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Dreger Report: A case to be made for changing Rule 46.6?

Darren Dreger
9/20/2013 2:23:07 PM
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The NHL insists the additional two-minute penalty assessed to any player who purposely removes his helmet to fight has nothing to do with curbing or decreasing fighting - and everything to do with limiting the possibility of a player dying as a result of hitting his unprotected head on the ice.

As blunt as that sounds, that's the ultimate fear and the basis behind offseason debate among competition committee members as to whether a minor penalty would be enough to deter fighters from dumping their helmets.

A 10-minute misconduct or game misconduct was suggested as a much stiffer form of punishment for those who choose to ignore the leagues obvious safety concerns. Sources say a cumulative formula was also discussed to address the repeat offender of the newly formed 'buckets off' rule.

A stiffer punishment was not supported. Instead, the competition committee opted for a softer touch. And on Thursday night, the spirit of the rule was violated.

According to reports, prior to the second of three fights between Brett Gallant of the New York Islanders and Krys Barch of the New Jersey Devils, both men consented in removing each other's helmets before exchanging blows.

Now both the league and the Players' Association knew this was coming and critics of the minor penalty now have the evidence to argue that the existing penalty is not a deterrent when both players agree to break the rule.

As it stands now, the penalty reads: (Rule 46.6) "No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player."

The introduction of mandatory visors is also a huge factor in the evolution of the helmet rule. The competition committee feared players would be more inclined to remove their helmets rather than risk injury in punching a visor.

The 'code' as NHL players refer to, is being redefined. However, players need to decide what's acceptable and what the new 'code' is.

Krys Barch is among those who are unsure - and while he says he prefers to fight with his helmet on, as a veteran player he feels for guys like Brett Gallant who are simply trying to compete for a job.

"It should be freedom of choice," Barch told The Dreger Report on Friday.

That said, the NHL and the NHLPA are sensitive to the role of the enforcer. Players still see a place for fighting in hockey, so it's understandable to see why players on the competition committee might oppose anything stronger than a minor penalty. 

But this is purely about safety - and league sources say the players must embrace and understand the reasoning behind the push for a more punitive message. Otherwise, change won't come soon and the 'mockery' of the rule - as another source described the Gallant-Barch showdown - can't be stopped.

It's not a quick or easy fix.

Darren Dreger

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