What is a Delayed Penalty in Hockey?

An ice hockey referee holding their arm up signaling a delayed penalty

Welcome, hockey enthusiasts! Have you ever watched a game and wondered why it takes so long to call a penalty sometimes? You saw a player clearly commit a high sticking penalty, but why isn’t the ref blowing the whistle right away? This is called a delayed penalty. Hockey has many confusing terms and rules. This article will explain what a delayed penalty in hockey is, why they have the rule, and its impact on the game.

We’ll dig deep into the intricacies of the delayed penalty, a rule that adds an extra layer of excitement and tactical nuance to the game. Whether you’re a die-hard hockey fan or a newcomer eager to understand the sport’s complexities, this will shed light on why delayed penalties are a vital, strategic opportunity that can change the outcome of the game. So strap in and stay out of the sin bin (penalty box)!

What is a penalty in Hockey?

Let’s start with the basics: penalties in hockey occur when a player breaks the rules. Some of the most common minor penalties are hooking, tripping, interference, high sticking, slashing, and roughing. Most penalties are minor penalties that last two minutes, and the offending player must sit in the penalty box for the duration of the penalty unless the other team scores a goal on the power play; then, the penalty is over.

If a penalty is excessive or causes injury, the referee can give a longer penalty, known as a double-minor penalty, which lasts four minutes, or a major penalty, which lasts five minutes, such as a penalty for fighting. There is also the game misconduct penalty or match penalty, which are for more severe infractions, but that’s a topic for another day.

What is a Delayed Penalty in Hockey?

When a player commits a penalty, that doesn’t necessarily mean the play is stopped immediately. Play continues as long as the offending team does not have possession of the puck.

Rule 15 from the NHL rulebook states that “When a penalty is committed by a player of the team not in control of the puck, the referee shall raise their arm to signal the delayed calling of a penalty.” When the offending team gains control of the puck, the referee blows the whistle to stop the game and call the penalty.

When is the Delayed Penalty Over?

During the delayed penalty, the game is allowed to go on as long as the offending team does not control the puck; this gives the non-offending team a chance to try and score a goal. The delayed penalty is over if a goal is scored, a normal stoppage occurs, such as an offsides call, or the offending team gains control of the puck. 

It’s important to note that the offending team must have control of the puck and not just touch or deflect it but have clear possession of the puck; then, the referee will blow the play dead.

If the non-offending team scores a goal, then the penalty is wiped out just as if they had scored on a power play. However, this is only true for minor penalties. If a double minor penalty or major penalty is called, then there is still an ensuing power play.

What Happens During a Delayed Penalty?

An ice hockey referee holding their arm up signaling a delayed penalty

Once the referee signals for a delayed penalty by putting their arm straight up in the air, there are lots of changes to the strategies of the offending and the non-offending teams. There’s usually a lot of yelling from the coaches and players on the benches, trying to let the players on the ice know there is a delayed penalty call. Then, there are a lot of different things that happen.

The Non-Offending Team Strategy During a Delayed Penalty

When the non-offending team is aware of the delayed penalty, they change their strategy to ultra-aggressive. Since the play will be whistled dead once the offending team touches the puck, they have almost nothing to lose by sending all their players on the offensive.

The first thing that happens is the non-offending team will pull their goalie to gain an advantage by having six skaters on the ice. Often, the non-offending team will play the puck back to their defensemen and even take the puck out of the attacking zone to give their goalie time to skate to the bench and let the extra attacker get in the play.

Another thing that can happen is they do a line change to get their top scorers on the ice and go into an all-out attack mode. Their strategy turns into a power-play mindset where they try to keep possession of the puck as long as they can and try to set up high-quality scoring chances. 

If the non-offending team is leading late in the game and there is a delayed penalty called, they might just want to play a game of keep-away and pass the puck around to kill some time on the clock.

