Blackhawks notebook: Harsher penalty discouraging Jeremy Colliton from using challenges

Now that a failed goaltender interference challenge gives the opponent a power play — the same way a failed offside challenge has since 2017 — their frequency has dropped from 182 last year to a pace of 65 this year.

SHARE Blackhawks notebook: Harsher penalty discouraging Jeremy Colliton from using challenges

Jeremy Colliton’s failed challenge Wednesday in Vancouver was just his third attempt of the year, part of a league-wide trend.

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CALGARY, Alberta — Jeremy Colliton’s failed goaltender-interference challenge Wednesday in Vancouver was just his third challenge attempt of the season, and his first for interference.

He’s not alone in that infrequency.

Since challenges were instituted by the NHL in 2015, league coaches had challenged an average of 161 instances per season, but with a mere 25 percent success rate. The rule often proved too vague to provide conclusive evidence that the call on the ice was wrong.

So to motivate coaches to challenge only the most blatant (in their eyes) situations, the NHL changed the rule this season to punish failed interference challenges with a two-minute delay-of-game penalty, and thus a power play for the opponent.

As a result, the NHL is on pace to see just 65 such challenges this season, yet with a 48 percent success rate.

Goaltender Interference Challenges
Season Attempts Success Rate
2015-16 147 20%
2016-17 136 29%
2017-18 177 28%
2018-19 182 24%
2019-20 (Prorated) 65 48%

In Vancouver, Colliton’s rare gamble — arguing that Brandon Saad was pushed into Jacob Markstrom’s way and did not intentionally interfere, as was ruled when waving off a potential first-period Hawks goal — backfired. The call was upheld after review, so the Canucks received a power play and scored on it.

“We felt like, in the moment, that Saad didn’t prevent him from making a save and felt like we had a decent chance of getting a goal,” Colliton said Wednesday. “Feel pretty good about our penalty kill, so it’s worth taking a shot.”

Asked about the subject Saturday, Colliton again mentioned the Hawks’ strong penalty kill — 10th in the NHL entering the day — as a reason he does consider challenging certain plays. 

But he actually hasn’t done it much. Only nine teams have attempted fewer challenges than the Hawks’ three; the Red Wings lead the league with eight, followed by the Canucks and Avalanche at seven.

Still, challenge rates are down greatly across the continent from 2015-16 and 2016-17, before the penalty punishments were instituted even on offside challenges. 

Those, too, plummeted in frequency but increased in efficiency after the 2017 rule change, from 167 instances with a 31 percent success rate in 2016-17 to 74 instances with a 56 percent success rate in 2017-18. This year is on pace for 98 instances with an incredible 72 percent success rate.

Offside Challenges
Season Attempts Success Rate
2015-16 106 39%
2016-17 167 31%
2017-18 74 56%
2018-19 97 63%
2019-20 (Prorated) 98 72%

Colliton agrees with the statistics that the penalties have influenced coaches’ willingness to send a play to review.

“It’s probably across the league,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to be very careful, and it seems like even if it’s a more than 50-50, they’re not likely to overturn it.”

Smith timetable given

Zack Smith will be out for seven to 10 days after his left hand was cut by Elias Pettersson’s skate blade Wednesday.

That means the veteran winger, whose role had been elevated lately with his promotion to the first power play unit, will miss four or five games and could return Feb. 23 in Dallas or Feb. 25 in St. Louis. 

Those two games sandwich the Feb. 24 trade deadline, so if the Hawks were involved in trade discussions about Smith — although there’s been no indication of that — the injury could also affect those.

Smith, who turns 32 in April, has tallied four goals and 11 points in 50 games this season.

Saad back on PP

Saad filled Smith’s vacated role as the front-of-the-net man on the Hawks’ struggling top power play unit Saturday. Saad has played surprisingly sparingly on the power play. Colliton said that has been to preserve his energy for five-on-five play, where he’s been excellent.

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