In Friday’s game between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers a number of today’s most controversial NHL rules were called into question yet again (see The Impossible Inconsistency Of NHL Rule Enforcement in One Bruins/Rangers Game). The most talked about incident from this contest has re-ignited the argument about the Instigator Rule.
In the middle of the first period Ranger player Derek Stepan made a pass out of his own zone and seconds later ended up crumpled on the ice against the boards with what was recently announced as broken ribs. The injury came off a questionably timed hit by Boston’s Matt Belesky, who may have been a little late finishing his check. I do have two side issues here in that the hit was probably later than it should be but Stepan did absolutely nothing to protect himself even though he had plenty of time and Belesky approached him directly from the front. Having said that, the real controversy revolves around the fact that immediately after the hit, Rangers bruiser Dylan McIlrath jumped and pumped Belesky in a fight. Many are labelling him a hero for standing up for his team mate and championing that this type of thing is the only way to stop cheap shots like this from happening. The cry for elimination of the instigator rule is dancing from rooftops everywhere. One tiny little problem here. Belesky was never issued a penalty for anything other than the fight. That means technically we have a situation where a guy threw a clean check, was jumped, and was forced into a fight he clearly didn’t want to be in. Should there not be an extra penalty here? Whether or not you think the hit here was late and the fight was justified, how many times have we seen guys take a run at someone who’s thrown a big check even if it was clean? Should there not be some sort of protective penalty to prevent thugs from engaging law abiding players into forced fights?
I propose there be an instigator penalty that can only be issued in cases where the player forced into the fight was NOT assessed a penalty in the play leading up to the fight. If he did do something wrong in the eyes of the official he’s fair game. Of course, this opens up the option of players using a simple hooking call as an excuse to goon without consequence.
Verdict: The bottom line is while the instigator rule might prevent tough punishment, it’s extremely useful in some cases to prevent unwarranted beatings and can’t be eliminated completely.