Friday, February 23, 2007

Instigator Rule: Revamped or Really Not?

There was a major breakthrough today at the NHL annual GM meetings in Naples, Florida, on what has become the hottest and most debated topic thus far amongst the GM's.....the Instigator Rule!

For once, the fans of old time hockey and fighting in hockey caught a break of sorts, when the NHL reversed a rule in our favor! Gary Bettman even agreed that the star players in this league need more protection, and he would rather see enforcers fighting the battles, and letting the star players concentrate on playing. Wow, can you believe that? Bettman actually recognizing the use and importance of an enforcer in the game? Did hell just freeze over?

The NHL GM's with agreeance from the NHL Board of Governors decided that effective next season, it will not suspend a player for 2 games after accumalating a 3rd instigator penalty. Instead, it will allow players to accumalate 5 instigator penalties before the 2 game suspension is enforced. This will allow tough guys to better do their job in protecting the star and more skilled players by not having to worry as much about suspensions for instigators.

So while this should lead to some more fighting, and some more initiating of fighting in reaction to suspect hits and infractions, it does not address the major problem with the instigator rule. That being, the NHL decided to keep the automatic 10 minute misconduct that accompanies any instigating minor. This rule was actually a revised rule from the 1992-93 season when the NHL instituted an automatic game misconduct to any instigator of a fight. So it was worse at one time. So this means a player that instigates a fight with another player who fights back will still get 17 PIM. No player wants to spend nearly an entire period in the box for starting a fight. If it was 7 PIM like it was in the 70's, 80's, and early 90's, that's no problem. Take last night for example, Philadelphia's RJ Umberger said in his post game interview: "I didn't plan on sitting out the whole first period because of a fight, but those are the rules I guess." And guess what? If that player doesn't fight back, the instigating player is at risk still for the 27 PIM package that a ref has the option of issuing if he deems the aggressor to be in an attacking mode on a player who clearly doesn't want to fight. It doesn't matter if that instigating player throws 1 punch or 15 punches. And this leads to a 7 minute power play and can change an entire game, just for sticking up for a teammate? Not fair. The NHL HAS to go further with the instigator and change this rule as well.

So in essence, the ENTIRE Instigator rule must be changed then. I am talking about the following:


- Misconduct or Game Misconduct with an instigator minor. (unless its an outrageous or vicious attack causing harm) Should return to a 2 minute minor for instigating, 5 fighting. (That's it)

- Scale down the 27 min package. (see above) If a player jumps a player or beats on a player who turtles or who doesn't want to fight, instead of 27 min package, that player will get 2+5+10 and remain in the game.

- Last 5 minutes of the 3rd period or game instigators get an automatic 1 game suspension and the coach is fined $10,000 (this should be scaled down to if you instigate in the LAST minute of play, and the coaches fine down to $5,000).

I still strongly believe that the NHL must keep the instigator minor still. Its not only tradition and part of the long time game, its a recognizable penalty and understandable. But if its going to revamp or ease up on this rule altogether, it should address all aspects of this rule, not just one aspect.

Perhaps they will slowly phase back in the instigator rules of old, slowly but surely, and do not want to change them back all at once to create the wrong impression or idea that the league is going back to a barbaric age of knuckle dragging goons. We know their are many critics out there of this so called era of hockey.
To me its a lot of over exaggeration. Hockey was never like that. The game has come full circle, and it goes in cycles. I believe the NHL is realizing that in order for the game to thrive and maintain interest of many of its core fans and even new fans, it must enhance the entertainment aspect. Its no secret that fighting in sports is popular. Look at the Mixed Martial Arts events, the WWE (wrestling), the UFC, and Boxing. These sports are still highly popular and exciting. The NHL powers to be are starting to realize what we knew all along. And maybe this is a start, and finally a turn in the right direction. Time will tell, but we will continue to fight the good fight!!

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