From TSN’s Darren Dreger:
NHL linesmen have been instructed to stop a fight when the participants opt to remove their helmets prior to swapping blows.
This isn’t a rule change, simply a common sense approach to encourage players to protect their head at all times.
There is nothing formal about this strategy. It was implemented shortly after the preseason where it became evident players weren’t concerned about the additional two-minute penalty for removing their helmets to fight…even though the rule was introduced entirely for player safety.
Linesmen now have the authority to step in, when it is safe to do so, and stop a fight when the combatants purposely take off their helmets.
The first known death directly related to a hockey fight occurred when Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops, a top-tier senior amateur team in Ontario’s Major League Hockey, died in January 2009, a month after sustaining a head injury during a fight: Sanderson’s helmet came off during the fight, and when he fell to the ice, he hit his head.
Yes, helmets are still going to come flying off during fights, unintentionally or otherwise. But this at least reduces the safety risk somewhat. (Though probably not much.)
More from Dreger:
The first clear example of this occurred Tuesday night in Montreal when linesmen Steve Barton and Michel Cormier stepped in between Montreal’s Travis Moen and Edmonton’s Luke Gazdic seconds after they dumped their helmets to scrap.
Both players received unsportsmanlike minors rather than fighting majors.
Young scrappers like Gazdic who are forced to wear visors won’t like this change in approach; nor will their dance partners while punching plastic instead of face. Remember, this is the way they used to do it in junior, where visors are mandatory:
Try that in the NHL today and the fight would be over before it started.