Before the start of the regular season, the NHL said the instigator penalty would be called more vigilantly this season than in the recent past. So far, that hasn't been the case.
Heading in to Tuesday's games, an instigator penalty had been called in 8 of 117 fights. That's one for every 14 fights or 6.8%. Although slightly higher than last season's 5.9% rate, the calling of instigator penalties has declined significantly from the first two post-lockout seasons.
NHL officials were sent memos at the beginning of the season, reinforcing the importance of identifying instigators when the occasion calls for it. One of the most blatant circumstances is fights following clean hits. NHL Director of Officiating Terry Gregson says, "if a player seeks to hand out his own form of justice and his actions meet the criteria, it must be called."
Monday night in Phoenix, Los Angeles Kings forward Brad Richardson was hit by Coyotes winger, Paul Bissonette. Richardson was checked cleanly, albeit, hard into the boards. Kings enforcer Raitis Ivanans immediately swooped in, challenged Bissonette and the fight was on. Both players received 5-minute fighting majors. No instigator was assessed by Stephen Walkom, the former Director of Officiating, or his partner, Chris Lee.
Meanwhile in Long Island on Monday, Islanders defenceman Andy Sutton leveled Edmonton Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert with a clean hit at centre ice. Gilbert's teammate J.F Jacques swiftly responded, leaving Sutton little choice but to fight. However, in this case Jacques received two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Ian Walsh and Mike Leggo were officiating the game.
This tale of two cities - and two fights and two different takes on how to penalize them - neatly sums up the challenge facing Gregson as he works to fulfill a league mandate to call more instigator penalties.