Fraser: Devils-Rangers opening fights within the rules

Kerry Fraser

3/20/2012 6:44:25 PM

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I appreciate the insight that you give to the game and the different perspective that we as fans do not get to experience. My question is about the Rangers/Devils game on Monday night. At the start of the game, the Devils starting lineup was their fourth line, so the Rangers countered with their fourth line as well. That is all well and good, with the exception of the fact that John Tortorella had Stu Bickel (a defenceman) take the opening draw. This was 100 per cent for the purposes of starting a fight, which happened immediately. 
If a team is charged with an instigation penalty in the last five minutes of the game, the coach is fined $10,000. Why does this not factor in at the beginning of the game? The players can police themselves, and if a fight (fights) broke out after the opening draw, that is acceptable, but when Torts has Bickel take the draw, it is obvious that the actions of Torts are premeditated and in my opinion he should be fined and/or suspended. Also, is there any recourse for the on-ice officials for ejecting a coach from the game?
I appreciate any of your insight or thoughts.
Mark Odenheimer
Hamilton, NJ
Hey Kerry,
Just a quick question on the incident that occurred during the opening faceoff of the New York Rangers vs. New Jersey game. Should the second and third fights after the original altercation been assessed game misconduct penalties or not since the fights began at the same time, Rule 46.7 wouldn't apply?

Thanks, Jeff

Mark and Jeff:

The bell rang just three seconds into the Devils-Rangers game last night but was set in motion well in advance of the opening puck drop. The fight card was drawn up after head coach Peter DeBoer of the visiting New Jersey Devils dared to scratch the names of his tough guys onto the starting lineup sheet on foreign turf. The official scorer delivered the perceived challenge to John Tortorella and he responded with a counterpunch as any little General would do to defend the fort and his team's honour.

This was all about establishing ongoing territorial advantage on both sides of the Lincoln Tunnel and about respect. It was achieved in part on this night through trench warfare and is likely to be continued; or as the saying goes, "Until we meet again."

Mark is absolutely correct that Stu Bickel didn't take the opening draw to gain puck possession. The battle lines were drawn and the personnel were in place. The only spark required to light the fuse was the release of the puck from Referee Kelly Sutherland's grasp. [*Note: If the fight had commenced prior to the opening puck drop a major and game misconduct would be assessed (Rule 46.9) to each guilty player and team fined $25,000. If a player was deemed to be an instigator he (they) would be automatically suspended for 10 games. It's a good thing the puck didn't get stuck in Kelly Sutherland's hand!]

Everything that took place after the puck drop followed the rules of engagement and were worthy of the appropriate penalties under the playing rules; that is so long as fighting is allowed to remain in the game. As such there was nothing that the referee could impose on either coach for the personnel that they placed on the ice to start the game.

There was no instigator assessed in the fights due to the fact that each combatant was correctly deemed a willing participant by the Referee(s). There was no distance travelled as spelled out in the instigator rule since each player lined up opposite to and within a short jab of his respective dance partner.

Jeff, the game misconduct that is normally deserved under Rule 46.7 to any player who is assessed a major for fighting after the original altercation has started could not be applied because all three fights were deemed to have begun simultaneously.

Rule 46.12 clearly spells out provisions for a player deemed to be an instigator in the final five minutes of regulation or anytime in overtime. There is no such provision at other times within the game. (As previously stated there was no instigator in any of the three fights as all participants were spontaneous and willing combatants.)

Continuing the thought process on an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of regulation time, Rule 44.22 lists the potential for a one-game suspension to the instigator and a $10,000 fine to his coach. The language of Rule 46.2 (less than five minutes remaining) allows the Director of Hockey Operations to consider, for the purpose of review, if he deems the incident related to the score, previous incidents in the game or prior games, retaliatory in nature, "message sending", etc. None of this applies at the start of the game. 

The broad sweep of power is found in Rule 28 (Supplementary Discipline) — "In addition to the automatic fines and suspensions imposed under these rules, the Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may assess additional fines and/or suspensions for nay offence committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offence has been penalized by the Referee." (This must be initiated within 24 hours following the completion of the game in which the incident occurred.)

Mark and Jeff, don't expect anything further to come of this; not at this particular juncture anyway. We will have to wait for a potential playoff matchup for the next bell to ring. The opportunity for that to occur will largely rest in the pen hand of the visiting coach who can send the next shot up the hall with the official scorer in the form of his starting lineup.

For many involved last night (players and fans) the "affectionate" quote of farewell might just apply; "Thinking of you and counting the days until we meet again."

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