New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators Fight Shows Why NHL Needs Rule Change

Jason SapunkaCorrespondent IIApril 15, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Matt Carkner #39 of the Ottawa Senators hits Brian Boyle #22 of the New York Rangers which led to his game misconduct penalty in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 14, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL is developing a strange history of disciplining players with idiotic levels of severity.

During Saturday's Game 2 between the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers, a small brawl occurred which highlighted a sad insensibility that is actually found in the NHL rulebook; Rule 46.11, the Instigator Rule.

Just over two minutes into the game, Brian Boyle of the Rangers checked Zach Smith of the Senators into the boards. Immediately after this, Ottawa's Matt Carkner went after Boyle.

Carkner dropped his gloves, punched Boyle down to the ice then kept hitting him.

In Game 1 of the series, Boyle went after young superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson. Karlsson was 11th in the NHL in points with 78, leading all defenseman by 25.

At 15:31 of the first period in that game, Boyle and Karlsson were in a minor shoving match in front of the Senators' net. The 6' 7", 245-pound Boyle escalated the event by throwing several gloved punches at Karlsson's head.

Because of this, there was nothing wrong with Carkner going after Boyle in Game 2. However, the NHL rulebook says differently:

"An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct."

The rule stops players from starting fights with other players who would rather run away from fights, like former Rangers player Sean Avery, who made a career out of hiding from fights.

Many NHL players want the rule gone.

In a 2011 player poll, 66 percent of surveyed players wanted the instigator rule to stay in place, but that percentage dropped to 53 in this season's poll. Some notable players in favor of taking it out include former Philadelphia Flyers players Rick Tocchet, Todd Fedoruk and Riley Cote.

Tocchet wrote, "I would take it out!!!" 

Fedoruk wrote "I'd love to see it gone! Get rid of it!!"

Cote cited accountability and respect in his comment, "Take the damn thing out!"

By NHL rules, Boyle was not punished for attacking Karlsson. Both players received a two minute roughing penalty even though Boyle was clearly the aggressor in the Game 1 incident.

By NHL rules, Carkner was given a two minute minor for instigating, a five minute major for fighting and a game misconduct. Boyle did not receive a penalty on the play.

Because one of their players decided to stick up for a teammate, the Senators had to kill a major penalty and play the rest of the game short one defenseman.

The NHL rules permit a 6' 7", 245-pound Boyle punching a 6' 0", 180-pound Karlsson, but severely punish the 6' 4", 240-pound Carkner from going after Boyle.

Does that make any sense?

Sure, what Carkner did was much more damaging, but the reasoning behind his actions was sound; nobody should be able to go after Karlsson and get away with it.

The rules are supposed to protect players, but sometimes the result is the opposite.

Besides the instigator rule, the flaws of the Third Man In rule (46.16) were displayed in the incident.

Even though the Senators probably felt justified in attacking Boyle, the Rangers could not simply let their teammate lay on the ice and take a beating.

As Carkner was punching Boyle on the ice, New York's Brandon Dubinsky skated over to help save his teammate.

For this, he was given a two minute penalty for roughing and a game misconduct.

He was kicked out of the game for protecting Boyle. Was he supposed to stand around and watch his teammate get his face pounded on?

The NHL needs to realize that the effect of its decisions does not always match the intention.



Jason Sapunka covers the NHL and Philadelphia Flyers. He is available on Twitter for updates, analysis and commentary.