What does PIM in Hockey Mean?

A hockey player sitting in the penalty box, what did he do?

With acronyms like SOG, OTL, GWG, GAA, and lots more, hockey terms can leave even the most seasoned fans scratching their helmets with confusion. Today, we’ll explore one of the most common hockey acronyms, PIM. We’ll explain what PIM in hockey means; we’ll start with the basics and take a deep dive for the experts out there, so there’s something for everyone. But be sure to stay out of the sin bin!

What Does PIM Mean in Hockey?

In the world of hockey, PIM means Penalty Infraction Minutes or simply Penalty Minutes for short. These are how many penalty minutes a player receives and has to sit in the penalty box for. Different penalties have different durations based on severity, which we’ll explain in more detail in a bit.

List of Hockey Penalties

For a detailed list of all the minor and major penalties in hockey, check out our article List of Hockey Penalties in the NHL, where we go over every single penalty.

Different Types of Penalties in Hockey

Not all penalties are created equally; some have harsh outcomes, while others are a mere slap on the wrist. From a minor penalty to the dreaded match penalty, we’ll tackle them all and explain the various penalty minutes and consequences associated with each. 

Some of the other hockey leagues in the world may have different rules and regulations for penalties, so in this article, we’ll focus on the NHL rules. Let’s jump into the list of different types of penalties and how many penalty minutes are associated with each.

Minor Penalty

a hockey referee with his arm raised for a delayed penalty.

Minor penalties are by far the most common type of penalty in hockey. Most of the time, they’re accidental and not malicious at all. If a player trips an opponent or commits a hooking infraction, the referee signals for a delayed penalty. When the offending team touches the puck, the guilty player is called for a minor penalty. 

The length of a minor penalty in ice hockey is two minutes in the penalty box. However, if the non-offending team scores a goal on the power play, the minor penalty is over, and the guilty party emerges from the penalty box.

On the stat sheet, they are still credited with the full penalty minutes time. It’s not just the time they were physically in the penalty box. So if the other team scores 30 seconds into a power play, the penalized player is still given two PIMs.

Double-Minor Penalty

Double trouble! As the name implies, it’s like a two-minute minor penalty but doubled. These are often given for infractions that cause injury, like high-sticking that draws blood. Any time blood is drawn as the result of a penalty, the minimum penalty length is a double minor penalty. The player is sent off for four minutes, which, in hockey time, can feel like an eternity.

If the opposing team scores on the power play with more than two minutes left on the penalty, the penalty minutes are reduced to two minutes. If the team on the power play scores with less than two minutes left on the penalty time, then just like a minor, the penalty is over, and the player may get out of the penalty box.

Major Penalty

Now we’re in the deep waters with the major penalty, which is given for more severe infractions. In the NHL, a major penalty lasts five minutes. Fighting is a common major penalty; if you’ve ever heard the phrase “Five for Fighting,” now you know why. A five-minute major penalty is the automatic consequence of dropping the gloves and getting into a fight.

Another reason the referee would call a major penalty is excessive contact, especially into the boards. If a player checks or pushes an opposing player from behind head first into the boards, they are going to the penalty box for five minutes. 

Also, contact to the head can result in a major penalty if the referee determines it was a dirty or intentional play. If a player is coming across the middle of the ice, and they don’t have the puck, and an opposing player checks them with their forearm to the head, they’ll get a major penalty for interference.

Unlike minor and double minor penalties, the non-offending team can score as many times as possible on a major penalty, and the penalty time is not reduced. The penalized player has to sit in the penalty box for the whole five minutes, think about what they did, and reflect on their life choices.

Ten-Minute Misconduct Penalty

A misconduct penalty is hockey’s version of a time-out for hockey players. If they are called for a misconduct penalty, they must sit in the penalty box for ten minutes. Typically, misconduct penalties are over-the-top offenses like yelling or saying something inappropriate to an official or someone on the opposing team.

Unlike the other penalties we discussed above, the penalized player’s team does not have to skate short-handed; they just lose the services of the penalized player for ten minutes.

Referees will use a misconduct penalty when the game gets out of hand and overly physical. If there are a lot of post-whistle scrums, the refs can call misconduct penalties to settle things down. They want to send both teams a message that they’ve had enough of the dirty play and any more shenanigans, and you’ll sit in the penalty box for 10 minutes.

