A brief history (and imaginary future) of NHL penalty shots
They're better now. But can we have more, please?
Rookie Cole Bardreau helped the Islanders win their 10th game in a row last night by scoring his first NHL goal on a penalty shot. The league says he's the seventh player to do that since it introduced penalty shots for the 1934-35 season.
This made me wonder what penalty shots were like in the old days. Which led to a bunch of discoveries. And a few takes. Such as:
Penalty shots were a lot different back then
Today's shooters are allowed to skate in from the red line and do almost anything they want. The only real restriction is they have to keep the puck moving forward toward the net. So no spin-o-rama moves (they actually use that term in the NHL's official rules). But you can even do the lacrosse move if you want — as long as the puck stays below your shoulders and, when it's released, below the cross-bar (someone try this in a game, please).
Guys back in the '30s would have loved that kind of freedom. They had to shoot from 38 feet away from the net (roughly the distance of the top of the faceoff circles) and stay within a circle measuring 10 feet in diameter. Goalies had to stand within a foot of the net and stay still until the shot was taken.
Goalies had a clear advantage at first
Even though coaches could pick anyone to take the shot, only three of 22 tries were converted that first season. Future Hart Trophy winner and Hall of Famer Ebbie Goodfellow went 1-for-6. Two other future Hall of Famers — Eddie Shore and Charlie Conacher — were a combined 0-for-5.
The NHL started allowing shooters to skate right up to the goalie in 1941-42. Initially, that was only for "major" penalty shots, which were awarded when a player was tripped with only the goalie to beat.
The first NHL player to score on a penalty shot was Scotty Bowman
Not the one you're thinking of, though. This guy's real name was Ralph, but he was nicknamed Scotty (maybe because his family was Scottish). He scored on the second NHL penalty shot ever, in a game his St. Louis Eagles lost 2-1 to the Montreal Maroons.
Bowman never took another penalty shot, and the Eagles didn't last long. The team formerly known as the Ottawa Senators folded after only one season in St. Louis and their players were dispersed to other teams. Bowman went to the Detroit Red Wings — the franchise the famous Scotty Bowman coached to three Stanley Cups near the turn of the next century.
We reached Peak Penalty Shot in 2005-06
That was the first season after the nuclear lockout that wiped out an entire season and playoffs. The NHL wanted to win fans back by increasing scoring, and referees were instructed to call penalties liberally. Power-play opportunities spiked, and so did penalty shots. There were 103 that season — up from 56 the season before. And that doesn't include shootouts — the penalty-shot contests that were introduced that year to settle ties.
Calls started regressing toward normal the next year, when there were 70 penalty shots, and last season it was down to 43. About 35 per cent of them resulted in goals.
Here's an idea: more penalty shots
Most people agree they're the most exciting thing in hockey. Just look:
So why not make it easier for penalty shots to happen? The rule book says they can be awarded when a puck carrier is "denied a reasonable chance to score" by an opposing player from behind, with no other opponents between the puck carrier and the goalie. Even if that player still gets a shot off, a penalty shot can be awarded if he was denied a "more reasonable" scoring chance. But you'll often see the defender get off with just a minor penalty for his hook or slash or whatever, as long as it didn't completely ruin the scoring chance. Why not make it so any infraction on a player who's a step past all the defenders results in a penalty shot? Don't let refs take the easy way out. This could also lead to more breakaway goals.
At the very least, how about just letting shooters do whatever they want on penalty shots. Spin-o-rama? Definitely. Skate around in circles before going in on net? Sure. Wraparound? Not sure why you would, but fine. Let everyone get creative. What's the worst that could happen? More goals? Sounds pretty good.
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, the CBC Sports daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing below.