McDavid shouldn’t shut up (or hold his breath) about penalties

McDavid shouldn't shut up (or hold his breath) about penalties
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

For some, there was exhaustion as John Tortorella and Connor McDavid sparred about drawing penalties. Personally, that argument instead inspired nostalgia.

Indeed, there’s a “pleasure and sadness” caused by remembering something from the past, although maybe not a yearning to return to that feeling.

This conversation feels familiar because, frankly, many of us watched this movie before. It’s on repeat more than “A Christmas Story” airs during the holidays.

Frame it in three acts:

  1. Superstar cannot be contained — legally. So teams clutch and grab said superstar, daring officials to call a bunch of penalties.
  2. Officials let most of the penalties go uncalled. Superstar, understandably, complains. Maybe sprinkle in some fans and media criticizing said superstar for a) complaining or b) not winning championships anyway.
  3. Nothing meaningful changes in the NHL. Then we wait for the inevitable sequels and reboots.

Personally, it’s difficult to imagine Connor McDavid’s complaints bringing about major changes. Just consider past experience — whether it brings about nostalgia or feeling jaded.

Mario Lemieux complained about the NHL protecting “marginal players,” and little changed. Bored hockey fans grimaced through “The Dead Puck Era” with few meaningful changes to clutch-and-grab.

Since at least (if not) before Gary Bettman began his lengthy reign as NHL commish in 1993, these debates crop up. Typically, little happens beyond people settling down before getting mad again.

Should Connor McDavid “shut up” about drawing penalties? No. But McDavid also shouldn’t hold his breath about anything but the most superficial changes.

That said, it would be delightful if the NHL proved us wrong, and actually improved in meaningful ways.

McDavid, Tortorella on drawing penalties

To catch you up, John Tortorella spoke about changes he believes McDavid needs to make. Part of that was about defense, but he also indicated that McDavid shouldn’t complain about not drawing penalties.

In response, Connor McDavid said “guess I just gotta shut up about this.”

There’s a nice, salty exchange there. But it’s important to realize that McDavid has a point about drawing penalties.

Despite being someone who can score goals at will against multiple defenders, McDavid doesn’t draw penalties in parallel to his skills. Most memorably, McDavid didn’t draw a single penalty call as the Jets swept his Oilers. It turns out, McDavid actually didn’t draw a penalty in consecutive playoffs.

This isn’t to say McDavid gets no calls; inevitably, he gets whistles. Just not enough.

Maybe some of it is simply human nature. Yes, hockey fans grumble at the mere mention of Tim Peel. Yet, in a September interview with Daily Faceoff, Peel provided interesting insight into why officials may hesitate to call certain would-be penalties in McDavid’s favor.

Some of the things that make McDavid so hard to defend — great edgework, being strong on his skates — may make that small difference in a penalty being called or not. That’s why it might be key to impress a larger directive on officials: call penalties as you see them, don’t avoid making calls just because it’s a close game in the third period.

So it’s not the easiest situation.

The solution probably revolves around a league-wide focus. Emphasize calling penalties in all situations — close games in the third period, the playoffs. Don’t slip into the bad habits of “game management.”

Ideally, such tweaks would finally allow the NHL to call penalties in fair enough way to allow McDavid and other stars to shine. It would be a welcome, and long-awaited change.

McDavid shouldn't shut up (or hold his breath) about penalties Getzlaf
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Long lagging behind other sports when it comes to stars and penalties

It’s been mentioned before, and it’s painfully true. While other sports put their stars in better situations to succeed, the NHL mostly just shrugs and moves on.

Naturally, neither league is perfect. No one wants a hockey league full of James Hardens exploiting every nook and cranny of the rulebook to get cheap penalties. And there are those who complain about the NFL swinging too far in favor of offense.

Big-picture, though? People want to see superstars do super things.

Yet, gesturing at the success of the NFL and NBA hasn’t moved the needle when it comes to NHL officiating. Maybe more existential threats would?

