NHL GMs propose rule changes to crack down on some fights
NHL general managers think some fighting in their league needs to be eliminated or at least reduced.
They're recommending a rule change that would give a 10-minute misconduct penalty to players who fight immediately after a faceoff. The 10-minute misconduct could also be applied to any other fight a referee believes was staged.
"I'm kind of offended by the fact that it's a staged fight," said Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough, a 13-year NHL veteran. "The idea is that players have to be involved in the game.
In staged fights, there is an unspoken understanding between teams allowing players to tangle with each other, usually during inconsequential parts of the game.
"I've never really thought of the strategy because I thought it was a dumb idea," Risebrough said.
The general managers spoke during the second day of their annual meetings. Their recommendations would have to be approved by the NHL's competition committee and Board of Governors before the 2009-10 season.
The GMs also recommended limiting fighting in response to a clean hit, by calling the instigator penalty more aggressively. The league has seen an increase in violent reactions to clean hits.
"I don't like those fights. I don't understand them," said Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, former GM of the rough-and-tumble Anaheim Ducks and a longtime proponent of fighting. "Start calling the instigator penalties, and we'll get rid of some of this nonsense."
Fights in response to clean hits are an example of hockey players' self-regulation, where referees and rules apparently aren't trusted to regulate the game, and players take the matter into their own hands, by responding to a hit with a fight.
"Let the players police themselves? I don't think that's right," league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said. "I think there's rules in place to do that."
League statistics cited by Campbell show that 108 (22 percent) of the first 500 fights this season occurred immediately after the faceoff. He also said there was a 20 percent drop in fights during the last five minutes of the game after the NHL gave an automatic five-minute major penalty for those fights.
"Rules do make a difference," he said.
While endorsing one rule change and more aggressive use of the instigator rule, the GMs rejected or at least postponed an NHL Players' Association proposal from Monday to add a rule specifically banning shoulder hits to the head.
Campbell said those hits have already been punished with supplemental discipline, such as the five-game suspension given to New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt after elbowing Toronto forward Niklas Hagman in the head Feb. 26.
"Our (GMs) didn't have the appetite to have that called on the ice right now," Campbell said.
The general managers also put off recommending a helmet-on rule, similar to the one passed in January by the junior Ontario Hockey League, after Don Sanderson's death that month. Sanderson died three weeks after his head struck the ice during a fight.
Complicating a helmet-on rule is the use of visors, which Campbell said 60 percent of NHL players wear. Players with visors, such as Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla, often have to remove their visors before a fight to make it fair.
The NHL does have a two-minute minor penalty on the books for any player wearing a visor who instigates a fight, but that penalty has not been enforced. Wearing helmets during fights can increase hand or finger injuries as well.
Campbell said the league would revisit the helmet-on rule next year, possibly by modifying visors.