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NHL fighters will be penalized for removing helmets before brawl; pass or fail?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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As the 2013-14 NHL season nears, players and fans alike are getting acquainted with some of the new rules and tweaks passed in the offseason. There are shallower nets and smaller goalie gear. But there’s also a rule that’ll affect how hockey fights begin … and how long a player remains in the penalty box after one.

The NHL’s general managers agreed to, and the Board of Governors approved, a new rule that levies a two-minute minor penalty on any player that removes his helmet before a fight. That’s seven minutes in the box, barring any additional penalties: two for unsportsmanlike conduct and five for fighting.

We saw this already in the preseason, as Doug Clarkson of the Philadelphia Flyers and David Broll were given minor penalties after this fight:

It's something fighters are going to have to adapt to, as Shawn Thornton told CSNNE:

“I don’t even know all the new rules yet. Nobody has explained them to me,” admitted Thornton. “What if a guy’s helmet is taken off during a fight? Are they going to stop the fight? I know he’s not allowed to take off his own helmet. I’m not looking forward to punching [a visor] when I’m throwing at somebody’s face. If I’m in the middle of a fight with a guy with a visor on, I’m getting his helmet off. That’s the first thing I’d be doing.

[Photos: Preseason action for all 30 teams]

“Why don’t they invent a visor that can be pulled off [the helmet]? How hard would that be? There has to be something you can just clip in, and then when you get into a fight you can click it off and toss it. I should invent it.”

Darren Dreger of TSN believes the rule is toothless:

A bit toothless, yes, because it makes sense that, if one player removes his helmet, then the other player, who is a willing combatant in this fight, takes his helmet off as well, each player gets a five-minute fighting major and a two-minute minor for removing the helmet and, effectively, it's a wash. There are some in the league who wanted it to be an automatic game misconduct or, perhaps, be cumulative, but the player's association wasn't onside with that because it becomes a bit too prohibitive and the players around the National Hockey League still want to protect the role of the fighter.

Back in June when the rule was first mentioned, there was backlash that it was a draconian attempt to severely cut back on fighting in the NHL. Derek Gagnon of Arctic Ice Hockey wrote:

The NHL just does not have the courage to come out and ban fighting, as they fear economic backlash in a league where multiple franchises are struggling. Yet, here they are effectively ending it through rule changes. Don Cherry will argue that without fighting in the game players will be free to target star players with dirty hits without fear of reprisal for their actions, as the Dave Semenko and Wayne Gretzky anaology gets bandied about saying nobody dared go after The Great One because they knew Semenko would stand up for him. The instigator penalties have eliminated the possibility of this happening, as discipline has fallen completely into the hand of the NHL, as Brendan Shanahan has to police the league, in an increasingly scrutinized role. Without a consistent and stern punishments, the fear is that things on the ice could get out of hand if their isn't the instant repercussions for dirty play.

Hockey Wilderness similarly recoiled.

I guess the motivation here is the continued effort by the NHL to give the impression that its proactive on protecting players from concussions. It’s a half-hearted attempt to mandate that players keep their lids on during a fight, but it’s a nice C.O.A. effort.

But it’s hard to accept this rule when it’s implemented at the same time when mandatory visors are grandfathered into the League, in the sense that it does seem like something meant to curb fighting.

This doesn’t mean it will, mind you. Fighters will adapt, with the mutual “removal” of helmets likely integrated into their dance before the punches fly. You’re still going to have fists on skulls in fights. There’s no getting around it.

And fights will still happen if players are wearing visors. As Craig MacTavish told USA Today: "It's not like hitting a car windshield. … There will be fighting."

It’s another battle of safety vs. tradition, of fighting vs. the slow elimination of it from the game. With that:

Pass or Fail: The two-minute minor for removing one’s helmet before a fight.

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