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Notebook: Wings chime in on instigator rule

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke isn’t doing the NHL – which has been under intense scrutiny to eliminate “dirty” hits – any favors.

The Penguins forward’s most recent transgression occurred Sunday in a loss to the New York Rangers when he delivered a vicious elbow to the head of Ryan McDonagh.

The Penguins are in Detroit to face the Red Wings on Monday at Joe Louis Arena. The Pens will be without the services of a plethora of forwards for the Wings game, including offensive stalwarts Sidney Crosby (concussion-like symptoms) and Evgeni Malkin (torn ACL/MCL). Cooke, who leads the team with 192 hits, is the seventh forward currently sidelined for the Pens.

Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom has been on the receiving end of cheap shots, including the head shot from Anaheim’s Chris Pronger during the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. Holmstrom thinks the league should take a tougher stand on repeat offenders.
“Seems like the same guys who do the bad hits every time,” Holmstrom said. “They should really go hard on them for the cheap shots. You know, you just have to show some respect to the players you play against, you can’t do those headshots. If you hit the guy from behind, sometimes it happens so fast, but when it’s calculated stuff. Especially when a guy is five-seconds away from the play and he comes in with high speed and elbows you in the head. There’s no need for that.”

Cooke received a five-minute elbowing penalty and a game misconduct from Sunday’s game officials. A repeat offender, he was scheduled to meet with league officials Monday afternoon in Toronto.

Cooke has been suspended once already this season for a hit on Columbus’ Fedor Tyutin, where he received a four game suspension. Cooke has been suspended three times previously in his 12-season career.

With the NHL looking for ways to curb head hits, is there another way other than levying longer suspensions and player fines?

In 1992, the NHL created a rule that made policing on the ice a whole lot more difficult for players who were enforcers. The Instigator rule (46.11) was created, which on its surface made it that much more easy for players known for delivering cheap shots to keep on delivering without having to deal with an enforcer, who wanted to settle the matter right there. 

The rule states that an instigator, a player who throws his gloves off first, throws the first punch or delivers what’s deemed a threat, will be assessed a two-minute minor instigator penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. The consequences become even stiffer if a player does this multiple times.

Reading those rules alone make it obvious that the harsh penalties are not even worth the trouble to put a dirty player in his place.  Even if a player wants to go and take exception to a hit put on him or one of his teammates, the one being threatened can skate away, knowing that he has the instigator rule on his side and that is as good a deterrent as anything. It is almost like giving the player who dishes out the questionable hit a compromise. Would you like to tangle with the other team’s tough guy in the corner or take the $5,000 fine and a game suspension, which amounts to a slap on the wrist? Most of these players have been choosing the later. 

The Wings all agree that dirty hits should be eliminated, but the instigator rule is a tough call to make because of the snap judgment that a referee has to make in a matter of seconds.

“It’s a judgment call. Of course a hit like Cooke’s shouldn’t be in the game,” Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “He should be getting some games for that, but for the instigator, I don’t know, it’s different from time-to-time. It can be called a bit too often, but if it’s called after a good, hard hit then it probably should be called; Just hard to judge.”

Red Wings veteran Mike Modano has been in the league long enough to know that the owners will try to put a stop to these cheap shots, but finding the right solution will take some time. 

“Mario (Lemieux) has always been well spoken and said his piece at times,” Modano said. “Hitting is a part of our game, but with safety, you’re hitting another level now.”

Does it seem like the same players are breaking the rules?

“Tends to seem that way, besides the (Dany) Heatley thing, which was a little out of character, it seems to be a pattern between the same four, five or six guys that throughout the league who have done the same thing.

“Sometimes I don’t know how you get your point across to those guys. Financially might do it, miss games. That way you’re hurting yourself and the team. Maybe at some point then it kind of hits home a little bit.”  

MISSING FORWARDS: Wings coach Mike Babcock addressed the injury situation which will leave the Wings without three forwards Monday. All three also missed the Nashville game last Saturday.

“Yeah (Johan) Franzen, (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Jiri) Hudler are unavailable for tonight,” Babcock said. “We’ll go with seven; (Ruslan) Salei will be our seventh D and our 12th forward if we choose to use him there. We don’t have the ability to call anybody up because of cap space. We’ve got enough players, I’m not concerned about it all, let’s get out there and play.”

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