NHL’s Visor-Instigator Sends the Wrong Message

In Saturday night’s tilt between the Atlanta Thrashers and the Pittsburgh Penguins a rule that is little known and inconsistently enforced across the NHL was cited to add more penalty minutes on Thrashers Captain Ilya Kovalchuk following a fight he started with Penguins Forward Matt Cooke.

75.2 Minor Penalty – A minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct shall be assessed under this rule for the following infractions:
(iv) When a player, including a goalkeeper, is penalized for being the instigator of an altercation and who is wearing a face shield.

Fights put players off balance.  If these two go to the ice, the helmet protect their head.

Fights put players off balance. If these two go to the ice, the helmet protects their head.

Now I understand the rule.  It really is against the “code of honor” to fight with a visor on.  Flames Captain Jarome Iginla fights often and wears a visor.  He is also very sure to take the helmet off prior to landing an opening blow.  That is the major safety problem with the rule.  When a player fights without a helmet or a visor-less player has their helmet knocked off during the course of the fight they are at substantially higher risk to fall backwards and smack their heads against the ice without the benefit of a helmet to absorb part of the force of the blow.  This is how concussions occur.

I understand the intent of the rule.  It is meant to discourage players with a visor from starting fights.  My problem is that in the end, the players who put themselves at the most risk on a nightly basis are the agitators and the fighters and they will not wear a visor as long as this rule is on the books.  No number of other players sustaining severe eye and face injuries will convince them otherwise because they know they will have to remove their helmet for a fight and then they will face a higher risk of  concussion if they fall backwards.

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It comes down to the same question then, should fighting be a part of the game?  I am of the school that it should.  I’ve seen games turn on the result of a fight as a player and a fan.  However this is still one of two major safety items that must be front and center for the league along with hits to the head and the rule seems counter-intuitive to where the league wants players to go with respect to visors.

Will visors be mandatory one day, probably.  Will this rule be ridiculous then?  Yes, even more so than it is today.  As long as fighting is an allowed part of the game, this rule shouldn’t be there.  Encouraging stars like Iginla to take off their helmet prior to a fight is the wrong message to send.  It is old school honor code versus common sense safety and in that fight the winner should be clear cut.


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About the Author: Pittsburgh Penguins/NHL Hockey Blogger, Father, Husband, IT Geek, former player, and NHL 11 EASHL addict. Oz has been cited for his work on XM Radio's NHL Home Ice, Penguins HD Radio, and Y!'s Puck Daddy Blog. Email: slbd1@gmail.com Twitter.com/ozman51 Xbox: ozman51

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  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Nice blog……but no one has to take off their helmet/visor to fight unless they are the instigator. The reason you don’t see that penalty called more often is because it has to come with an instigation penalty….which there is no need for to begin with.

    Safety is a primary concern but I can’t recall one NHL player getting a concusion by hitting the ice as a result of a fight…although it can happen and maybe my memory is faulty.

    You point leads into another opinion….the instigator rule is no longer needed.

    If players leave the bench to fight the team can be fined a hefty amount and every player guilty should be  suspended for at least 5 games. That way there will be little chance of a major brawl….which was one of the reasons for the instigator penalty to begin with.

    If a player starts a fight with a shield on he should take off his helmet if he is fighting a player without a shield…..Or he just shouldn’t fight.

  3. J. OzVath says:

    He just shouldn’t fight.  That’s the part I agree with.
    The instigator rule is needed or people like Colton Orr.  Maybe not the additional 2 mins, but for tracking purposes.  For instance for the purposes of rule 47.11 and your third instigator of the season.  The automatic Game Misconduct it brings.  Also for the second instigator of the game.  I also like the deterrent it brings in the last five minutes for the ridiculous message sending that sometimes occurs late in a blow out.
    That’s where it is useful.   I have personally seen people in fights hit their head off the ice when the helmet comes off.  It is a big reason why linesman are far more apt to jump in on a fight where a helmet has come off.    For an example here is Fedoruk vs Orr:
    Not dog-piling on Orr, he just has a lot of examples

  4. Al Cimaglia says:

    I like the deterrent for the last 5 minutes…over all it should  be refined because it is seldom called and I think it helps cause some bad cheap shots for retribution sake….like Neal the other night,  terrible… that should be a 10 game suspension. Far worse than a fight.

    A relaxed player on the glass late in a game… is how someone is going to die.

  5. J. OzVath says:

    Well Donovan being hit by Cookie is a parallel example.  H let his guard down with a 5 goal cushion by his own admission and now he is out 6-8 weeks with MCL damage.  It wasn’t a fight but it’s what you are talking about.
    Hockey players need to have their heads up like prairie dogs until the final horn sounds.
    There have been plenty of things this year that should have resulted in far long sanctions Neal included.  Colin Campbell and the league have never demonstrated a desire to enter consistency’s zip code on that matter unfortunately.

  6. mickey says:

    Fighting RUINS hockey. Slows the game down, allows a player-in fact demands- that a player of lower ability be on the ice to play the stupid “Enforcer” role.

    Fights DON’T make highlight reels-goals do.

    The NHL is stupid for letting this go on. What other sport would fighting be allowed to occur? NONE.

    People who don’t play hockey mock it “Went to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out”. And those same people -many people-will never see the beauty of the game because there’s that old school “honor code” mucking up everything.

    Makes hockey look like the WWF=white trash.

    And the game is so beautiful!!

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