Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Major Penalties

I'm pretty sure Abdelkader's skates shouldn't be that far off the ice. - Kirk Irwin

Welcome to the next installment of our series where the WIIM authors read big, boring NHL documents so you don't have to. Today's rulebook post deals with major penalties.

Rule 20 - Major Penalties

20.1 Major Penalty: Major penalties result in five minutes for the penalized player for the first and second majors assessed in a given game. If he's assessed a major and a minor at the same time, he serves the major first then the minor penalty; the exception under Rule 19.2 Coincidental Major Penalties is illustrated by example 16 from Table 17 at the back of the rulebook. In the scenario where two players receive coincidental major penalties and one of them receives an additional minor, the minor penalty is served first by another teammate who will leave the box upon the minor's expiration.

If you didn't understand any of that, let's imagine Jonathan Ericsson got five for fighting Brad Marchand, and on top of that, Ericsson got an additional two for roughing. So now Ericsson and Marchand sit in the box, and Mike Babcock selects Tomas Tatar to serve Ericsson's additional two minutes immediately. The timing on Ericsson's major penalty begins when the first minor is served either by two minutes expiring or Boston scoring a power play goal. This scenario is the only time when a minor penalty will be served before a major.

20.2 Short-handed: Unlike minor penalties, players must serve five-minute majors in their entirety, regardless of how many power play goals the opposing team scores.

20.3 Substitution: If for whatever reason a player assessed a major penalty cannot serve it, the offending team doesn't have to put someone in the penalty box to replace him immediately. If they elect to wait to put someone in the box to serve the penalty, the team must do so at a stoppage of play. However, if there are any non-coincidental minor penalties assessed in addition to the major, and the penalized player cannot serve the penalty himself, his team must substitute for him immediately.

If the offending team doesn't put a player in the penalty box to serve the major penalty before it expires, then they are literally voluntarily playing shorthanded after the major penalty is finished. So if Brendan Smith is serving a major and he needs to be substituted for in the penalty box, and Babcock forgets to put someone in the box when the penalty expires, the Red Wings must continue to play with four skaters until the next stoppage of play. In this case, play is officially considered full and even strength, but if the Red Wings try to sneak a fifth skater on the ice before the next stoppage of play, it's a bench minor penalty for an illegal substitution. In other words, it's possible to have a Too Many Men penalty with five skaters on the ice at full strength.

Also of note: since play is considered even strength under these circumstances, if the Red Wings ice the puck, they will be guilty of icing since the penalty expired and they are no longer officially shorthanded. Of course, icing the puck results in a stoppage of play, and the rulebook does not specify in this section that the Red Wings are barred from putting their fifth skater out at this particular stoppage of play. Because I'm nice and don't want to leave you hanging on a cliff for 60 more rules, we're going to jump to Rule 81.6 Icing - Numerical Strength (emphasis mine):

When a team is "short-handed" by reason of a major penalty, and they have neglected to ensure there is a player on the penalty bench to exit upon the expiry of the penalty, they will continue to play shorthanded but are not permitted to ice the puck. Icing will be called. They may substitute for this penalized player at the next stoppage of play.

So it looks like we have our answer. If the Red Wings are assessed a major penalty, the player cannot serve the penalty himself, they forget to put a substitute in the box, AND the penalty expires before they put the sub in the box, then they cannot ice the puck to put their fifth skater out. So teams have to wait for a non-icing stoppage of play before they can replace the fifth skater and leave behind their incompetence.

20.4 Automatic Game Misconduct: You'll notice I said at the beginning that "for the first and second majors" a player receives, he'll serve five minutes in the penalty box. I said it that way because any player who incurs a third major penalty in a given game also incurs an automatic game misconduct.

Players can also incur automatic game misconducts if they commit any of the Table 6 infractions conveniently titled Summary of Major Penalties that Result in an Automatic Game Misconduct. Among others, these include butt-ending, clipping, head-butting, and hooking. Yes, hooking can result in a major penalty and automatic game misconduct. Players can also incur "five and a game" if the commit a major penalty which results in a head injury from the Table 7 list also conveniently titled Summary of Major Penalties that Result in an Automatic Game Misconduct When There is an Injury to the Face or Head.

20.5 Fines: In a very oddly specific stipulation, players that incur a major penalty for causing injury to the face or head with their hockey stick are automatically fined $100. If a player incurs any of the "five and a game" penalties referenced in Rule 20.4, he receives an automatic fine of $200.

20.6 Infractions: Table 5 contains the list of infractions that can result in a major penalty. Checking from behind and fighting are the only infractions I can find through a cursory glance at the rest of the rulebook for which only a major penalty can be assessed.

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The substitution rule would be a lot simpler if the NHL just forced teams to put substitute players in the penalty box immediately. On the other hand, it would be very entertaining to see a boxscore which reads something like

2nd: 15:00 Kyle Quincey - Major (Boarding), served by Gustav Nyquist

followed by

2nd: 16:00 G. Nyquist - GOAL (shorthanded)

and THEN Nyquist goes to the box to serve the rest of the penalty at 18:00.

We're slugging along through this section more slowly that I was expecting. Hopefully we get through all of match penalties and misconduct penalties next time.

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