Hockey Has an Instigator Problem

The NHL can't have it both ways

NHL 2012: Blue Jackets vs Blackhawks JAN 10

Blackhawks fans got an excellent demonstration Tuesday night as to why the instigator rule for fighting is complete bull-roar.

First, the rule: It used to be that if you instigated a fight -- and you really had to go out of your way to get one of those calls in the day -- it was just two minutes tacked on to your fighting major. Now, you get those two minutes plus a 10-minute misconduct, putting a player off the ice for 17 minutes.

On Tuesday, Jared Boll charged at Andrew Brunette as if he were invading Mordor. Thankfully he missed. But Steve Montador didn't like it and went to protect his teammate. He actually got 19 minutes in penalties, because if you instigate a fight and you wear a visor, it's an extra two.

It happened again in the 2nd, except replace the name Brunette with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Montador with Jamal Mayers. Boll once again charged into a Hawks player, and even hit Hammer pretty high, and Mayers went to his defense. He got the requisite 17 minutes.

While my stance on fighting has changed over the years, and wavers from time to time, the NHL cannot have it both ways. It cannot pay lip service to allowing players to police themselves -- as it does by keeping fighting -- and then pretty much take that away without saying so with this instigator rule.

A player like Boll knows that for whatever shenanigans he causes, he can drag another player off with him for an entire period. And as he's a tough guy himself, he doesn't really fear getting pummeled by anyone anyway.

This is the fear of the pro-fighting crowd, and it's not to be dismissed. Without fighting at all, it is possible this sort of silliness could run riot, with no one held accountable. The instigator rule could be acting as a preview.

The NHL can't be halfway in on this. It's either allowing fighting and the players to police themselves, or they have to do all the cop work. You saw last  night why this one foot in approach isn't working.

Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .

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