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Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Coincidental Penalties

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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 is about coincidental penalties.

Lundqvist rightfully ignores the referee's long-winded explanation of the coincidental penalty rule.
Lundqvist rightfully ignores the referee's long-winded explanation of the coincidental penalty rule.
Paul Bereswill

NHL Official Rules 2013-14 (PDF)

There were equal parts laziness, business, and confusion that went into why this post took so long to write. There's no way to cleanly write a summary of the different scenarios for when the coincidental penalty rule is invoked. I actually flirted with the idea of just skipping this rule and dealing with it another day. Then it didn't flirt back with me and instead threw the flowers into the storm drain after slapping me in the face.

Rule 19 - Coincidental Penalties

19.1 Coincidental Minor Penalties: This rule gets confusing because it's very situation-dependent.

  • If at 5-on-5 and with no other penalties on the board ("visible on the penalty clocks"), then when one minor penalty is assessed to a player on each team, the penalties will result in 4-on-4 play. Both players leave the box immediately upon expiration of their penalties. The way this rule is written, my understanding is that teams would still skate 4-on-4 if players took coincidental minor penalties during a 4-on-4 situation.

  • If at least one team is shorthanded, players serving the coincidental minor penalties must wait until the first stoppage after their penalties expire to return to the ice. On-ice manpower doesn't change as a result of coincidental penalties when one team is already shorthanded.

  • If one of the players also incurs a misconduct penalty on top of their minor penalty, then (i) the player that incurred the 12 minutes in penalties serves all 12 minutes and (ii) another teammate serves the 2 minute minor and comes out of the box when the minor expires. So if coincidental minor penalties are called plus a misconduct, the player incurring the misconduct essentially takes a teammate to the box with him for 2 minutes. Don't take misconduct penalties, kids.

  • In situations with multiple penalties called on both teams, penalties will be matched up so that they cancel each other out. Any differences in penalties are put on the time clock, and manpower is adjusted accordingly. If there are no differences that put one team shorthanded, all players serve the allotted time and don't come out of the box until the first stoppage after their penalties expire.

As if the way this rule is written isn't confusing enough, there are also tables in the back of the rulebook that cover what to do when penalties carry over from the third period to overtime in the regular season (or when penalties occur in overtime). These rules don't apply to playoff overtime because playoff overtime is 5-on-5 like real hockey. It's lots of information that I might cover at the end of this post.

19.2 Coincidental Major Penalties: From how often we see this rule invoked because of fighting majors, it's much easier to understand. Players receiving coincidental majors take their seat in the box and stay there until the first stoppage after their 5 minutes are up. Unlike with coincidental minors, however, if a player also incurs a misconduct, he serves all 15 minutes by himself without dragging a teammate with him to leave the box after the non-misconduct penalty expires. The penalized players are substituted for immediately on the ice.

19.3 Coincidental Match Penalties: We'll get to match penalties in Rule 21, but for now, all you need to know is that players are ejected if they're assessed a match penalty. So the same rules apply as if for coincidental majors, but instead of the penalized players serving the 5 minutes, it's one of their teammates who hasn't been ejected from the game who sits for five minutes.

19.4 Last Five Minutes and Overtime: I'm not even going to try to generalize this.

The Detroit Red Wings are down to five minutes left in regulation against the Los Angeles Kings. The blood fucks Kyle Quincey yet again, and he gets a major penalty for boarding; the guy he boarded Dustin Brown inexplicably is assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for diving. Under the "Last Five Minutes and Overtime" rule (as I understand it because this rule is a train-wreck the way it's written), Brown doesn't serve a second of his penalty, and Quincey serves 3 minutes, the difference in time between the coincidental major and minor, as a major penalty. The rulebook doesn't actually say that Brown is exempt from serving his minor, but it's the only conclusion that makes sense based on what the rulebook actually says. This rule only applies in the last five minutes of regulation, "or at any time in overtime," which I'm guessing means regular season overtime.

19.5 Applying the Coincidental Penalty Rule: This rule essentially says "Cancel as many matching penalties as you can." The differences result in changes in on-ice strength.

Going back to 19.4, the "Last Five Minutes and Overtime" rule applies also in the situation where the leftover penalties are a major and a minor after applying Rule 19.5. So if the Red Wings and the Anaheim Ducks get into a scrum where Drew Miller and Corey Perry get matching fighting majors, Brendan Smith and Ryan Getzlaf get matching fighting majors, and somehow Teemu Selanne gets a major penalty while Justin Abdelkader gets just a roughing minor, Selanne serves the 3 minute difference as a major penalty immediately. (This is all assuming it's the last five minutes of regulation or overtime.)


Yeah, I'm done with this rule. You can read the Tables in the back of the rulebook if you're interested in further minutiae. Table 17 on page 146 (PDF p. 157) details pretty much all the different scenarios of coincidental penalties and how the game will be affected. You can also refer to Tables 19 and 20 to read about how penalties affect the game in regular season overtime. We talk about more types of penalties next time.