A Major Problem: Reviewing Major Penalties in The NHL

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IDecember 27, 2010

Tim Gleason falls to the ice; Mathieu Pereault clutches his gushing nose. Photo credit: NHL.com.
Tim Gleason falls to the ice; Mathieu Pereault clutches his gushing nose. Photo credit: NHL.com.

Sunday night, in a game between the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason found himself a few steps away from a dazed Mathieu Perreault, who had scored a Caps goal earlier in the game, and decided to give him a nudge.

In a series of split-second events, Perreault was spun around and then fell to the ice. The whistle was blown, Washington's medical staff came out on the rink and the cameras zoomed in to see a pool of blood under Perreault's face and his helmet visor lying several feet away.

After the Canadian-born center was escorted off to the locker room, the referee's discussion began. What had happened to Perreault? Was the hit legal?

While the conversation was ongoing, video replay showed that Gleason's contact had spun Perreault away from the boards rather than into them, but his stick had smashed against a glass support and snapped in two. As the upper part of the wooden rod spun around in mid-air, the sharp, shattered side deflected off Perreault's nose before dropping to the ice, immediately causing blood to gush from his nose.

However, the men who really mattered could see none of this. After several minutes of conferencing, the verdict was set; a game misconduct, which is hockey's version of an ejection, and a five-minute charging penalty to Gleason.

A roughing penalty after the play was stopped was also assessed to the Capitals' Matt Hendricks, which cut Washington's power play to three minutes, and the fact that they never did cash in on the man advantage certainly eased the blow for the distressed Hurricanes. However, the incident raises questions on the NHL's policy on these situations. You can judge the call for yourself by watching this video of the play.

With the NHL recently calling for harsher punishments on illegal hits, including those aimed at the head as well as other types, it would certainly encourage players to abide by the rules if the penalties dished out for these infractions are fair and accurate.

Secondly, major penalties can have a 'major' effect on a game. The advantage lasts five minutes and is not eliminated or cut short by goals scored by the team with the edge.

With those reasons in mind, why can these crucial calls not be reviewed by the referees who are to make them, or even the NHL review office in Toronto, for that matter?

Instant replay has developed into incredible technology, and while overuse would perhaps slow down the game too much, major penalties are not all that common. They do, however, have a colossal effect on the game at hand as well as the players involved. The NHL would certainly want these big decisions to be correct, and a short replay can often insure that that is true.

Adding a review by instant replay isn't the only correction that might work to everyone's benefit. What about changing the rules on major penalties, or separating them into two types, such as with "minor" and "double-minor" penalties?

Seeing the flaws with this small, overlooked but often game-changing section of the NHL rulebook, here are a few revisions we think would help a lot.


1. Add Instant Replay

As we've already brought up, this is a no-brainer. The discussion on whether goals should be reviewed by the NHL or by the on-ice officials is an argument for another day, but where these penalties are reviewed is a minor issue (no pun intended) compared to the need for just replay in general. As it is in the NFL, a time limit could be set if wasting time became a problem, and the reviews could only be for penalties originally called majors, not for every penalty.

As it turned out in this case, the judgement would've been fairly obvious (and different from the official ruling) after only a couple glances at the play. Perreault was cut by his own stick and only because of a somewhat-coincidental bounce, and Gleason's hit was not with harmful intent (charging), away from the puck (interference) or into the side wall (boarding).

The reviewers could then decide on the appropriate punishment: a major, a double-minor (since he was cut) or no penalty at all (which would have been correct in this case).


2. Combine Double-Minor Penalties with Major Penalties

Double-minor penalties are called when the player who drew the penalty is cut enough to draw blood, as sometimes occurs in slashing or high-sticking offenses. These calls result in a four-minute power play that is really made up of two minor penalties, hence the name; if a team scores in the first two minutes of the power play, their time remaining with the man-advantage is cut to two minutes exactly.

Meanwhile, major penalties currently do not resemble this. They are five minutes long, for starters, and can result in as many goals as possible, since the clock runs five minutes no matter what.

Our idea is to make major penalties into double-minor penalties, which can be renamed major penalties just for more definite classification. The same standards and rules that currently stand for double-minors can be enforced for all "major penalties".


3. Set a Clear Definition of What Infractions Cause Major Penalties

As of now, major penalties are often defined as extreme versions of normal two-minute penalties, which leaves a lot of gray area and a lot riding on the referee's opinion. Outside of fighting calls, which are quite straightforward, the NHL does not set up many boundaries for what is worthy of a major penalty.

To solve this issue, the league could set up a division between a minor and major penalty by distributing different penalty reasons into the "minor" category and the "major" category. For instance, all "charging" (a more excessive version of "boarding" or "interference), "slashing" (more excessive than "hooking" or "tripping"), "fighting" (more excessive than "roughing"), "elbowing"/"stabbing" (these are similar and could be combined) and some other name for a overdone act of cross-checking could all be declared major penalties (now revised), while all others are minors.

While those calls may seem a bit common to be declared such big infractions, they would certainly become more rare with this step-up in the punishment. Their less-violent counterparts would, on the other hand, take the place as the most common reasons for sentences to the "Sin Bin".

With just these three small changes, the NHL could clear up their rules on major penalties (and double-minor penalties, too) in general, make those rules easier to understand and also enforce fair and reasonable judgments when these incidents arise.

What are your thoughts on the league's standards on major penalties and the way referees deal with them in-game? Give your two cents in the comments section below.


Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 245 articles and received over 235,000 total reads.

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