The Offending Team Strategy During a Delayed Penalty

As you can probably guess, the offending team uses an all-out defensive strategy similar to a penalty kill. All they need to do is control the puck, and the referee will blow the play dead and call the delayed penalty. So they just collapse down into their defensive zone and try to protect the net. The offending team tries to block the passing lanes and force the non-offending team to keep the puck on the perimeter until they can make a defensive play and try to get possession of the puck back.

The Referee’s Role

The referee must keep their arm straight up in the air for as long as the delayed penalty goes on. They watch the play carefully to determine if the offending team gains control of the puck. Again, if the offending team just touches or deflects the puck, that does not constitute possession; they must control it.


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Why Do Teams Pull Their Goalie During a Delayed Penalty

An ice hockey net with no goalie in there, this happens on a delayed penalty when teams pull their goalie

Pulling their goalie on a delayed penalty is a very-low-risk, high-reward move. While it’s rare for the non-offending team to score a goal on a delayed penalty, it does happen, and the risk of the non-offending team scoring an own goal on themselves is one of the rarest things in ice hockey. So they virtually have nothing to lose because as soon as the penalized team gets control of the puck, the play is over, so they can’t shoot on the empty net.

Another thing pulling your goalie can do is gain momentum for the upcoming power play. By controlling the puck, passing it around, and ideally getting some good scoring chances, you can start to wear down the opposing team. It can also fire the crowd up if the non-offending team is playing in their home arena

Yet another reason to pull your goalie on a delayed penalty is everyone else is doing it. You’ll find that every team at all levels of hockey uses this strategy to pull their goalie on a delayed penalty. 

Can a Team Score an Own Goal On a Delayed Penalty

You might be asking yourself, isn’t it risky to pull your goalie while the play continues? What if the puck takes a bad bounce, or a player on the non-offending team makes a bad pass, and the puck goes all the way down into their own net? 

As mentioned above, it’s one of the rarest things in hockey to see an own goal scored on a delayed penalty. It’s incredibly embarrassing, just ask Partick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, here is an example of when it does happen.

Why Does the NHL Have Delayed Penalties?

The delayed penalty rule exists to promote fair play and offense. If a team is on the attack, and the opposing team commits a penalty, the attacking team should be allowed to continue attacking. What if they were about to score when the penalty happened? The play must be allowed to continue until the offending team possesses the puck. 

One of the few things we like about soccer is the advantage rule, which is similar to a delayed penalty. The principle is that the attacking team should be allowed to continue with the attack even though there was a penalty on the play, and that penalty can be called after the attack is over.

When is There an Immediate Stoppage for a Penalty

  • If a penalty is committed and a player is injured, and the referee determines that it’s a significant injury that needs medical attention, they will blow their whistle immediately. 
  • If a fight breaks out, the play is whistled dead. 
  • And obviously, if the team that committed the penalty is in control of the puck, then the referee will immediately blow their whistle to stop the play and call the penalty.

How Long Can a Delayed Penalty Last? 

Most delayed penalties are over pretty quickly; they typically last less than 20-30 seconds, and some are over in under ten seconds. The longest delayed penalty recorded in NHL history was in 2020 by the St. Louis Blues vs. the LA Kings. The delayed penalty lasted 3 minutes and 36 seconds without the Kings controlling the puck.

Final Thoughts on the Delayed Penalty Rule

We’ve explored the various facets of this fascinating rule, from its basic definition to the intricate strategies employed when it happens. We’ve examined the role of the referee, delved into the decision to pull the goalie, and why hockey and the NHL have the delayed penalty rule.

Understanding the delayed penalty deepens your appreciation of the game, whether you’re a veteran fan or new to the sport. It’s one of those moments where every player on the ice and everyone in the arena feels the palpable shift in the atmosphere, the heightened tension, and the excitement of what might happen next.

So the next time you watch a game and see the referee’s arm shoot up, signaling a delayed penalty, you’ll know you’re about to witness a unique slice of hockey drama. It’s a moment that distills the essence of what makes the sport so thrilling—a blend of athleticism, strategy, and the ever-present element of unpredictability. And isn’t that what we love about hockey, after all?

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