The "Good" Penalty

April 24, 2012

Did anyone see the puck the other night in Game 4 between Nashville and Detroit? No? Nor did the referees apparently.

Sometimes in sport, we hear people say that she or he took a “good” penalty. Classic examples of this are the trip on a breakaway in hockey, the intentional foul toward the end of the game in basketball, or the hand ball in soccer to prevent a sure goal – you get the idea. When a “good” penalty is taken, it usually happens in clear view of the officials.

Sometimes in sport, players get away with penalties, presumably in the heat of the moment because they happen behind the play or certainly behind the official’s back...a slash, a hook, an elbow, a dive, etc.

In some sports, however, missed penalties are actually called out by the player themselves – take golf for example. So, each sport has its own culture around penalties – how they should be viewed and how they should be penalized.

Back to Game 4 between Nashville and Detroit. The two teams are battling each other with the score tied at 0 – 0. A goal mouth scramble takes place inside the Nashville goal crease. With the play still live, David Legwand of Nashville drops to the ground and, unnoticed by the official, wraps his hand around the puck. The referee, unable to locate the puck, blows the play dead. Legwand skates to the bench with the puck still hidden in his glove and at the bench discretely hands it to a team trainer who then hides it in a towel.

If the referee had seen the infraction – the player closing his hand over the puck in the crease – this would have resulted in a penalty shot for Detroit.

The question then is: how would we describe the actions of the player in this case? Is this a player doing what they have to do to prevent a goal and risking the so-called “good” penalty? Or is this behaviour that exceeds the normal definition of a penalty? Is this kind of deception and dishonesty appropriate in sport? Or is it behaviour that goes beyond what we find to be acceptable and harms the sport itself? And now that we know what happened, does the league have an obligation to address this infraction?

Let me know what you think.