Fraser: A question regarding coincidental penalties

Kerry Fraser
12/30/2013 1:51:35 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at

Thanks for the blog, always a great read.
I was just wondering about the something that happened in the Leafs/Canes game. So in the second period, Paul Ranger and Alex Semin took minors at the same stoppage. The game then went to 4-on-4, until Dion Phaneuf took a hooking penalty. This made it 4-on-3 for the Canes, which they proceeded to score on and Phaneuf came out of the box.
My question is why did Phaneuf come out of the box instead of Ranger? And why does the NHL go to 4-on-4 instead of keeping it 5 on 5 and having the players wait for a whistle?
Thanks again, look forward to continuing to read your blog.
Alex Gane

Hey Alex:

I hope everyone celebrated a wonderful Christmas with family and friends. C'Mon Ref is thrilled to return after a break for the holiday week. Thanks also to those that visited me @kfraserthecall on twitter with your questions from games during that period!

The answer to your specific question Alex is found in Rule 19 (coincidental penalties) which states, "When one minor penalty is assessed to one player of each team at the same stoppage in play, these penalties will be served without substitution provided there are no other penalties in effect and visible on the penalty clocks. Both teams will therefore play four skaters against four skaters for the duration of the minor penalties."

In your example, one minor penalty was assessed to one player of each team (Paul Ranger of the Leafs and Alex Semin of the Hurricanes) with no other previous penalties visible on the time clock. Semin and Ranger's minor penalty times were therefore placed on the clock and served as per the rule.  It is important to note the while the teams play 4 on 4 as a result of the one minor penalty to each player at the same stoppage it does not create a short-handed situation.

From Rule 16, 'short-handed' means that the team must be below the numerical strength of its opponent on the ice at the time the goal was scored. The minor or bench minor penalty which terminates is the one with the least amount of time on the clock. Thus coincident minor penalties to both Teams do not cause either side to be "short-handed."
The formula used to determine minor penalty expiration when goals are scored against a short-handed team is as follows:

i) Is the team scored against short-handed?

ii) Is the team scored against serving a minor penalty on the clock?

If both criteria are satisfied, the minor penalty with the least amount of time on the clock shall terminate except when coincidental penalties are being served.

The penalty that caused the Leafs to become short-handed was the subsequent minor penalty assessed to Dion Phaneuf. Once the Canes' power-play goal was scored the Leafs were entitled to relief by virtue of Phaneuf's minor penalty.

Why does the NHL not treat the minor penalties to Paul Ranger and Alex Semin as coincidental and play 5 on 5 you ask? The coincidental minor penalty rule has in fact changed back a forth since the mid 1980's. The Edmonton
Oiler young guns led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the cast of future Hall of Fame players were primarily responsible for the initial change from minor penalties being served (4 on 4 hockey) to being treated as coincidental (5-on-5).

In late stages of a game with the score either tied or close, a huge advantage resulted for the skilled Oiler players when more ice space was created by a 4 on 4 situation. No one recognized this more than Oiler coach Glen Sather. One of his players would 'intelligently' initiate an altercation or scrum with an opponent where punches were exchanged and a minor penalty to each player was assessed by the referee. The Oiler stars were even more difficult to contain with the extra ice afforded them which often resulted in the scoring of a goal.  

Eventually the rule was changed to its present form. We also see the entertaining benefits derived from 4 on 4 hockey during overtime in the regular season.

Referees have also been instructed to penalize the instigator or aggressor in a scrum wherever possible to act as a deterrent.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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