INSTIGATOR RULE: THE PLAYERS WANT IT

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.

CHANGING TIMES

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.

  • To me there is no point wasting energy on things you can’t change. All the Oilers can do, regardless of what players do or don’t think, is be the best team they can, and take it from there.

    What is key is that the brass make the right decisions regarding players and pull the trigger on the changes that are needed. The rest will sort itself out.

    If a player values the city they live in over the team they play on, or wants to hide in a city where no one knows them outside the arena, is that a player a team really wants?

    I would prefer the guy who wants to play in a hockey city, and values winning and the team over anything else. Someone who takes pride in the team and has loyalty. Maybe the issues of desirability are a helpful tool in weeding the Heatley’s out of the scenario and occasionally saving management from themselves.

    I don’t want guys that mostly view their career as a business and lifestyle transaction. I want hockey players who are passionate about the game more than they are about 7 mil over 6 mil so that they can have better team-mates, and yes some players are like that still.

  • Horcsky

    RE: Edmonton being undesirable.

    Yes, there are many factors, weather among those, that make the city an undesirable destination for hockey players. However, I think the problem is also that there aren’t a lot of things that stand out as attracting factors. Whether Edmonton has real strong attracting points or not (IMO it does have some), all the focus on negatives of playing here really makes people around the league lose sight of any possible good qualities the city has.

  • ubermiguel

    The weather sucks here, but that’s not the reason the Oilers, Islanders and Leafs are on the list. Let’s look at the teams the players voted as ones they’d MOST like to play on:

    – Detroit
    – Vancouver
    – Chicago
    – New York Rangers
    – Tampa Bay

    Most of those cities are as cold as Toronto and the New York. Hell, the same city (New York) made BOTH LISTS! What does that tell you? It’s the team (or team-mates) that matters, not the city.

    Tampa Bay is on there because of the Stamkos factor. They’re a few player moves away from winning (D-man, goalie).

    • Romanus

      They are close to winning and still will likely need to pay Hulk Hogan an appearance fee to get people in for the Stanley cup finals so it doesnt look bad on TV.

      • ubermiguel

        You are correct, they are in a terrible market. Players want to go to Tampa Bay but clearly not because they are a “hockey market”. It’s because of the quality players (and coach and GM) there.

  • BarryS

    Since most of the best players, and many not so good, have some sort of no movement clause, nothing much will change even with a winning season or two.

    A reputation is an easy thing to get and a hard thing to change. It will take four or five years of winning before we become a more favoured destination.

    You say Calgary still attracts free agents. Look at how much they overpay to get them and how poorly the play for money players are playing. I think we should put aside thoughts of free agents and overpay the good players here, as we get them, if that will keep them.

    In the past not paying our good players is what has caused all the problems and the bad reputation. So you give out what turns out to be the odd bad contract, at least its to someone who earned it here. Better to reward your own than someone elses.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I know we all hate it when these polls come out but it is what it is. We have to face it that yes not every place is where people want to be. it doesn’t mean that nobody will ever play here and if and when we start having a good team again then people will come here to be on a winner just like in the 80’s. I love this town and yet,like today, when its -20 then I dream of being on a beach somewhere or lounging beside an outdoor pool. So be it, If they gave me that poll today I would be marking down Edmonton as least desirable as well. Don’t shoot the messenger…players have their opinions just like everyone else and very few of them have the luxury of choosing where they play.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Have to think the weather issue is more important to the guys with families. The unattached guys really only spend about 125’ish days during a full season in the city, so only about 1/3rd of the year. The guys with families come and go but there families are here dealing with the elements for 2/3rds the year. Wonder how many of the 318 polled were Canadians.

  • book¡e

    As per the number ‘polled’, I would expect that they actually posed the questions to ALL players and that the 318 number is the number who actually responded.

  • Jonathan

    I’ve got a bunch of Oilers/NHL posters I no longer have space for. If anyone has a burning desire to have them (for free) or a genially useful idea to avoid trashing them, that would be fantastic.

