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Fraser: Checking out Morris's punch-up of Ryan Whitney

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Kerry Fraser
1/31/2013 2:29:55 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Kerry,

Given the instigator penalties Ladislav Smid received earlier this year when he didn't even drop his gloves first, how does Derek Morris get away with a roughing penalty for unloading on Ryan Whitney after the Oiler OT winner against Phoenix?

He dropped his gloves and started punching an unsuspecting Whitney. If that isn't instigating, what is?

Jim Fuller, Confused in Edmonton

Jim: I understand your confusion when it appears that a fight has been clearly instigated by a player in the final five minutes of regulation time, anytime in overtime or for fighting other than during the periods of the game (time has expired) and no instigator or even a fighting major is assessed. I suspect you are going to like my answer about as much as taking a two-hander right between the eyes! But I won't duck this one, Jim.

The severity of fines and suspensions listed in the rules, including the wide latitude that referees are empowered with under Rule 46 (Fighting), often create reluctance for the officials to impose the most severe penalties available to them at this time in the game.  There have been times in the past when referees (me included) imposed instigator penalties that would result in fines and suspensions only to have them rescinded through supplementary discipline. The preferred path for the referees then became to allow supplementary discipline to rule on the incident without the Officials branding or convicting the player as the "instigator."  That's just the plain, hard truth.

Let me demonstrate the wide latitude and options available to the referees through the language and application of Rule 46 - Fighting. As you read further I ask you to determine how the various rules might apply specifically to Derek Morris in his confrontation with Ryan Whitney (video link) at the end of the game. You make the final call as you follow the trail.

46.1 - A fight shall be deemed to have occurred when at least one player punches or attempts to punch an opponent repeatedly or when two players wrestle in such a manner as to make it difficult for the Linesmen to intervene and separate the combatants. (Prescribed penalty; major for fighting)

46.2 - The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant. (major penalty for fighting + game misconduct)

46.9 - Fighting Other Than During the Periods of the Game—Any teams whose players become involved in an altercation, other than during the periods of the game, shall be fined pursuant to 46.20, in addition to any other appropriate penalties that may be imposed upon participating players by supplementary discipline or otherwise. (Players involved in fighting other than during the periods; major + game misconduct. If one player is deemed the "instigator" of the fight, the game misconduct is not assessed to his opponent.)

In the case of altercations taking place after the period or game the fine under this rule shall be assessed only in the event that an altercation is commenced after the period or game has been terminated.  (C'mon Ref notation: This is where Supplementary Discipline allows for very liberal and generous leeway in determining player confrontation was initiated during actual playing time and became a continuation of player hostilities and therefore not subject to 46.20.)

46.11 - Instigator; An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance travelled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; ...(instigating minor + major for fighting +ten minute misconduct. Player deemed to be the instigator and aggressor to receive minor + major for fighting, ten-minute misconduct (instigator) + game misconduct (aggressor).

46.12 Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) - A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime shall be assessed an instigating minor, major for fighting, + game misconduct penalty, subject to conditions outlined in 46.22

46.20 - Fines and Suspensions—Fighting Other Than During the Periods of the Game—Any teams whose players become involved in an altercation, other than during the periods of the game (see 46.9), shall be fined automatically twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) in addition to any other appropriate penalties that may be imposed upon the participating players by supplementary discipline or otherwise.

Any player who would be deemed to be an instigator pursuant to this rule at a time other than during the periods of the game shall be automatically suspended for ten (10) games. Such determination may be made by the referee at the time of the incident or subsequently by the Commissioner or his designee based upon such reports and other information as he deems sufficient, including but not limited to television tapes. (C'mon Ref notation: This is typically the point and time that the referees pass the baton to Supplementary Discipline and avoid imposing an instigator penalty or even fighting majors.)

46.22 - Fines and Suspensions—Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time (or Anytime in Overtime) - A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at anytime in overtime (see 46.12), shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident.

When the one-game suspension is imposed, he Coach shall be fined $10,000 – a fine that will double for each subsequent incident.

The suspension shall be served unless, upon review of the incident, the Director of Hockey Operations, at his discretion, deems the incident is not related to the score, previous incidents in the game or prior games, retaliatory in nature, 'message sending,' etc...

No team appeals will be permitted either verbally or in writing regarding the assessment of this automatic suspension as all incidents are reviewed by the Director of Hockey Operations as outlined above.

There you have the nuts and bolts of Rule 46 - Fighting at your disposal and to apply in this "altercation" between Derek Morris and Ryan Whitney. As you view the replay of the incident you should take particular note of any contact, confrontation or hostility between Morris and Whitney right up to the point that Nail Yakupov batted the puck into the net after it deflected off the glove of Ryan Whitney.
 
On one replay angle you should have seen that Morris and Whitney punched at each other with their gloves as Whitney circled past Morris on his way to celebrate the overtime winner with Yakupov. This indicates that there was at the very least a minor confrontation between the two players after the goal was scored and prior to Morris'd full-blown hostilities toward Whitney.

This information becomes important as you determine whether the altercation/"fight" should be ruled upon under 46.9 (Fighting Other Than During the Periods of the Game) or as per 46.12 (Instigator in Final Five Minutes of Regulation Time or Anytime in Overtime).

Next you must determine if this was a fight or minor roughing incident. Do you take the easy path or make the tough call?  If you believe, as I do that the initial roughing contact between the two players (gloves up to one another) ultimately became a fight that was instigated by Derek Morris, the instigator penalty should now apply.

Here's the tougher call that Hockey Operations has to make if they too determine Derek Morris instigated the 'fight.' Depending upon which rule is applied the consequences are as follows:

If deemed a continuation of altercation/player confrontation initiated prior to the end of the game and an instigator is to be applied under rule 46.22;

- one game suspension to Derek Morris

- Phoenix coach Dave Tippett could be subjected to a $10,000 fine (This would likely not be imposed since the rule intent was where a coach sent out a player to seek retribution in the late stages of a game. This was clearly not the case).

In the most severe case, if it was determined that Derek Morris clearly instigated the fight after the game ended under rule 46.9 - Fighting Other Than During the Periods of the Game, then rule 46.20 could be imposed:

- Team fine of $25,000

- Derek Morris as instigator of the altercation receives an automatic suspension for ten (10) games.

What's your final call on the play and what supplementary discipline would you apply, if any?

I deem Derek Morris to be the instigator of an altercation that occurred simultaneously with the end of the game and as such deserves a one-game suspension for his actions under Rule 46.22. The $10,000 fine to coach Dave Tippett should waived in this particular case.

Derek Morris Oliver Ekman-Larsson Coyotes (Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
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