The Edmonton Oilers were given a penalty for too many men on the ice last night against the Los Angeles Kings… for having five players on the ice.

The whistle sounded 3:14 into the second period. Edmonton was on the power play, trailing 2-1.   The penalty put the team at 4-on-4, with the Kings going on an abbreviated power play 19 seconds later.

Los Angeles scored with the man advantage to take a 3-1 lead.

Was it a bad call?

Here’s the applicable rule.

74.1 Too Many Men on the Ice – Players may be changed at any time during the play from the players’ bench provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall be within five feet (5′) of his players’ bench and out of the play before the change is made.

At the discretion of the on-ice officials, should a substituting player come onto the ice before his teammate is within the five foot (5’) limit of the players’ bench (and therefore clearly causing his team to have too many players on the ice), then a bench minor penalty may be assessed.

So, what’s the deal?

The departing player – Tyson Barrie – was clearly not within five feet of the bench when Evan Bouchard hopped over the boards to join the play.  The Oilers’ blueliner was the next player to touch the the puck, keeping it in at the blueline and blasting a shot on goal.

The rule requires that a player changing not join the play until his counterpart has left. Again, from Rule 71:

When a player is retiring from the ice surface and is within the five foot (5’) limit of his players’ bench, and his substitute is on the ice, then the retiring player shall be considered off the ice. 

If in the course of making a substitution, either the player entering the game or the player retiring plays the puck or who checks or makes any physical contact with an opposing player while both players involved in the substitution are on the ice, then the infraction of “too many men on the ice” will be called.

Clear enough, right? Neither Bouchard nor Barrie played the puck or impacted the play until Barrie was off the ice.  That’s not enough, though, because there was still an impact to the game.

The Oilers gained a clear competitive advantage because of the long change.

As we’ve talked about previously on the podcast, there’s precedent for a Too Many Men call when it’s used to create an unfair advantage.  In previous cases, it was around using the bench – where one player hops off at one end with his substitute joining the play at the other, creating a positional advantage.

This is a similar play.  Had Bouchard not jumped early, the puck likely would’ve cleared the zone. Instead, it resulted on a shot on goal.

Here’s retired NHL referee and current ESPN rules analyst Dave Jackson to break it down, via Twitter:

“Last night, after seeing only one angle I agreed that the Edmonton Oilers player was off the ice and too-many men should not have been called. After watching it this morning from different angles, I understand and agree with the call.”

Oilers/Kings Too Many Men Penalty, from Dave Jackson's Twitter (@ESPNRefNHL)

Oilers/Kings Too Many Men Penalty, from Dave Jackson’s Twitter (@ESPNRefNHL)

“As shown in the picture, the player comes on when his teammate is still 20’+ from the bench. Some will argue that this happens all the time and it does, to a degree. Changing on-the-fly is a very fluid event and to call a penalty every time a player is beyond the imaginary 5’ line would be impractical and unnecessary.”

“That’s why officials are allowed to use judgement. If a long change has no effect on a play, it will probably be overlooked and the linesmen will usually tell the coach, “Coach, your changes are too long, please tighten them up.”

“If, however, a Ref notices a long change and sees it ultimately result in a definite advantage being gained, that’s when he uses his judgement and calls a penalty.

“All penalties in hockey are predicated on being dangerous to an opponent and/or gaining a competitive advantage. Once that threshold is met, a ref’s judgement kicks in and a penalty is called.”

“In last night’s example, Edmonton is on the PP and makes a 20’+ foot change. The player was in the neutral zone and initially had no real effect [on the play]. However, this player then keeps the puck in the attacking zone and blasts a shot on net. He could never have done this if he’d have made a legal 5’ change. The ref realized that a competitive advantage was gained and called a penalty.”


It’s the right call, even if it’s an unusual one.

Of course, Oilers fans were frustrated by the officiating, which is understandable with the club going 0-for-6 on the power play, while the Kings scored a season-high four power play goals in the game (4-for-7).  The two teams combined for 70 penalty minutes, including six fighting majors and a game misconduct to Edmonton’s Klim Kostin.

The Los Angeles Kings went on to win the game 6-3. Referees were Marc Joannette (#25) and Furman South (#13), with linesmen Jonny Murray (#95) and Trent Knorr (#74).

(Jackson’s tweets have been lightly edited for clarity.)