    The selection includes, from the Oilers: Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Dwayne Roloson, the Oilers logo and *gasp* Sheldon Souray. Also available is a poster of Lord Stanley’s Cup and a NJD Martin Brodeur poster. Hopefully this counts as adding something useful to the conversation.

  • Dan the Man

    I think the biggest reason that players prefer Calgary to Edmonton is Jarome Iginla.

    Having a bonafide superstar that other guys want to play with is HUGE.

    Edmonton should have one or two of those soon enough and Calgary may not….I’d expect to see a big change in the poll after that.

      • Dan the Man

        I’m not saying that it guarantees everyone will want to play for you and never leave but it helps a lot to have some marquee talent.

        I think with the Pens it was more of a money thing too.

  • BarryS

    1. on the instigator rule, it sounds like a lot of guys still want to the option of being able to cheapshot guys without having to really pay for it. on the other hands they love being voyeurs when other guys have to give and take.

    2. you can’t mention the comrie and pronger incident as having poisoned the water without also including the current souray siuation.

    finally, the Oilers look like longtime losers from the outside so combine the standings With the weather and there you go. and I agree with the guy who said if people still like the ice and the dressing room than I think that trumps any concerns about the building.

    • BarryS

      Good Christ, man, you’ve taken more than one run at me in the past for being part of the Lowe Butt-Kissing Brigade and when I mention two player situations that happened with Lowe at the helm you say I left out Souray?

      Souray helped sewer himself here by going public. Comrie and Pronger decided they did not want to be here but kept quiet. Pronger, especially, played his ass off here and earned his salary for months after he asked to be dealt.
      Lowe handled Comrie badly by asking for $2.5 million back to complete a trade and he rushed, in my estimation, the Pronger deal.

      Souray, his dubious (in my opinion) “they rushed me back from injury” storyline aside, took a better contract from Edmonton than he was going to get anywhere else and then bailed when the team was less competitive than he envisioned and the going got tough.

      • BarryS

        RB: that Wasn’t a shot at you.

        That was just me saying that if the departures or handling of Comrie and Pronger had left a mark, then so did that of Souray, IMO.

        Sure, Souray slammed the org but he also tried to issue a mea culpa after the fact. I believe there are a lot of players around who’d still think the Oilers are in the wrong for farming him out and that’s why I included him.

        Personally, I think Souray should have kept his mouth shut in the first place but once that was all out in the wash then the brass should have done a better job at weighing what was better for the team in the long run: ie teaching Souray a lesson or setting an example by sending him to the A or keeping him up here and trying to bury the comments and showcasing him until we got an asset in return.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Losing reflects poorly on the organization and this four-year lurch into the basement might have been mitigated or avoided had Lowe taken more time to gather offers and accommodate Pronger.

          That’s a big maybe, but failing to get lasting value back for Pronger was a significant factor in this team going from being a SC finalist — yes, I know they barely made the playoffs — to what we’ve watched since then.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          He states at the end of the second paragraph that the deal was rushed, who wouldn’t agree that the Oilers would have received more for Pronger if there were a dozen teams involved instead of 2 or 3?

          Huge error rushing this deal. Philly paid considerably more when Pronger was yet 3 yrs older.

  • book¡e

    It’s amazing that the instigator rule has such an impact. I mean, in cases where the ‘target’ fights back the difference is a 2 minute minor (if their is no response it could be 7 minutes as only one of the two would get the fighting major).

    Given that, I don’t understand why guys like SMac are not sent out more often to ‘instigate’ with guys who have delivered dirty hits on our players. Yes there are also game suspensions, but once he has ‘served notice’ the goon has made his point and his ‘loss’ to the team is not that great anyway.

  • bigguy13

    So let me get this straight??? Its too cold in edmonton is one of the reasons? Am I forgetting about something here that 3/4’s of the players playing in the NHL have taken a shovel late at night in minus 30 weather to scrape off the backyard ice to practise hockey? So now these millionaires make it to the NHL and decide that somewhere cold is not a choice for them to play hockey. HORSEHOCKEY! How soon they forget! Weather in edmonton during the winter months is average -12 at best. You might get 1 week out of a winter of -30 or colder, its not that bad here. I tell you when the oilers were in the playoffs and the fans were crazy and the city stood behind a team that made it to the finals, you tell me which player did not want to feel the fans singing the national anthem, the excitement, the mood, the love from a die hard NHL City.

