We've all seen this happen on the ice: some player throws a monsterous, clean hit on another player, and then has to fight his way off the ice because a teammate of the fallen warrior has demanded retribution for the hit. While I understand the idea of defending your fallen teammate's honour, the huge open-ice hit was normally a result of his lack of concentration. The Code implies that these sorts of fights are not kosher by its standards, and I applaud the NHL's Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, for stepping forward today with his comments regarding these after-hit fights.
Gregson has been wearing the stripes in the NHL since 1978, and he has always been heralded as one of the better referees in the game. When he took the position of Director of Officiating, it was thought that there might be some changes. Today, he addressed the instigator rule, a rule that has been roundly criticized on this website.
This writer has stated time and again that the instigator protects those who play dirty because they rarely have to answer the bell when they do something stupid. When a good player throws a solid, open-ice check and some goon thinks it's his job to pummel the hitter, I understand why he's doing it. And I understand why the coach sends him over the boards to fight. However, the NHL's press conference today allowed Gregson to clear the air on his view of this sort of action.
But Gregson said it should be called more, particularly in cases where a player is clearly retaliating for a hit on himself or a teammate by calling an opponent out for a fight.People have crucified Dion Phaneuf for his open-ice destruction of the Islanders' Kyle Okposo, and I can understand that Islanders fans would want to see blood in that case. Phaneuf knocked Okposo into another dimension, and he was carted off the ice on a stretcher.
"Now, even when there are clean hits, there seems to be retaliation going on," he said.
The problem is that Okposo should know that there is a predator lurking on the trolley tracks there. He's played the game long enough to know that if you go east to west on the blueline with your head down, you're going to see stars. I can give you a number of examples where Scott Stevens made a career out of this. And yes, Stevens answered the bell when he was called upon during the first few times he destroyed an unsuspecting player, but people - including Stevens, his coaches, and his teammates - realized that he's more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.
That's the same speech that Dion Phaneuf got from his coaches, and he's following their decree. Pascal Morency wanted to fight Phaneuf, and he chose to not fight Morency. Why? His coaches have told him to stay on the ice and out of the penalty box. And, as "The Code" states, Phaneuf shouldn't have to fight in that situation either.
While I understand and applaud Gregson's encouragement to his fellow officials to call the instigator penalty more often this season, particularly when a player skates across or down the ice simply to start a fight, I'm hoping that there won't be a massive explosion of instigator penalties handed out either. The game is still entertainment, and people like hockey fights.
Cleaning up goonish behaviour? Check. Allowing proper hockey fights to continue? Check. Terry Gregson is off to a good start in his new position.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!