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No NHL edict directing linesmen to break up fights before they start

Ken Campbell
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Dion Phaneuf (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

News

No NHL edict directing linesmen to break up fights before they start

Ken Campbell
By:

Dion Phaneuf wanted a piece of his former teammate Jarome Iginla Tuesday night, but was prevented from fighting him by linesmen Greg Devorski and Scott Driscoll. The league's director of hockey operations says the linesmen acted of their own accord.

According to the NHL’s director of hockey operations, linesmen Greg Devorski and Scott Driscoll acted of their own accord when they decided to intervene before Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf could start fighting Tuesday night, and were not following a league edict.

And that’s because there isn’t an edict for them to follow.

There was no shortage of consternation from fans and television analysts when the two linesmen intervened in what everyone assumed would have been a doozy of a fight between Phaneuf and Iginla, former teammates and friends who have attended each other’s weddings. This was not a staged fight, they argued. It was more of an “organic” fight that is much more palatable because it arose from the high emotions of the game. And to be fair, there was a lot of contact and some questionable hits prior to the incident.

Those who applaud fighting felt cheated by Devorski’s and Driscoll’s fightus interruptus and their feelings were bolstered by commentators who said there is a mandate from the league’s headquarters for linesmen to stop all fights if they can.

Not so, says Colin Campbell. In fact, the only time linesmen are required to immediately intervene is when one or both combatants has lost his helmet to prevent a player from hitting his bare head on the ice. But as far as garden variety fights, the league leaves it up to the discretion of the linesmen.

“If they can stop it, they will but we’ve never put in any instructions regarding that,” Campbell said. “It’s not like they’re bending over backwards (to intervene). Sometimes they let them go and sometimes they don’t. It depends on the situation.”

Campbell said both Driscoll and Devorski who are experienced linesmen who likely assessed the situation and thought it would be best to step in. And the feeling is that the person who benefitted most from the action was the captain of the Maple Leafs. Iginla doesn’t fight often, but when he does, it’s usually not a good idea to be on the receiving end of his punches.

The bloodlust of those denied the opportunity to see the fight was fascinating, though. Wonder if those same fight fans would have had a similar opinion if either Phaneuf or Iginla was hurt in the fight. Perhaps that’s what Driscoll and Devorski had in mind when they stepped in. Kevin Collins was one linesman who was notorious for stepping in and breaking up fights before they could get going. He wasn’t following a league edict and neither were Driscoll or Devorski. They were simply using some common sense, something that is often lacking in the pro-fight crowd.

Campbell also cleared up a matter involving the new penalties surrounding diving. He said it was never the league’s intention to reveal the names of those who are being warned for diving offenses. The only time they players will be known is when they are fined $1,000 for the first offense, which the league will be sure to publicize with a news release. The league knows players will not be concerned with the money, but they’re hoping that by publicizing the names of divers for the world to see will serve as a deterrent.

Diving has historically been a touchy subject for the league and players. When the NHL last cracked down on diving, it circulated a “divers list” that was to be posted in each dressing room informing fellow players, but not the public, about those who had been fined for embellishing. Back in 2003, your trusty correspondent was then working for The Toronto Star and had seen the divers list posted in the Columbus Blue Jackets dressing room, with then-Maple Leaf defenseman Bryan McCabe’s name on it. I called back to our reporter at Leaf practice in Toronto to get McCabe’s reaction and it was not pretty. He strung together a blue streak of expletives and ripped the league.

Later that summer, the NHL Players’ Association filed a grievance over the divers list and was successful, and so went the divers list. Campbell said the league wanted to have a similar list once again that would out divers to their fellow players, but the NHLPA was not on board.

“The intention wasn’t for the world to know,” Campbell said. “It was peer pressure. Nobody wants to be called a diver or a faker. But the PA didn’t want us to put up a list in every room."

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No NHL edict directing linesmen to break up fights before they start