A hockey fight with everyone involved. PIMs will be handed out for sure.

Game Misconduct Penalty

Game misconduct penalties are severe and result from various extreme actions. Players who receive these penalties are immediately removed from the game and cannot return. Game misconduct penalties can accompany a five-minute major penalty if the referee deems the action was dangerous and excessive.

Some actions that can get a player a game misconduct penalty are:

  • Spearing 
  • Butt-ending
  • Slew Footing 
  • Kneeing
  • Head Butting
  • Check to the Head 
  • Fighting off the ice
  • Swinging a stick at an opponent
  • Third man into an altercation – Anytime a third player gets involved in a clear one-on-one altercation, they are given a game misconduct penalty. Even if they’re trying to break up the fight, they are given the penalty.
  • Any other excessive or inappropriate actions the referee determines warrant a player’s removal from the game.

Match Penalty

In hockey, match penalties are the most severe type of penalty. These are called when the referee determines there is an intent to injure an opponent. 

The consequences of match penalties are harsh. An automatic game misconduct penalty is handed out, meaning the offending player is kicked out of the game. The penalized team has to serve a five-minute major penalty, and the offending player is suspended for at least one game. They must also appear before the NHL disciplinary board to determine if a longer suspension is necessary.

A boarding or charging penalty can turn into a match penalty if there is a violent and dangerous collision and the non-offending player’s head is the main point of contact. As mentioned with major penalties above, pushing a player head-first into the boards at high speed can result in a match penalty. If a player swings their stick at an opposing player’s head, they will undoubtedly be called for a match penalty.


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How Do You Get a Penalty Shot in Hockey

In ice hockey, a penalty shot is awarded for any number of actions, usually involving stopping a scoring chance by the offending team by doing something illegal. The most common reason for a penalty shot is when a player is on a breakaway and is fouled from behind. Hooking, slashing, and tripping are the most frequent penalties that lead to a penalty shot.

Some other reasons for penalty shots, according to the NHL rulebook, are:

  • Falling on the puck in the goal crease by a player other than the goalie
  • Covering the puck in the goal crease with the hand by a player other than the goalie or picking up the puck
  • Intentionally dislodging the net from its moorings during a breakaway
  • A deliberate illegal substitution – when a player jumps onto the ice before they are supposed to and disrupts a breakaway or scoring opportunity
  • Throwing a stick or other object at a player who is on a breakaway

NHL Penalty Minute Leaders

A hockey player leaving the penalty box. He's got some PIM in hockey.

Many tough guys and enforcers have racked up the PIM in the NHL, but a select few will live in hockey history as PIM Legends! If you look at the era in which these guys played hockey, it was a different time. It was a time of wooden sticks and no helmet rule. Some of these guys were fearless savages.

I think it’s safe to say these records will remain untouched for eternity as the NHL has changed. Gone are the days of goons whose only job was to drop the gloves. The game has gotten too fast; they can’t keep up. With guys like Connor McDavid and Kale Makar flying around, there’s no room in hockey for guys who strictly pile up the PIMs.

Most Career Penalty Minutes

Here’s the list of the career NHL penalty minutes leaders:

1Dave Williams39719621974-1988
2Dale Hunter356514071980-1999
3Tie Domi351510201989-2006
4Marty McSorley33819611983-2000
5Bob Probert33009351985-2002
6Rob Ray32079001989-2004
7Craig Berube314910541986-2003
8Tim Hunter31468151981-1997
9Chris Nilan30436881979-1992
10Rick Tocchet297011441984-2002

For the complete list of NHL career penalty minutes leaders, click here.

Most Penalty Minutes in a Single Season

In 1974, Dave Schultz of the Philadelphia Flyers set the NHL record for most penalty minutes in a single season with a whopping 472! Schultz was a member of the infamous Boradstreet Bullies, who wreaked havoc on the NHL in the 1970s and won two Stanley Cups.

NHL Penalty Minute Leaders This Season

If you want to see who the NHL penalty minutes leaders are for the current season, click here.

Final Thoughts on PIM in Hockey

So, are you an expert in penalties in hockey now? You should be, as you now know, that PIM stands for penalty infraction minutes. We reviewed all the different lengths of penalties from minors to majors. We also explained the difference between game misconduct penalties and match penalties. And we even went on a rant about the good old days of hockey.

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