NHL needs to close fighting loophole

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Last night’s fight between Brett Gallant of the New York Islanders and Krys Barch of the New Jersey Devils has already been featured on PHT, as well as on Puck Daddy and Deadspin.

And for good reason — it was kind of embarrassing for the NHL.

As you can see, Gallant and Barch removed each other’s helmets before they started throwing punches, deftly sidestepping the new rule that says fighters can’t remove their own helmets before a scrap.

The NHL really needs to address this before the regular season starts. If the officials deem the helmets didn’t come off as a direct result of the actual fight, there should still be a two-minute penalty. Otherwise we’ll get more and more farces like last night.

Like it or not, the rule has good intentions so far as player safety is concerned. From Wikipedia:

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.

Granted, some have wondered if there will be more broken hands as a result of players punching helmets and visors. (Though heads are pretty hard too.)

Anyway, here’s more from TSN’s Darren Dreger:

As it stands now, the penalty reads: (Rule 46.6) “No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player.”

That said, the NHL and the NHLPA are sensitive to the role of the enforcer. Players still see a place for fighting in hockey, so it’s understandable to see why players on the competition committee might oppose anything stronger than a minor penalty.

But this is purely about safety – and league sources say the players must embrace and understand the reasoning behind the push for a more punitive message. Otherwise, change won’t come soon and the ‘mockery’ of the rule – as another source described the Gallant-Barch showdown – can’t be stopped.

For Rule 46.6 to be amended, the joint competition committee – along with NHL GMs and the NHL’s Board of Governors – would have to sign off.

It’s not a quick or easy fix.

But it should be a quick and easy fix considering the wording of the rule wouldn’t have to be changed all that dramatically. Last night, the helmets didn’t “come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation”; they came off before any fighting actually took place.