    We Want the Cup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • stevezie

    Now that players are getting penalized for starting fights after legal hits I think I am in favour of the instigator rule. I hate those fights.
    I’m not sure how much the instigator affects things anyway, since it applies to starting a fight, not punching an unwilling combatant. If the rule was suddenly gone would people be constantly fighting Matt Cooke and Sean Avery? No, because they would just decline the fights. If you jump a guy who doesn’t want to fight you’d be facing discipline above and beyond two minutes for instigating, I doubt that would change if you got rid of the penalty. I think the league would have a hard time implementing an “it’s okay to force a fight as long it’s against a bad guy” rule.

  • stevezie

    I’ve never understood the Comrie thing as an irritant for people. The Oilers wanted X to give him up and couldn’t get it from prospective purchasers so they asked him to make up the difference. Pretty standard business transaction. As far as the Pronger thing goes, if anyone has a grievance with the Oilers there, it’s the fans who’ve suffered through the return on that deal. Not to say that players aren’t somehow impacted by it – people once invested in tulip bulbs – but it seems crazy.

    I’m inclined to think that the building isn’t that big of a deal to the players either, as long as the part where they spend their days is nice, and I understand that it is.

    Ultimately, I suspect that winning probably is the big thing. If the Oilers are competitive, you probably start thinking about how much you’re on the road anyway. When they’re not, it probably seems like a horrible place to play.

    • No, asking a player for money back as part of a trade is not and never has been a “standard” business transaction in the NHL. Not sure what you’re on about suggesting it is. Odd.

      And when the money component of the deal isn’t spelled out before the player and his agent have been given the OK to talk to Bryan Murray, it’s even more dubious.

      I broke the story about the $2.5-million stipulation, and Murray’s description of the way Lowe put it on the table at the 11th hour didn’t include the word “standard.”

  • stevezie

    Pronger was awesome And signed to a value contract.

    Lowe would have to live a long time to botch something as badly as he did that trade.

    Magic Beans Smid and potential soft minute superstar LupulÉ

    Give me a ******* break.

  • How long will the stain of past trangressions remain with this organization? 5 years? 10? 20? We have to realize that hindsight is always 100% correct. The team has taken steps to correct the perceptions that are out there. How long will it take to repair that perception? It may be never. The deal is that the team realizes that and has taken steps to ensure that the players that will be here in the future will not have to deal with the issues that plagued previous management and coachs. I look forward to the day that the Oilers sweater in once again worn proudly and that we as fans can walk tall and hold our heads high. Its been too long. Its been far too long.

  • Bryzarro World

    speaking of Lowe – because I can’t resist a chance to take a shot at him – one of my “favourite” memories was him going on HNIC to say he couldn’t pay 94 his demands because he wasn’t an elite player and then a few months later overpaying a guy in Souray who had a worse injury history and nowhere near the credentials of Smyth in terms of playing against real competition.

    then he invited Terry Jones over to his house to ask “is it me.”

    Note: I typed that last tidbit knowing it’s LT’s favourite Lowe story;)

  • Dan the Man

    Robin –

    I’m not sure why the player and his agent would need an OK to talk to Bryan Murray. Comrie was an RFA at the time. Any team in the NHL could talk to him.

    I’m not saying it is or was standard for NHL transactions or that it wasn’t a story. I’m saying it’s not an unusual thing from a business perspective or “wrong”. It’s a business transaction.

    There were three parties to the transaction who wanted something: Anaheim wanted Comrie, Comrie wanted to not be in Edmonton and the Oilers wanted what they perceived to be a fair return on their investment in Comrie. Comrie’s not a piece of meat – he’s a party who wanted something and had something to give up for it. I’ve said it before but I thought it was a clever way for the Oilers to potentially bridge the value gap in the transaction. It wouldn’t be an unusual thing in any other business.

