Serving someone else’s penalties

"Red Wings penalty to Todd Bertuzzi, two minutes for dumbassing, to be served by... Herm, I guess."

When the Wings played the Oilers on Friday night, an odd thing happened (or, at least, it would have been an odd thing if the Wings could figure out how to count to five this season). The home team was called for too many men, a bench penalty that isn’t necessarily assessed to any one individual on the roster. However, someone must go into the penalty box and serve those two minutes — so that someone can COME OUT at the expiration of the penalty.

It happens all the time in hockey. Someone must serve a penalty for an infraction that they didn’t necessarily commit. In that same game, Lennart Petrell (kick ass name, dude) incurred an extra instigator penalty for his fight with Justin Abdelkader — and Magnus Paajarvi served it for him. Paajarvi did nothing wrong. Odd when you think about it like that. In fact, hockey is the only sport where someone is “punished” for a crime that they didn’t commit.

For the Red Wings, that someone is Jiri Hudler.

For the DePaul Blue Demons in the early 2000’s, it was me.

There are a bevy or reasons why you’re selected to be the guy sitting quietly opposite from your teammates. Some of those things were brought up on Twitter when discussing how and why it’s always Scuttles that gets tapped on the shoulder. Others may have flown under the radar a bit.

Fair or not, your position will be a factor in whether or not you’re asked to serve a penalty on behalf of a teammate. In most cases, you have six defensemen and twelve forwards dressed. Defensemen are, by simple mathematics, more valuable on the bench than forwards are. If a coach is given a choice (they always are), only Ron Wilson would choose a defensemen when they could sit some scrub that plays six minutes a night on clean-up duty.

In the same vein, your centers are valuable. Not everyone practices tense faceoff situations, or can win a draw in the defensive zone. I sure as hell couldn’t. And I’m willing to bet two hookers and a fire truck that Jiri Hudler can’t, either. That’s not a slam on Scuttles — it’s just a fact that not everyone has the same skill set, and some guys aren’t built for certain roles. Why have a specialist unavailable for two minutes when you can have some random third or fourth line winger do the time?

Like me in college, Jiri Hudler doesn’t get a ton of penalty kill time. In fact, heading into Friday’s game, only Hudler, Bertuzzi, Brunnstrom, and Commodore had yet to step foot on the ice in a shorthanded situation. The other three weren’t playing.

You’re not going to volunteer someone you could potentially NEED in the next two minutes when a guy like Hudler (or Petrella) is on the bench, who would just be sitting anyhow… just on the other side of the ice. With Jiri Hudler in the box, Coach Babcock can still rotate his remaining eleven forwards if it becomes necessary to use them all. And it might be — killing penalties is insanely hard work and you may have to use everyone on the bench to get out of it alive. I was a very decent penalty killer, but so were the other 11 kids I called teammates and most of them had more offensive upside than I did, should the random opportunity present itself.

I’ve said it before — and I’m not ashamed of it — I was, by no means, a top six guy by the time I was playing for the University. While everyone who plays in the NHL — or collegiate — is a talented hockey player, there is a clear distinction between your three or six best forwards, and the rest of us who know how to do something well and fill a role that needs filling by someone other than the goal scorers.

Jiri Hudler is occasionally in healthy scratch territory. He’s not one of the most valuable scorers — or even, scoring threats — on the roster. That doesn’t mean he CAN’T score goals — of course he can. But his standing on the team is lower than that of, say, Dan Cleary or Tomas Holmstrom — simply because those guys are a touch more dynamic and have been entrusted with a greater responsibility to potentially play some important minutes. Homer won’t sniff the ice on a kill, either, but would you rather have him lumber out of the box in two minutes or someone with Hudler’s legs? Which brings me to…

How often do you hear, when listening to a broadcast, that a man-advantage really lasts two minutes and six or seven seconds? If the team with the advantage has sustained pressure in the offensive zone, it takes a little while to get into the play if you’re coming out of the box — and even more so if it’s the second period and your penalty box is opposite of center ice.

One of the reasons I was asked to serve penalties is because I could shave a second or two off of that time, if we needed it. I was the fastest skater on the team and I could get back to the bench — or into the play — quicker than the rest, and those are valuable seconds that I was proud to be able to use to our advantage. Jiri Hudler may not be the swiftest skater on the bench, but he’s no slouch — and he can turn a breakout pass into a scoring opportunity… he has the hands and hockey brain for it.

Depending on the situation, your coach will call out to you — he either wants you to hustle your ass off back to the bench, or jump right into the play (usually reserved for when your linemates are going to be fresh and the bench can get back into a healthy rotation of four lines). In the dozens of penalties I served, I’d say it’s about 50/50 — half of the time I was asked to get across the ice instantly to complete a line change featuring one of our scoring lines… and the other half I was asked to get into the play ASAP and try to negate any sort of odd-man situation developing in my end of the ice.

Generally that decision is based on position of the play. If my team can clear a puck out of the zone and I’m hopping onto the ice, I’d get to the bench and allow one of the top two lines a chance to swing momentum our way. If the puck was deep and we were scrambling, getting to the bench just so another body can get into the zone was a waste of valuable time — I wanted to get there and swing the see saw back to the pivot point.

Knowing what we know now, let’s take a look at the roster and see who else could possibly fit the bill.

[table id=35 /]

I think it’s fair to assume the Mursak and Bertuzzi will have turns in the penalty box because of the actions of someone else. But for now, Scuttles is your man.