Kings’ Mike Richards: Visor fight rule hypocritical under NHL’s player safety campaign

Greg Wyshynski

In the third period of their shootout win at the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night, Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars blasted Anze Kopitar with a check near the end boards, sending him flying backwards and down on his stomach. If Brendan Shanahan diagrammed a hit that came within millimeters of illegality yet maximized devastation, it was this hit.

With Kopitar down, Mike Richards of the Kings stepped in immediately and fought Morrow, which is the kind of leadership from the former Flyers captain that makes Pierre McGuire swoon.

One little problem here for Richards and the Kings: His visor.

One big problem for Richards: The "joke" that is the NHL asking for player safety and then penalizing players for starting a fight with one.

As ye olde NHL rulebook states:

46.6 Face Protection - If a player penalized as an instigator of an altercation is wearing a face shield (including a goalkeeper), he shall be assessed an additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Should the player (including a goalkeeper) who instigates the fight be wearing a face shield, but removes it before instigating the altercation, the additional unsportsmanlike conduct penalty shall not apply.

In a refreshing change from the norm for on-ice officials, Richards was given an instigator for jumping Morrow after a hard hit. At 12:12 of the third period, the Kings forward was given five for fighting, two for unsportsmanlike conduct, two for instigating a fight with a visor on and a game misconduct.

After the game, Richards tweeted the following, making a rather salient point:

The battle lines in the visor debate are starkly drawn: The NHL and many general managers would like to see mandatory face shields for players but the players would like to keep the issues as one of personal preference.

Fighting is where this issue gets muddled: If the NHL wants to mandate visors but you are penalized for starting a fight while wearing one … well, isn't that a bit hypocritical?

The problem is that the most logical solution — flip your lid before you engage — isn't going to happen in the heat of the moment; like, say, when your leading scorer is kissing ice in the corner and the guy who hit him is standing in front of you.

Furthermore, removal of the helmet before a fight would seem to run completely counter to the NHL's current course of head protection in all cases, as J. OzVath noted back in 2009:

"Encouraging stars like Iginla to take off their helmet prior to a fight is the wrong message to send.  It is old school honor code versus common sense safety and in that fight the winner should be clear cut."

(C'mon ... as if Iginla would ever get an instigator.)

There's another aspect to the visor/instigator dilemma, however: That it will eventually track back to the Brian Burke "rats running the League" mentality of well-protected pests jumping guys without a shield. Like what Matt Cooke used to be, before his Lady Byng campaign.

That wasn't what Richards was doing, though. Does he have a point about the visor/instigator rule in 2012?

Of course, there's another remedy for this debate: Dropping the instigator altogether.

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