An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.No other sport has a rulebook that reads quite like hockey's, and "instigator" has been a part of that lexicon since the 1970s. It was put into the rule book in its current form by general managers in 1992-93, and a two-minute option for referees was added in 1996-97.— Rule 56, Fisticuffs
And we've been arguing about it every since.
Here's a word from NHL vice-president of hockey operations Mike Murphy:
The instigator "curbs player behavior away from brawling, and this league can't afford to have brawling. The games are too long already. You start opening the doors to players fighting whenever they want and you encourage brawling, and we don't want to encourage brawling."Now that was in May, 2002 — but it's safe to bet, as Tom Benjamin points out, that the league feels the same way. Brawling embarrasses the league, and eliminating it was one of the main aims behind the rule to begin with.
I can't see that changing, regardless of what happens with the competition committee. What we may see is a shifting of the rule, an elimination of the mandatory suspension after three of the penalties, or something similar.
But I disagree with Tom when he says this is "the last thing Gary Bettman wants to see." My guess is that, after two and a half years with a completely dysfunctional — and for all intents and purposes useless — players' association, the commish is just fine with the fact the very first order of business for Paul Kelly and Eric Lindros is wading into this old, essentially unwinnable instigator tiff.
In the grand scheme of things, there are far more prickly subjects the union could be broaching — player safety, the definition of hockey-related revenues, marketing the stars, improving television coverage and media attention — instead of chasing down a relatively minor rule change. (The board of governors isn't going to be all that concerned, relatively speaking, if there's a sudden push for their employees to punch each other in the head more often.)
In any event, Tom does ask the right questions when he says: "Does anyone believe a Robyn Regehr is afraid to fight? Does anyone believe he would let up on Ales Hemsky because plowing the star will draw a response from an Oiler tough guy?"
- As an aside, the instigator rule has all kinds of wacky provisions in it, like this one: "If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield, he shall be assessed an additional Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty."
Only in the NHL.