Riley Cote of the Flyers squares off with Wade Belak of the Predators. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
If the NHL accepts the recommendation from the GMs that the rulebook actually be called from now on when it comes to instigators, it may actually cut down on the number of fights in the future.
But instead of making the NHL less physical, there’s a good chance there will actually be more clean bodychecking in the future than there has been in the recent past. To their credit, the GMs recommended referees be more vigilant in calling the instigator penalty, particularly as it relates to fights that are started after a player has been hit with a clean check.
Imagine that. Players who play an honest, physical game will now be able to go out and do their thing without having to worry about being attacked for doing something that is totally acceptable in the NHL rulebook. If this new enforcement gives players that kind of freedom, you’re bound to see more hits.
Few things enrage hockey observers more than watching a player lay a clean hit on his opponent, only to have to “answer the bell” by being forced to fight. However, it’s not likely to be too popular with the pugilism crowd, who continue to call for the abolition of the instigator rule despite the fact it is almost never called. That should change if the league’s edict sticks and we’ll really see an effective instigator rule that actually has some teeth.
The best thing about it is it’s right there in black and white in the rulebook, now it simply just has to be called. Let’s not start with the notion this will put too much pressure on the referees, it’s their job to interpret the rulebook and enforce the rules in it. Expecting them to do that should not be seen as an unreasonable request.
The only thing players will have to worry about now is hitting star players, because as Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke pointed out, teams will be willing to take the instigating minor if the hit, clean or not, is on one of their top players.
Very good work by the GMs, but there’s still a long way to go. They still have to get a grip on head shots and have been totally unable to do anything about something that has become a scourge for the league. For almost two years, the GMs have tried to do something about head shots and near as these eyes can tell, they can’t even seem to come to a consensus on what is a head shot and what isn’t.
The recommendation that players who get involved in “staged” fights receive a 10-minute misconduct in addition to the five-minute major for fighting simply doesn’t go far enough. First of all, it will govern fights that occur before the faceoff, which simply means the fighters will wait until the puck drops and play begins. Then they’ll be able to make it look as though their intense emotions have boiled over and blah, blah, blah.
Let’s face it, making these talent-challenged goons cool their heels for an extra 10 minutes in the penalty box simply means they’ll be picking splinters out of the penalty bench instead of their own teams’ bench. Giving a 10-minute misconduct to a player who plays five minutes a game certainly isn’t going to be much of a deterrent.
But for someone who assumed the GMs would simply sweep all the fighting issues aside at these meetings, this indeed represents some progress. And for that, the GMs should be commended.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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