The National Hockey League has long searched for ways to make the game more exciting and fun for the casual fan to watch. This has been especially true since the infamous full-season lockout of 2004-05, after which a number of rules changes were enacted to gear the action more toward offense. A couple shining examples of rule changes that have seemed to work are the abolition of the red center line as far as “long-range stretch passes” are concerned (allowing for the so-called “two-line pass”), tag-up offside wave-offs and Icing negating the offending team’s line change.
One of the rules highlighted in those rules changes, however, seems to have recently drawn the ire of fans and, now, the NHL Players’ Association. You’ll be able to find that rule change under its’ own heading in the above link . . . it is the Instigator Rule. What you may not know, though, is that the Instigator Rule was in place for years before the lockout, but had changed so dramatically since its’ first drafting that it needed to be delineated in the draft after the lockout, and has since been tweaked so much as to finally turn into a nuisance not just to fans, but to players.
Here is the full section of the NHL rulebook on Fighting, most of which is self-explanatory. The current Instigator rule on the books is under Section 46.11, which leaves very little need for interpretation but is extremely subjective and does not take into account certain infractions that occur in game action that would cause said retribution.
Fighting in hockey has existed pretty much since the inception of the professional level of the sport. It’s part of the aspect of hockey in which the players do their best to police themselves on the ice, part of the reason why hockey is such a unique sport compared to the other major sports. For example, if you wanted to take a run at the likes of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, etc. during the Oilers dynasty years in the 1980’s, you would eventually have to feel the wrath of Dave Semenko. Want to hit former Blackhawk great Denis Savard with a cheap shot? In steps Bob Probert. Want to scramble Theoren Fleury’s eggs? There’s Brad McCrimmon to scramble YOUR eggs. The lesson was clear and simple in those days – you take out our players with cheap shots, and we’ll take off our gloves and pound the living hell out of you.
The NHLPA is starting to see all of which this Instigator Rule entails, and according to a recent NHLPA poll, while the majority of players still do not believe it should be taken completely off the books, support for the rule has declined to the tune of a 13-point drop in support for the rule in the last twelve months alone. That’s a staggering drop in support, to say the least. In that light, it’s very unsurprising that 98 percent of players polled do not want to see a total ban of fighting, and if I were a player, I would be part of that 98 percent.
As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of hockey fisticuffs, so perhaps I am skewed toward abolishing any rule that would infringe on a player’s right to drop the gloves on the ice. And yes, I could definitely do without the Instigator Rule, not only in its’ current form but altogether. I even understand some of the reasons why the Instigator Rule was put in place. But I don’t understand why the rule still exists, as it serves as a deterrent to the punishment of dirty play and it even seems deterrent to free open-ice play as we’d like to see in the modern game.
All that said, the recently-released poll results do show a tide turning. It finally appears that there is support among the players playing the game that the Instigator Rule needs to be removed from the game at its’ top level. It’s about time this happened.
So yes, I say the NHL should get rid of the infamous Instigator Rule, for now and forever. But . . . what say you, dear reader? Should the NHL take the infamous Instigator Rule off the books? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments.