In last night’s pivotal Toronto-Boston game, Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin was whistled for holding with 1:14 remaining in the third period. The score was tied 3-3 and, as the Bruins didn’t manage to get the winner before the end of regulation, Kulemin served the final 46 seconds in overtime.
If Toronto had been up 3-2, however, Kulemin’s two-minute penalty would have been commuted to a 1:14 sentence and the Bruins would have been short-changed on their chance to tie the game at its most crucial juncture. (Never mind the call on Kulemin – and the subsequent one in OT on Torey Krug – were suspect).
It’s a niggling flaw in the system that when a team takes a penalty with fewer than two minutes remaining, it’s no longer a two-minute minor. It’s a 1:45 minor. Or 0:37 minor. Or 0:03 minor.
Bear in mind that referees are already less likely to call a penalty late in close games (last night’s contest notwithstanding). When they do, it’s usually something they absolutely can’t ignore.
To minimize the punishment gives the offending team an advantage. It would be like taking away a free throw from a basketball team late in a game when they should be shooting two. Or only penalizing a holding call in football seven yards instead of 10. Or moving a penalty kick back a few yards on the soccer pitch. It’s not logical.
The solution? Add on the time after 60 minutes. If the penalty occurs with 57 seconds remaining, play an additional 1:03. They add “stoppage time” in soccer in part to dissuade players from milking the clock. In football, a half cannot end on a defensive foul; the offense gets another play.
Another couple minutes isn’t onerous to overall playing time (and would be even less so if we returned to the days of the true hurry-up faceoff). Remember, this wouldn’t be relevant in a tie game like last night’s; penalties carry over into extra time anyhow.
With parity so pervasive and every point in the standings so critical, fairness is paramount. This would be one small way to discourage the rodeo tactics we sometimes see late in games, when everything is on the line.