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Photo Credit: © Marc DesRosiers | USA Today

Should the NHL revamp the way it hands out penalties?

Something stuck out to me the other night when Mitch Marner was (perhaps undeservedly) awarded a penalty shot against the Senators: Instead of the one-and-done breakaway, I wanted to see the powerplay go to work. I’d rather the whole 34-91-16-43-44 show. This got me to thinking about how perhaps the league should look at allowing teams to defer penalty shots for powerplays if they so choose. I mean, I doubt this scenario was a candidate anyway, since Marner is a skilled guy, and it’s been shown in the past that penalty shots are generally converted at a higher rate than powerplays. But still, why not give the option?

In fact, why not look at the penalty structure in its entirety and suggest some improvements? We’ve got time.

Maybe the weirdest thing about hockey, when you sit back and think about it, is that all minor infractions are essentially equal, and even when they get scaled up to doubles or majors, the reasoning is…uhhh…weird. Take high-sticking for instance; If a player clips another’s face with their blade, they get two minutes, but if it draws a speck of blood? The penalty DOUBLES. Where did this blood thing come from?

Then we have bigger picture questions, like “Why does a penalty end when the advantaged team scores?” For a league desperately in need of its stars being more in the foreground, and generally needing more offense and excitement, they could change things up a little. Perhaps they need to look at making some infractions more severe, while others that don’t make much sense should get scaled back a bit.

Luckily, I have thoughts, and now you’re going to hear about them.

Suggestion 1: Roll back the puck over the glass and faceoff violation delay of game penalties to one minute. These are the sorts of penalties that help speed the game along, but fans generally get pretty upset about the idea of them factoring into the game too much. They’re very minor infractions, so treat them that way and cut the time in half. This could probably apply to losing a coach’s challenge as well.

Suggestion 2: Blood or not, high sticking is just a four minute penalty. Simple.

Suggestion 3: Call more penalty shots, BUT, give the option to defer a penalty shot for a 3-minute powerplay. The conversion rate on shootout/penalty shot attempts is usually in the 27-33% range in any given year, while the league-wide powerplay rate is often around 18%. This would mean it probably would’ve been dumb to take a 2-minute powerplay over letting Marner shoot this past Saturday. The evidence for it isn’t there. But let’s imagine the team is clipping along at 27% on the powerplay and Par Lindholm draws a penalty shot. The decision might not be so easy. And with a potential 3-minute powerplay? Things potentially get real interesting. Then there are scenarios where maybe it’s late in the game and the time killing factors in.

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Suggestion 4: Don’t end the powerplay after the advantaged team scores. This rule was brought in because the Canadiens were so much better than anyone in 1956 that they regularly notched multiple goals on a 2-minute minor. The league is way tighter now and the spread between the top powerplay to the lowest is around 10%. Bring back the full 2-minutes. We do it on majors and it hasn’t ruined anything.

Suggestion 5: Do 3-on-2 in overtime. For some reason the NHL resets things to 4-3 if there’s a penalty call in overtime, but I want to see 2 players out there scrambling to kill it off. Hell, even 3-on-1 should be on the table for a two-man advantage. Let it rip.

Suggestion 6: Get rid of the “steak breaks, automatic penalty” slashing call. I just hate this rule, and if you’re going to call slashing the stick, call it all the time – this is sort of in the line of the “blood = four minutes” nonsense for me.

The thing is, the NHL can play around with these in a million different ways. In football, for instance, there are 5, 10, 15-yard penalties for a variety of things based on severity. There are spot-of-the-foul penalties. Hockey could take a similar approach. Maybe a defensive zone penalty could be more punishable? Is a cross-check worse than a hook of the hands? I’m spit-balling here, but you get the idea. We don’t need to be boxed into 2-minutes for everything. There’s so much wiggle room to make adjustments in this area of the game, and some of the current rules seem so dated. It’s time the league and its officials gave this a serious look, with everything on the table.

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