Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Vancouver Canucks

John Garrett: The instigator rule

by John Garrett / Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks played their most inspired, most passionate, most intense game of the year on Monday in Los Angeles.

They were on the right side of every category. They had more hits. They had more shots. They won more faceoffs and oh yes had more penalties.

The one place they did not win was on the scoreboard. The Kings and Jonathan Quick eked out a 1-0 win. This game was charged right from the start and should have been handled with an iron fist by the officials. Paul Devorski has done almost 1,500 NHL games. His partner Francois St. Laurent has done more than 350 games. The history between these two teams, especially the most recent history should have been a guide for the officials to be more than vigilant with this one, but it did not happen.

More from Garrett

John Garrett is a former Canuck and currently the colour commentator for Sportsnet.

More John Garrett articles

The NHL likes to think that it can police its game. The two-referee system was instituted to get rid of all the cheap shots that were becoming more and more prevalent as the players got bigger, faster and stronger, yet the league still allows fighting. Why is that? It is because the league knows that the players themselves will take over to police themselves if their staff cannot.

On January 4th Dustin Brown accidentally on purpose tumbled over Roberto Luongo. Luongo has not played since that game. There was no penalty on the play. Where is the accountability? The Canucks had to, and did respond in the game on Monday night. Zach Kassian got a penalty on Brown in the first nine seconds and Ryan Kesler dropped the gloves with Brown at the start of the second period. Jordan Nolan took a run at Henrik Sedin that could have been called charging, kneeing or roughing. There was no call on the play. It was Jordan Nolan, a fourth line guy who had been a healthy scratch the previous two games taking a run at one of the best players in the league. Where is the accountability?

The players know there has to be some consequences. The league knows there has to be some response and it should come in the form of a penalty, but when it does not, what is going to happen? There has to be some payback and it cannot be stifled to the point where there is NO fear of retribution.

The instigator penalty is the free pass for every cheap shot artist in the league. Why would you drop your gloves when you know the guy or team trying to hold you accountable is going to be penalized? The league is trying to get rid of staged fights, but those are the only ones where you have two willing combatants. Jordan Nolan was confronted by Tom Sestito the first shift after his run at Henrik Sedin. Why should he be held accountable when the league is protecting him?

The instigator rule is rule 46.11. "An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season."

So don't go to face off circle and say anything, lean on anybody or glare at the guy who has yet to be penalized. Instead if you go after him you will according to the instigator rule be "assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct" and as we saw on Monday you can protect the guilty with the aggressor rule, rule 46.2. "The aggressor in an altercation shall be the player who continues to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant...A player who is deemed to be the aggressor of an altercation shall be assessed a major penalty for fighting and a game misconduct."

To sum it all up, you can take a run at the other teams top player and if the referee misses the call there is absolutely no consequences. In fact if the other team tries to impose its own justice you could end up with a seven-minute power play and the physical threat will be gone from the game. All you have to do is turtle.

The rules evolve every year in an effort to safeguard the game and its players, yet the instigator rule handcuffs the one group who hold accountability above all else, the players themselves.

View More