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An NHL rule tweak that could be worth hundreds of goals

Vegas Golden Knights William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights celebrate - Getty images

What if the National Hockey League made teams kill penalties in their entirety?

It’s a fascinating rule tweak to consider, especially in light of the scoring explosion we have from the league in the past three seasons, and the Champions Hockey League instituting a similar rule change in advance of the 2023-24 season.

The NHL currently treats two-minute minor penalties and five-minute major penalties differently:

  • A team killing off a minor penalty returns to even strength if a goal is conceded, or if two minutes have elapsed in gameplay (four minutes for a double-minor); whereas
  • A team killing off a major penalty returns to even strength only after five minutes have elapsed in gameplay

Essentially, the maximum potential reward for a team that has been afforded a power play from a minor penalty is one goal; the maximum potential reward for a team that’s been afforded a power play from a major penalty is endless, within the five-minute window.

That made me wonder: What if there were no extinguishing factor for minor penalties, and teams had to kill off the full two minutes (or four minutes, again, in the case of a double-minor) irrespective of how many goals were conceded? What would it mean for scoring around the league? Would it make for a more entertaining product?

We can work out some quick math to show how material a change it would be.

Last season, the average NHL team saw about 250 power-play opportunities, which works itself out to about 6.1 power plays per game. We know teams converted on 21 per cent of those power plays, and we also know the vast majority of these power-play opportunities were straight two-minute minors. To that end, we can calculate how much time was erased from power-play windows because of an intervening goal being scored.

If we know that, we can reasonably infer how many more goals would be scored if those games were never returned to even strength prior to the two-minute window elapsing.

The short answer? After netting out the higher rate of power-play scoring observed league-wide (7.7 goals per 60) against the lower rate of even-strength scoring (2.7 per 60) observed league-wide, this rule change would add close to +0.2 goals per game. That’s an increase of around 250 goals per season.

You can certainly get more sophisticated with this sort of analysis, but even at a high level, I think it’s a change the league should consider. Tapping into a couple hundred additional goals with little material change to your rulebook seems worthy of exploration.

This is the same league that has spent years tweaking at the margins and, more recently, tightening up officiating standards on certain infractions to promote offence and reduce injury risk.

The league already differentiates between minor and major penalties as a function of time. Let that differentiation stand on its own, and make teams who commit penalties kill them in their entirety.

There of course would be several extenuating factors to consider when making this change. You can envision more pressure on officiating teams to get calls right, but, counterbalancing that, an increased appetite from teams to play a more disciplined game and avoid taking penalties.

But if the NHL wants to keep the offensive spigot turned on, this is one of the best remaining options.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference