Slashing in Hockey – What Is a Slashing Penalty in Hockey?

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Dan Kent

Hockey sticks are meant to be used to play the puck. But let's face it; they also come in handy for slowing down the opposition. 

Using your stick illegally will result in a penalty, though. One of the most common and most painful stick infractions in the sport is slashing.

What does slashing mean in hockey?

Slashing in hockey is defined as a player purposely swinging or chopping their stick at an opponent's body or the stick, regardless of whether contact is made. Whether the player slashes someone on the hands, the pants, the front of the shin pads, or an opposing player's stick, the motion, not the intended target, triggers a slashing penalty.

A player may also be called for slashing by poking at the puck with their stick when a goaltender possesses it in the goal crease. Both calls are ultimately up to the judgment of the referee.

What is the penalty for slashing in hockey?

The penalty for slashing is at the discretion of the referee. Because slashing can vary in severity, the punishment often depends on how bad the slash was. A slash breaking a player's stick often results in a minor penalty. However, a slash resulting in a player breaking their hand or finger could result in a five-minute major penalty or, in the event of a wild swing, a game misconduct penalty

In rare situations, slashing a player on a breakaway could result in that player being awarded a penalty shot.

In some instances of severe slashes or when a player attempts to injure an opponent, the hockey league may issue a match penalty along with a fine or suspension to the offending player. 

Penalties are assessed for slashing as a way to protect players from injuries. They're also called to stop players from illegally hindering their opponents' movement and playmaking abilities.

The slashing rule is generally enforced more strictly at the amateur, high school, collegiate, and recreational levels than in pro leagues such as the National Hockey League (NHL).

What is the new slashing rule in the NHL?

The NHL has been telling referees to be more aggressive in calling the slashing penalty, primarily because seemingly innocent slashes to the opponent's hands have resulted in broken fingers and a lot of missed time due to injuries.

As a result, any aggressive, powerful chop to the hands, body, or stick determined by the ref not to be an attempt to play the puck will be called slashing.

Non-aggressive stick contact or mini slashes are often not called a penalty. 

How does a ref call a slashing penalty?

The referee will blow the whistle once the offending team is in possession of the puck and signify a slashing penalty by making a chopping motion with the edge of one hand across the forearm of the other arm.

As mentioned, if minor, incidental contact with the stick is made on a player's shin while attempting to play the puck, there is usually no penalty called. However, a penalty is usually assessed if a player slashes an opponent's stick and breaks it.

Slashing Injuries

Slashing an opponent has resulted in many injuries to hockey players. It's typically regarded as a harmless infraction if a player is slashed on their shin pads or another well-protected body area. 

However, slashes to the hand and arm area can result in fractured or broken bones. It can also lead to a severe injury if a player is slashed in the neck or head area. 

  • One such injury was suffered by NHL player Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators when he was slashed on the hand by Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in an NHL game in March 2017. One of Methot's fingers was partially severed and had to be stitched back together. Below is a video, but be warned it contains graphic content.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets (at that time Calgary Flames) forward Johnny Gaudreau suffered a broken finger the previous season and was sidelined for weeks when slashed by Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild.

Hockey players wear thick shin pads and don't usually feel slashes on the front of their lower legs. Because of this, some referees may not call a penalty if they think the slash isn't very forceful.

Most injuries occur when a player's hand or wrist is slashed since there is minimal padding in the finger and wrist areas. The introduction of strong, durable composite hockey sticks may also be a reason for more slashing injuries. 

As a result, as mentioned, the NHL is cracking down on slashes to protect its players.

Crackdown on Slashing Leads to More Offense

When hockey leagues ask their on-ice officials to crack down on slashing and strictly enforce the rule, it usually leads to more overall offence. 

This is simply the result of more penalties being called, which leads to an increase in power-play goals when the non-penalized team plays with a man advantage.

In addition, players being less inclined to slash an opponent to impede them for fear of taking a penalty also results in more scoring chances and shots on net. 

When the NHL enforced the slashing rule more strictly in 2017/18 it resulted in an immediate rise in power-play opportunities per game, per team from 2.99 the season before to 3.51.

Shots on net per game, per team, increased by 1.7 from 30.1 to 31.8.

Slashing has long been considered a part of the game by most players. Still, it's not as common now due to referees enforcing the rule more consistently. Some players now wear wrist protectors or longer gloves to fend off slashes.

Most players slash an opponent as a defensive tactic to slow them down rather than cause an injury. 

It's a hockey play that has been around since day one, and while it may be decreasing, it will never completely disappear from the game.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada,

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