John Tortorella says instigator penalty encourages dirty hits

3 Comments

For better or worse, the controversial decision not to even give Zdeno Chara a slap on the wrist is prompting another bout of discussion regarding hits in the NHL. Such a discussion surely resounds in league circles, judging by criticisms levied from stars such as Joe Thornton and recent statements by New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.

Despite the fact that he (somehow … supposedly) admitted he hasn’t seen footage of Chara’s hit on Max Pacioretty – seriously, does he list his address as Under a Rock? – Tortorella told Larry Brooks that rule changes encourage dirty hits.

Some might assume that Rule 48 (the most recent change, which provided clarification that blindside hits to the head are illegal) might be the source of derision, but Tortorella instead thinks the instigator penalty instigated it most of all.

“No one wants to see players hurt,” he said. “There needs to be some sort of honor and honesty in our game and I think we’ve lost that with the rules changes.”

The coach made it clear that while he thinks other rules changes such as eliminating benign obstruction have contributed to the problem, the instigator rule is the root cause. Tortorella is not alone among the hockey community in that belief, but the instigator rule that mandates a two-minute minor plus a 10-minute misconduct penalty for those who start a fight in defense of a teammate, is hardly a recent change, having been adopted in 1992-93.

“It’s not just that, but I think it’s a lousy rule,” Tortorella said. “I think the game has gotten [this] way because we have not allowed the players to police themselves. To me, that’s the bottom line.

“Players need to police themselves on the ice, not the rules, not supplementary discipline and all that,” he said. “That’s where I think we’ve lost honesty. Call me [old school], if you want. It’s wrong. “The instigator creates a mindset for players for players who you wouldn’t even see them if the instigator was not there.”

It’s tough to fault the spirit of the instigator rule, in theory at least. The league created that penalty in part to discourage teams from bullying others by having goons force players to get in fights they have no intention of engaging in.

Yet just about any hockey fan, writer or “expert” probably agrees that the good-natured idea falls flat in practice. There are many seemingly mutual fights that end up with instigator penalties and Tortorella might have a point that the Matt Cookes of the world probably bask in the security provided by the rule.

With the NHL’s latest batch of GM meeting scheduled for early next week, one wonders if the group might discuss changes to the instigator rule and other alterations that might curb some of these hits. After all, we don’t want too many more moments in which a “hockey play” instigates police intervention.