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McKenzie: Enforcement of instigator could reduce fighting

Bob McKenzie
3/11/2009 2:44:02 AM
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The NHL has come up with a novel concept to stem the rising tide of fighting - enforce an existing rule.

The primary recommendation of NHL GMs to put a dent in fighting is to simply call the existing instigator penalty more frequently.

This season, the two-minute minor for instigating has been called in only five to six per cent of all fights. That number should have been significantly higher because there has been a significant increase in fights where one player was using a fight to avenge a clean hit on one of his teammates.

NHL statistics indicated that 20 per cent of all fights this season in the NHL started because of a clean hit. The ensuing fight is the very definition of “instigating,” yet the instigators was rarely invoked.

That, and that alone, could significantly reduce the number of fights in the NHL. If the referees are going to assess the instigator more often, players will think twice before they stick up for a teammate who has been legally checked. If the team, not just the fighter, is penalized, the chances of amending behavior patterns will be much better.

A further decrease could potentially be achieved with the other recommendation from the GMs - punishing staged fights, or those immediately after the puck is dropped at a faceoff, with an additional 10-minute misconduct. More than 21 per cent - or about one of five - of all NHL fights this season were ''staged'' off a faceoff.

It would be up to the referee to determine what qualifies as a ''staged'' fight, but if the NHL were truly serious about this issue, it would have gone to a game misconduct as opposed to a 10-minute misconduct. For NHL heavyweights who predominantly fight and do little or nothing else, the 10-minute misconduct may not be much of a deterrent. And if two enforcers wish to “stage” a fight, they need only do a better job of making it look as though the fight is part of the ongoing play.

This recommended rule change appears to be more lip service - smoke and mirrors - than any real concerted effort to get rid of “appointment” fighting, where two players know before the game starts that they will fight. The player need only dress it up to avoid the 10-minute misconduct and many of them won't care about the misconduct anyway.

But a stricter enforcement of the instigator could actually serve to reduce fighting numbers.

Perhaps the officials will even be instructed to call the additional two-minute minor for instigating while wearing a visor. That specific type of instigator has been called exactly once this season - on Calgary forward Rene Bourque, who gave the Washington Capitals a nine-minute power play when he got two for instigating, two for instigating with a visor and a five-minute fighting major - even though 60 per cent of the players in the NHL currently wear visors.

These recommendations must go to the Competition Committee, and ultimately the NHL board of governors, for approval and won't take effect until next season.

The GMs also talked about safety initiatives with regards to fighting - discussing the OHL-style rules on not allowing players to remove their helmets or stopping all fights when a helmet does come off - but the league said only that it will study it further.

Some interesting fight statistics:

- There have been 1.2 fighting majors per game this season (or about .6 fights for every NHL game played), which is up considerably from the first two years after the lockout when it was .8 fighting majors per game (or about .4 fights per game) but down from the NHL's all-time high of 2.1 fighting majors per game (or more than one fight for every game played) in the 1987-88 season. There have been more fighting majors at this point this season than there was in all of last season.

- When the Big Bad Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1972, the entire team had 24 fighting majors. Columbus tough guy Jared Boll already has 20 fighting majors this season. The 1974 Philadelpia Flyers, aka the Broad Street Bullies, had 58 fighting majors the year they won the Cup.

In other business, the NHL will be seeking approval from the NHL Players' Association to amend the Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow for compensatory draft picks to be awarded in the event of the death of a player. This became an issue after Russian prospect Alexei Cherepanov died and the New York Rangers raised the issue with the league. If the NHLPA signs off on it, a team would receive a second round pick if one of their prospects dies before signing a contract with the NHL club.

Bob McKenzie

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