Automatic Suspensions from a Late Instigator Penalty

A couple of weeks ago TSN published some possible NHL rules changes.

Eric McErlain and James Mirtle broke it apart and don't differ all too much in their overall opinions of the proposed rules (nor do I). Tom Benjamin touched on it a bit as well.

I received a few emails about the suspension/fines for a late instigator rule:
Automatic fines to the coach and suspensions to the player for any fight with an instigator in the last five minutes of the game.
The ECHL currently has a similar rule (from rule 56):
A player deemed to be the instigator of fisticuffs during the last five (5) minutes of the game shall receive a game misconduct and be suspended automatically from his team’s next game.
While I'm not a fan of either rule, at least the ECHL does not fine the coach. You might be thinking that an enforcer-type player probably wouldn't be in most games during the last five minutes - and if he was, it's probably during a blowout and he might just be looking for a fight - that's the mindset that I have to assume set this proposed rule into motion in the first place.

So how many suspensions would have been dished out during the 2003-04 NHL regular season? I queried the database to find out. In total there were 16 instances of an instigator penalty given to a player within the last 5 minutes of the third period. 14 if you take into account two of the games went into overtime and the fight did not occur within the last five minutes of the game (Boynton-Salei and Cummins-Brennan). As it's a proposed rule, not a set one, obviously the specifics aren't set, so I'll list all instances noting date, time of game, players, which player received the instigator (commenting below it as well as bolding the player's name) and also noting if the other player involved did not receive a fighting major.

Date Away Team Away Player
Time Home Team Home Player
Oct 19, 2003 Boston Bruins Nick Boynton
3pd 15:08 Anaheim Mighty Ducks Ruslan Salei
Nick Boynton received an instigator.
Oct 29, 2003 Florida Panthers Pavel Trnka
3pd 19:26 Philadelphia Flyers Todd Fedoruk
Todd Fedoruk received an instigator.
Oct 30, 2003 Detroit Red Wings Brendan Shanahan
3pd 18:44 Nashville Predators Adam Hall
Brendan Shanahan received an instigator.
Oct 30, 2003 Detroit Red Wings Mathieu Dandenault
3pd 19:15 Nashville Predators Jeremy Stevenson
Jeremy Stevenson received an instigator.
Nov 04, 2003 Pittsburgh Penguins Steve Webb
3pd 17:29 Toronto Maple Leafs Owen Nolan
Owen Nolan received an instigator.
Steve Webb did not receive a fighting major.
Nov 11, 2003 Tampa Bay Lightning Pavel Kubina
3pd 16:52 Florida Panthers Olli Jokinen
Olli Jokinen received an instigator.
Dec 20, 2003 Colorado Avalanche Jim Cummins
3pd 15:40 Los Angeles Kings Kip Brennan
Jim Cummins received an instigator.
Kip Brennan did not receive a fighting major.
Jan 02, 2004 Phoenix Coyotes Tyson Nash
3pd 17:13 Dallas Stars Aaron Downey
Aaron Downey received an instigator.
Tyson Nash did not receive a fighting major.
Jan 31, 2004 Ottawa Senators Shaun Van Allen
3pd 19:35 Toronto Maple Leafs Tie Domi
Tie Domi received an instigator.
Shaun Van Allen did not receive a fighting major.
Feb 12, 2004 Colorado Avalanche Peter Worrell
3pd 18:36 St. Louis Blues Reed Low
Reed Low received an instigator.
Peter Worrell did not receive a fighting major.
Feb 19, 2004 New York Islanders Eric Cairns
3pd 16:06 New York Rangers Dale Purinton
Dale Purinton received an instigator.
Feb 19, 2004 Vancouver Canucks Wade Brookbank
3pd 19:07 Minnesota Wild Willie Mitchell
Wade Brookbank received an instigator.
Feb 20, 2004 Colorado Avalanche Chris McAllister
3pd 15:07 Dallas Stars Steve Ott
Chris McAllister received an instigator.
Steve Ott did not receive a fighting major.
Mar 05, 2004 Ottawa Senators Rob Ray
3pd 18:15 Philadelphia Flyers Donald Brashear
Donald Brashear received an instigator.
Mar 05, 2004 Ottawa Senators Zdeno Chara
3pd 18:18 Philadelphia Flyers Mattias Timander
Zdeno Chara received an instigator.
Mar 20, 2004 Nashville Predators Greg Johnson
3pd 20:00 Calgary Flames Robyn Regehr
Robyn Regehr received an instigator.

I'm sure most of the names don't surprise anyone.

These 16 instances occurred over 14 games. Out of those 14 games, 8 were decided by 3 goals or more, and as I mentioned above, 2 went into overtime. Are these few times so detrimental to a game (if you deem them negative at all) that there needs to be a rule in place to prevent such a thing? To put it into a "how often" perspective, the NHL played 1230 games during the 2003-04 regular season. 14 games is 1.1%, 8 games is about 0.7%. Each incident didn't necessarily represent headhunting either (while some did), but this is purely a numbers game right now.

To attempt to support the rule there must be some reason to add an additional deterrent to starting a fight. A non-official 74 instigator penalties were called during that season 2003-04. 16 does represent a large percentage (21%) during a small time period. But is that number enough to support such a rule? A rule like this is meant to deter coaches from putting a player onto the ice who would fight within the last five minutes of a game. Generally, these players are not played heavily in close-game situations and this rule is to prevent fight-instigating during blowout games.

However, blowout games generally mean more ice time for an enforcer, a chance to showcase some possible hockey skills and earn more ice time in tighter game situations. Basically, many aren't looking to go out there and start fights, they just want to play, and obviously it just depends on what else has happened within the game other than the score. Fining the coach is a way to make sure he doesn't put those types of players out on the ice in the first place. If you're going to have any type of rule like this let the fight-starting and possible suspension incident be on the player's shoulders, but don't limit a player's ice time like this by pressuring the coach. It's not right and everyone should get a fair chance to play in all situations.
Posted by David M Singer on Jul 14, 2005 at 05:05 PM


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