Fighting rules not a hit with players, coaches
Interesting stuff in the Lightning locker room today about the rules changes proposed by the general managers coming out of the meetings in Naples. For those who haven't kept up, the GMs want the instigator rule more strictly enforced. it also wants a 10-minute misconduct for so-called staged fights. You've seen those, of course, the ones where two guys line up for a faceoff and talk to each other, basically challenging each other to fight. The puck drops and the gloves come off. Usually, it's the two tough guys.
The proposed rules changes are not a slam dunk. They must first go to the competition committee in June, where they need seven of 10 votes to continue on to the NHL Board of Governors and the Players Associations' executive board. Generally, though, if the rules are approved by the competition committee, it is a formality the rest of the way.
FYI, the competition committee is made up of Lightning center Jeff Halpern, Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, Senators center Jason Spezza, Flyers owner Ed Snider and GMs Don Waddell (Thrashers), David Poile (Nashville) and Bob Gainey (Montreal). There is one GM vacancy.
So, what are the opinions?
The most controversial aspect was the mandate to call the instigator penalty more diligently. Most players and coaches I've spoken to over the years dislike the instigator rule because it penalizes players who defend teammates after opponents take a cheap shot. That view hasn't changed.
Said Lightning left wing Ryan Malone: "As a player, you want to make sure players are accountable for their actions. You can’t run around and cheap-shot a couple people and then not drop your gloves. I know a couple players in the league whose games might change if they had to stand up for themselves and fight. Personally, you’d rather have no instigator and make people accountable for the way they play. Now they’re trying to enforce it more, you might see more of those cheap shots or those instances where players are in a vulnerable position getting hurt, instead of, if I see someone's back, I know if I run this guy from behind, I’m going to have to pay the consequences later on. Usually, too many people don’t want to pay the consequences. It will make you think twice for sure if there’s no instigator."
Coach Rick Tocchet agreed.
"My problem is when you have a player who takes advantage of the situation where he is protected by the refs, and he keeps sticking people and you try to address it and the other team gets penalized for it," he said. "That’s the problem when you protect guys like that who play that style and they don’t back it up. You eliminate that, I don’t think you're going to have all those other problems with fighting. That’s my take on it."
As for stopping staged fights, Malone scoffed.
"I don’t understand," he said. "It’s not a big deal. You ask a guy to fight and skate around for five seconds, there’s no really difference. I don’t understand why it’s a bad thing to have a fight off the faceoff. It’s not doing anything. Guys who are fighters are going to fight. They’re going to find a way to do it."
Tocchet also was disappointed GMs did not more heartily address the idea of keeping helmets on during fights and having linesmen jump in to stop a fight when helmets come off. That proposal was tabled for more study.
The sticking point is visors, which give players in a fight extra protection. Some players take off their helmets to equal the risk in a fight with those who do not wear visors.
"The helmets coming off, that’s probably the most scary thing for me," Tocchet said. "I’ve been in fights where helmets have come off and I’ve seen guys hit their head on the ice, that’s scary. I don’t like when guys take their helmets off. I understand when a guy has a visor on. He’s trying to show character and say I don’t want that much of an advantage. I don’t know how you do that."
Added Halpern: "I don’t think there is a clear answer to that. We talked about tilting the mask back more, but you ask the fighters, they say when the helmets are on there are more injuries. The biggest thing for the league is to prevent any serious and tragic injuries, and I understand the sympathy the league has for players who have gone through an injury because their helmet has been off. But I don't know if there's a clear-cut answer as far as how to deal with that."
One way to perhaps lessen the potential for catastrophic head injuries such as the one that killed Ontario senior league player Don Sanderson (he died after hitting his head on the ice during a fight) is to add an additional penalty for "takedowns" during a fight.
That is the suggestion of Players Association head Paul Kelly.
"If a player slew foots another player of does some sort of judo move where a player drives another player to the ice, where some damage can be caused, perhaps we need some kind of significant additional penalty to deter that kind of conduct," he said.
Wherever you stand, the topic is still open for plenty of debate.
Other stuff from this morning: Karri Ramo is scheduled to start in net. ... Defenseman Richard Petiot, acquired at the deadline from the Maple Leafs, was called up from AHL Norfolk and will get in the game. "I don't know much about him," Tocchet said. "Let's give him a chance. This is the time to do it." At the very least it gets David Koci, if he plays tonight (and that is not guaranteed) off the blue line and back to his normal forward spot. ... Petiot will be the 47th player used by the team this season, and the 19th defenseman. Not good for building continuity. ... Tocchet said wing Martins Karsums, acquired from the Bruins in the Mark Recchi deal, needs to show more urgency. "He has to impress the coaches," Tocchet said. "We're still looking for that from him." ... Rookie Steven Stamkos will keep playing with right wing Marty St. Louis, Tocchet said. "I think Stammer needs to play with A and B type players," Tocchet said. "Marty is one of our better players on the give-and-go, and I think Stammer needs guys like that." ... Tocchet said defenseman Matt Lashoff (calf laceration), the key piece of the Recchi deal, is close to being healed and could be ready to play by next week.