NHL: The Instigator Rule Must Go

Lou DiVizio@@loudivizioContributor IApril 27, 2008

Throughout the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Detroit Red Wings’ enforcer, Bob Probert, was among the most feared men in all of hockey. 

If Steve Yzerman was ever hit or cheap-shotted, the man responsible would have to answer to Probert. In those days, there was an average of over one fight per game, and players knew to treat the Red Wings’ star players with respect. 

The NHL now averages 0.61 fights per regular-season game. This drop off is caused by the instigator rule, not because tough guys are afraid of the extra two-minute penalty, or because the coach is worried about losing a fighter for ten minutes but because tough guys and coaches are afraid of losing their jobs. 

After the institution of the shoot out, general managers are opting out of signing an enforcer, and instead signing a shootout specialist. One might ask, “How does this relate to the instigator rule?” The answer is simple. Tough guys are afraid that if he is to start a fight, not explicitly ordered by the coach, that he will be punished for taking an extra two-minute penalty. 

To let enforcers continue to protect their team’s goaltenders and star players, the NHL must abolish the instigator rule. 

In a post-lockout league, where almost every game is close, a two-minute penalty could, and has many a time, cost a team a playoff spot. When a team is a player short for a whole two minutes, the other team has ample opportunity to score a potential game-winning goal. 

With five minutes left, in a close game, when a star player is hit, the coach has a choice.  He can put out his fighter and instigate a fight, putting the man responsible in his place while protecting his star, while also giving his team a two-minute penalty and significantly lowering his team’s chances of winning. Instead, he could put out his best scorers to try and tie the game, while also sending the message to the opposing team that hitting our star player is alright. 

The instigator rule makes this decision a whole lot easier. With teams so close in the standings, one game could mean the difference between getting a shot at the cup, or heading out to the golf course in mid-April.

The claim that tough guys are afraid of a two-minute penalty is completely false. It is a team’s coach who is afraid, because of the instigator rule. 

When the regular season ends, and the difference between being in the playoffs and being out is one game, the chances of instigating a fight are slim to none. Hockey is a business, and the instigator rule puts both the coaches and players on the chopping block. 

This is why fighting has decreased, concussions have increased, and goalie injuries have spiked. To believe otherwise is ludicrous, and because of this the instigator rule must be abolished.