In 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman notes some soft NHL attendance, and wonders if that might be the factor that starts getting more penalty calls for McDavid and other stars.

As far as major officiating pushes go, the most notable surge of the Bettman era came when the NHL was in its most desperate situation. Following the full-season 2004-05 lockout, the sport faced a borderline existential crisis. And the whistles finally came out.

via Hockey Reference:

Average power-play opportunities per game, 2003-04: 4.24
Average power-play opportunities per game, 2005-06: 5.85

As teams adjusted to the changes, things settled down. For this discussion, that’s not the main point. Instead, note that the NHL actually did make genuinely crucial changes with its back against the wall.

If the NHL addresses penalties, some might credit McDavid. I’d guess that the real factor would be if attendance remains a bit soft.

Penalties very slightly up, but they’ve been way down for a while

Let’s zoom out from Connor McDavid penalties, and look league-wide.

Without prior knowledge, you might assume that the modern NHL calls more penalties than the days of the “Dead Puck Era.”

The good news is that, very early in 2021-22, penalty calls are up there for recent years. The bad news is that penalties have been way down for quite some time. Consult this chart of the last couple decades (stats again via Hockey Reference):

Season power-play opportunities
2021-22   3.05
2020-21   2.89
2019-20   2.97
2018-19 2.92
2017-18 3.04
2016-17 2.99
2015-16 3.11
2014-15 3.06
2013-14 3.27
2012-13 3.32
2011-12 3.31
2010-11 3.54
2009-10 3.71
2008-09 4.16
2007-08 4.28
2006-07 4.85
2005-06 5.85
2003-04 4.24
2002-03 4.42
2001-02 4.13
2000-01 4.59

In case you’re wondering, average power-play opportunities only dipped below four per game once from 1981-82 through 2000-01 (3.87 in 1982-83). Beyond that, PPOs ranged fairly wildly, including reaching 5+ on multiple occasions.

For whatever reason, officials really started to put their whistles away from 2009-10 on, and things haven’t changed much since 2014-15.

Maybe people didn’t notice the drop in NHL penalty calls because scoring improved?

  • From 2010-11 through 2016-17, the goal-per-game average ranged from 2.71 to 2.79.
  • An interesting jump took place between 2016-17 (2.77 gpg) to 2017-18 (2.97). Scoring’s been around that low-3 range ever since.

Broadly speaking, it seems like scoring has increased — subtly — even as penalty calls dried up.

Perhaps the NHL believes its reached an acceptable balance? Ultimately, that depends. Is the league at its best when teams average about three goals per game?

McDavid might as well keep pushing for penalties — to a point

Amusingly, McDavid’s Oilers go into Thursday’s games as the only NHL team currently averaging four goals per night. At times, are officials merely being merciful? If McDavid drew more penalties, would the Oilers power play (42.6-percent success rate) challenge competitive balance?

Such questions should embolden McDavid to keep the penalties conversation front-of-mind. As much as people want hockey players to just shut up and play, suffering in silence doesn’t put the other team in the box. It would be gross if McDavid starts falling to the ice like peak penalty-drawing Dustin Brown, but officials are human. If you force the issue, they might need to make the call.

Also, let’s not forget John Tortorella’s own experiences when it comes to complaining about penalties.

Early in his Blue Jackets tenure, Tortorella wasn’t exactly silent about his beliefs that the Penguins got some calls. Do recall that Sidney Crosby was pretty vocal about his feelings, something he later toned down. But, hey, even if Crosby rubbed some the wrong way, he also won a lot.

So, again, maybe it’s about striking the right balance. Considering how slowly the NHL often embraces change, it’s unlikely that McDavid’s penalty talks will push those PPO’s from the 3’s to the 4’s.

But, who knows, maybe those discussions will stick in officials’ minds the next time defenders try “water-skiing” McDavid in a big playoff game?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

canadiens sabres
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.