I’ve long assumed NHL players would rather do away with the instigator rule that was put in place in 1992 and police on-ice disputes and cheap shots the good, old-fashioned way — with fisticuffs. How wrong I was.
In a vote I can only describe as stunning to the old-school assumptions of many fans and media types — I’m guessing Don Cherry will soil his suit when he reads the results — a poll written by Hockey Night in Canada and the NHLPA and responded to by 318 NHL players clearly shows players don’t long for a return to jungle law on the ice nearly as much as some of us believe.
Responding to the question, "Should the instigator rule be abolished?" fully 66 per cent of players voted "no." Thirty-three per cent voted yes, while .6 per cent were voted "depends" or "don’t care."
Obviously, players don’t believe the potential for retribution by their peers is a better deterrent to yapping, cheap hits and other indiscretions than penalties, suspensions and a hearing with Colin Campbell.
Old school is out.
I’m not completely sure what to make of the results of that question, which was part of a multi-question poll that was circulated — I suspect the opinion of players that Edmonton remains one of the least desirable NHL cities in which to play will create more of a buzz around here — but I’m nonetheless surprised by the result.
The default solution for a lot of us to the escalation of dirty deeds on the ice and perceived "loss of respect" between players since 1992 has been to drop the controversial — but is it, really? — instigator rule.
The rule protects, many of us have reasoned, the phonies and agitators and cheap-shot artists because they don’t have to pay a price in blood or teeth, so they run amok. That’s resulted, we’ve deduced, in what we have now.
The 318 players polled don’t see it that way. A punch in the mouth from Steve MacIntyre, George Parros or Derek Boogaard? No thanks. That’s not the answer. That won’t restore law and order. Better to leave things as they are now.
I’ve long been amused that some fans or notepad-toters like myself believe they know what’s best for the people who are actually playing the game. We don’t. While we’re all welcome to our opinions, I’ve always thought it best that those who play the game have the most input into the rules that govern the game. I won’t go back on that now.
Still, it’s a jolt to an assumption I’ve long held, especially considering 98 per cent of the same group of players voted "no" when asked if fighting should be banned in the NHL.
THIS JUST IN . . .
In yet another kick to the groin of those who put a lot of weight in polls like this, Edmonton was again identified as being about as popular as diarrhea and wet sloppy kisses from auntie Hortense at Christmas when it comes to favoured places to play.
The same 318 players were asked, "What team would you least like to play on?" The New York Islanders garnered 27 per cent. The Oilers were second at 20 per cent. Atlanta polled 7 per cent, Toronto 5 per cent and Florida 2 per cent. All things considered this is not stop-the-presses stuff.
The Islanders are losers with the worst building in the NHL. The Oilers are headed for a franchise-record five straight years out of the playoffs and have an outdated 36-year-old barn. It’s as cold as hell here for six months of the year and Pothole City for the other six.
The Thrashers aren’t even an afterthought in the minds of Atlanta sports fans, falling somewhere between monster truck shows and bass fishing. Likewise the Panthers, who are page 4 in the sports section except when they’re any good, which has been rare indeed.
Toronto? The Maple Leafs have mostly stunk like rank cheese since 1967 and players endure losing in front of a media horde and a rabid fan base that is second only to Montreal.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.