The instigator penalty often prevents a "policeman" like Shawn Thornton from defending a teammate.
The NHL's instigator rule looks good on paper because it holds those who start fights responsible for their actions.
However, the reality of the rule is that it does not help clean up the game at all and encourages the game's "pests," who go around taking cheap shots.
Whether you embrace fighting in the NHL or not, there is something admirable about a player who is willing to protect either a high-scoring teammate or another player who is not expert at defending himself with his fists.
A policeman on the team can serve the purpose of sending a message that cheap shots like errant elbows and high-sticking maneuvers will not be tolerated.
Players like Max Lapierre, Raffi Torres and Dan Carcillo are not tolerated by "policemen," who hold them accountable.
Cheap-shot artists operate on the outskirts of the game when they don't have to face the music.
The instigator penalty prevents a team's enforcer from sending a message to a player who is going to deliver an elbow when the referee is not looking or turned the other way.
It also gives cheap-shot artists the license to act without having to pay a price.
In addition to preventing a player from coming to his teammate's defense, the rule is not called with any kind of consistency.
In some cases, a player will throw a clean and effective check that knocks an opponent to the ice. Shortly thereafter, the player who threw the check will be forced to defend himself because a member of the opposing team takes affront to such a check.
In some cases, that player who threw a clean, hard check will get penalized for starting a fight as an instigator.
That kind of call has no place in hockey.
The real instigator of the altercation is allowed to start the fight, but the player who threw a clean, hard check gets penalized—and also has to fight.
Players in the NHL are not overwhelmingly in favor of the rule. According to a 2011 Hockey Night In Canada poll, 66 percent of the players approved of it. However, when that same poll was taken a year later, only 53 percent thought the instigator rule was effective.
The instigator rule keeps the league's tough guys from being able to do their job when they are needed most and it gives many of the league's worst cheap-shot artists license to commit their dirty deeds. Additionally, officials have a hard time administering the rule correctly.
It's time to get rid of the instigator rule.