that referees tend to miss because they are behind the play, away from the puck, and so forth. Still, let's look at the numbers from this year in the regular season:

No Penalty10
Minor Penalty10
Major Penalty14

I think the no penalty number is mildly acceptable. Part of the reason for suspensions is the fact that referees are going to miss incidents behind the play and/or away from the puck, and that linesmen are not often authorized to call penalties. I think what's more egregious are the number of minor penalties - penalties where the referees, in real time, couldn't determine that the play was dangerous enough to merit a major penalty (and I assume that all suspendable hits are eo ipso major penalties). Still, between the no calls and the minor penalty calls, of the 34 incidents the NHL deemed suspendable plays, only 41% resulted in a major penalty power play for the opposing team. I find that's far too low, especially since that's often the only real benefit a team might get for a dangerous/suspendable play. Here are a few ideas that are aimed at either trying to change this practice:

A. If the suspension is minor, suspend players only for games against the team they committed the foul against: I've heard this proposed elsewhere and I kind of like the idea. It's not really fair if, say, you're locked in a playoff race with team B, and yet one of team C's best players commits a foul against your team, that player gets suspended, then team C plays team B next game. I recognize this is a rare scenario, but the point is that suspending a player for only games against the team against which he committed the foul makes it fairer. Perhaps the aggrieved team could pick which games the suspended player is set to miss, for instance.

B. Allow linesmen more latitude to call penalties. I'm not sure how I feel about this, because the linesmen have their own job to do, but I feel that those two sets of eyes aren't used often enough by the other referees.

C. Change the penalty structure. Doogie2k suggested this on mc79hockey - the OHL makes head hits a mandatory 2 minute minor, plus a 10 minute misconduct. I'd apply this rule to illegal head hits, boarding, elbowing, and checking from behind. It seems ridiculous to me that often a little tug on a player's jersey with a stick and a violent, illegal hit into the boards usually draw the same penalty. Furthermore, I wonder if a 5 minute major is really the best way to penalize a team whose player commits an egregious foul. Perhaps the penalty should instead be an automatic 2 minute 5 on 3 power play where a goal scored does not change the manpower situation. Of course, one is faced with the problem that referees hate impacting games even when they should, and therefore we might see even fewer major penalties called.

These are all just ideas - I think we can recognize that the NHL is trying, at least a little bit, to alter the culture. I'm just not sure that outside-the-box ideas will be broached or considered, when perhaps that's precisely what's needed to alter the culture.


  1. I know its hard to get the data, but I seem to recall hearing that some incidents don't lead to a suspension because the player recieved a 5 min penalty. If that still holds true, then it would skew these results. Frankly I think the NHL system is wrong in this scenario. It wouldn't surprise me if Hayes' boarding does not lead to a suspension because Shanahan will say he was penalized 5 minutes, Pho scored, and Chi was eliminated. Shanahan seems to think that is enough punishment.

  2. I'd always thought they should introduce one minute PPs for minor penalties like hooking, interference. Refs would be more comfortable calling them (as they happen all the time), teams would be less willing to try the infractions and we'd get a better played game as a result.

    The 5 on 3 pp seems overly harsh and I think Refs would be very scared to call them, those It's be nice to have in case of egregious penalties.

    I like the idea of being more open with misconducts, as it shortens the bench (hurting the offending team) while still allowing for more 5 on 5 play.

  3. I like the additional penalty time for a major, perhaps 4 minutes (2 x minor). Regarding refs hesitating to call penalites because they don't want to influence the game - they need to rethink that reasoning. The ref is not responsible for an outcome if they call penalties, but they have a responsibility to call a game fairly and consistantly. The offending player is responsible for the impact on his team. If he is sitting in the box for some mindless cheap shot and the other team scores, then he deserves the ire from his coach and to be called out by the media.

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