Instigator Vs. Unsportsman Like Conduct.

This season will begin not with a host of new rules, but rather a focus on existing ones.

Surprisingly the instigator rule has been highlighted as a rule more in need of attention by the officials.

I say surprisingly because there is probably no another rule that creates more discord among NHL fans than the instigator rule.

Some love it, some hate it.

Personally, I don’t like it.

Not because I want to see more fighting in the NHL, but because I think this rule is already in place in the form of the Unsportsman like conduct rule.

To me, the NHL would be a better brand of hockey if the unsportsman like conduct rule (USC) was more widely applied.

If somebody wants to start a fight, for no good reason, give him a major.

If somebody wants to run around giving out face washes, or cheap-shots, give them an USC penalty.

The key problem I have with the instigator, and what I fear will be the reality of it’s application, is that those who actually instigate the fight, won’t get the penalty.

For example, a “shift disturber” repeatedly bumps your goaltender, and when a Dman finally has enough and drops his gloves to protect his goaltender, it’s the Dman, not the agitator that gets the instigator.

My question is, where were the refs before the Dman felt he had to defend his goaltender?

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, after the second “incidental” contact would have solved the issue, and prevented the fight, and quit possibly an injury to the goaltender.

But instead of reasonable game management, the league has all too often rewarded the agitator, or pest, with a bizarre form of impunity.


Why is running goaltenders a la Lapierre, or repeated obvious charges a la Kaleta allowed to go unpunished, but a player, who reasonably defends his teammates, gets a penalty?

It really does baffle me.

As it’s been explained to me, the agitator penalty is in place to prevent one player from physically attacking another player, outside the context of the game.

That’s fine, but isn’t that the epitome of USC?

If it is, then it’s about time the refs begin applying this USC rule more reasonably, and lay off the guy who decides to fight the guy who scumbagged his leading scorer, under the eye of the officials, and skated away with a grin knowing being a “pest” is ok, but being a good teammate is a penalty.

Honestly, in that situation, who was the real instigator?



5 Responses to “Instigator Vs. Unsportsman Like Conduct.”

  1. You have a good point. Because of the instigator penalty, players are not allowed to govern the game properly. If a goon hits my player I should be able to “reprimand” him without being penalized inappropriately.

    It should result in less injuries this way and the stars of the game being able to play like they should as the goons will only mess with them if they feel they have the upper hand over the other team’s goon.

  2. The sad part is more the state of officiating in the league than the application of the rules. Some refs decide games – stats are there to prove it, some don’t call anything but the deadliest of penalties and others create penalties out of thin air. The reason every year a theme is introduced is to try and develop some professionalism in the league. The newer refs are beginning their careers with a better idea of how a game should be officiated than some of the older guys who think they know it all and believe that the fans are actually there to see them and not the players. It’s an old boys system that needs some firings based on performance not seniority.

  3. I agree 100% Gerald. Bob McKenzie pointed out essentially the same thing with the Avery/Brodeur incident a couple years ago. Why do we need a new rule? Give Avery an USC penalty for essentially being a dick and get on with it. Instead they don’t think they can do anything and let it go on until there is a fight and/or someone gets hurt. I agree with Carver that the refs still have to use these tools fairly and consistently. If there was a bigger emphasis on USC, you might see a ref decide a game once in a while. This will happen inevitably though, no matter what penalties are in vogue. Better management of refs with more transparent review and accountability could help.

  4. Hey Oman.
    Here’s my take on C55’s thoughts.
    I agree with him 100%.
    To me, not calling an obvious penalty, no matter when it occurs in a game, is the ultimate definition of a ref deciding a game. Some view calling the penalty an example of a ref deciding a game. I just can’t get that.
    If, for example, a ref ignored a certain penalty all night (say obstruction), then decides to call it, with 2 min. remaining, in a tied game…ok, that’s potentially deciding a game.
    But calling a penalty you’ve called all night, in the same situation (tied, end of the game) is the ref NOT deciding the game, in fact, not calling that penalty, and thus being inconsistent, is deciding the game.
    The rules are there for all to read, they’re well known, and for the most part are very clear.
    What is ambiguous is their application, not just game to game, or ref to ref, but shift to shift at times.
    I’m not saying refereeing is an easy job, but it doesn’t seem to me the refs, or maybe the NHL, is doing much to make it as easy as possible.
    Inconsistency, in reffing, or discipline is the biggest on ice issue the NHL faces, and like the whole Coyote affair, sticking their collective heads up Gary’s ass in not a viable solution.
    To me, deciding a game, is defined as;
    1. ignoring obvious penalties, for whatever reason, whatever the score, whatever the time.
    2. allowing a team to “run around” with impunity, devolving the game to a struggle to get off the ice injury free. It’s then that a USC needs to be called, just to get the game back into reasonable. Too often teams cross the spirit of “sportsman like” with impunity, resulting in unecessary injuries, or fights. The sooner the ref does this, the less likely it will appear to be “prejudicial”.
    3. being inconsistent between the officials, or by a single official in what they call. Too often a penalty ignored by one official who is tasked with calling it, is also ignored by the other official who saw it, but didn’t want to step on the other refs toes. How often have you seen 2 refs call the same penalty at once? Almost never…how is that possible, really? Obviously there’s an issue of hierarchy, or responsibility when obvious penalties are missed by 2 officials. So why bother having 2, if all you’ve really done is split the zones of responsibility? To me, if a ref sees a penalty, he calls it, no matter where, when, how, or by whom.

  5. Fighting is one of the parts of the games I don’t like, along with the “goonery” that fighting draws out. If the refs called the damn rule book, there wouldn’t be the need for the players to “police” each other — and the whole issue would go away.

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