    I also thought it was a bit rich (pun intended) for Comrie to be so aggrieved by that – Lowe had some leverage and he tried to do what he could do. There weren’t any rules prohibiting that. As I recall (maybe I’m wrong) Lowe didn’t bitch and moan in 1999 when Comrie used his leverage to force the Oilers to pay a lot more than players with a comparable draft pedigree got. Winter said at the time that the Oilers were getting a great deal because they got Comrie for the next thirteen years. Hard to blame Lowe for trying to recoup a bit of the price when it turned out 13 meant 3.

    If Lowe led the Ducks to think a deal was done regardless of Comrie’s contribution or lack thereof, then he screwed up. I’ll say a lot of things about Kevin Lowe’s acumen as a GM but he’s always struck me as a guy who is a very straight dealer and (particularly by hockey business standards) a very honest guy. I’d be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt if he gave the Ducks an impression he didn’t intend to and assume it was unintentional.

    The real question, of course, it whether that affects the Oilers’ reputation with guys now. You talk to more hockey players than I do but the Comrie thing seems like ancient history to me and the Pronger business seems to be widely accepted to his wife being unhappy more than anything being wrong with Edmonton. If there was some sort of a proper survey done that tested preferences and what not, I expect everything would pale in comparison to being a place you could win.

    • Rationalize it however you want, when we’re talking about the business of NHL hockey and a GM asks for exit money from a player to complete a trade at the 11th hour, it is not anything close to standard and it does not sit well with the rank and file of the NHLPA.

      This started as a discussion about why some players might not find Edmonton an attractive place to play. One of the issues that factors into that perception is management and how that management treats players. I’m guessing players, their union and agents would take note of Edmonton’s management playing hardball with Comrie, especially when the person who made the pitch is still part of the hockey ops end, as Lowe is.

      This isn’t winding road, it’s a straight line. No need for a 100-paragraph dissertation on the concept.

      • O.C.

        Well, with Weber untouchable, and Souray gone, Chara still has at least 5 more years of giving the Oil what they need to get over the top and be champions.

        (I should probably add “of the superskills hardest shot competition.”)

    • Terrible deal considering the next 2 Oilers Firsts are likely lottery picks. Someone already mentioned Chara’s NTC and he’s 33.

      What are the Oilers going to use a 33 year old defenseman for? By the time the Oilers get half decent (5+ years considering they wont have their next 2 lottery picks to help them out) Chara will be in his mid-late thirties.

      Is this team really 1 excellent defenseman away from contending? I highly doubt it. Then you subtract Gagner and presumably replace him with Hall, making you depend on Horcoff to maintain his health and decent play into his mid thirties.

      I cant see this trade working well for either team’s respective goals. 1) Building a Oiler team through the draft that can contend for years and 2) Putting the Bruins over the top to win a Stanley Cup in this year or the next.

        • Kevin Lowe says he would do that move differently if he could. That makes me think the Oil Brass seem to think we got less than we should, but I think the sting would have been lessened if the Oil had held onto Lupul instead of trading him for a series of players that eventually turned into Patrick O’Sullivan and then Vandermeer.

          Your question is misleading. The Ducks were already a better team than the Oilers were when they acquired Pronger. They wouldnt have offered up two Firsts if they were poised to pick in the lottery.

          Either way, I dont see what that question has to do with the Bruins trading Chara. The circumstances are completely different for each team.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            It has nothing to do with the Bruins trading Chara, he was simply the closest player to Pronger 2006 that I could come up with. It didn’t matter who the player was, what matterd is that he was an early 30’s Norris caliber Dman.

            And even if the Oilers were sitting in 12th instead of 29th I think most would still react the same way

            It’s simply a question of value, everyone feels we got hosed in the Pronger trade, yet I bet most would scoff at trading a similar package to get a similar talent to Pronger 2006.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Can’t believe a few took you serious on this deal OB1, you must’ve been indulging in some herbal type cigarettes last evening eh.

      Before Kevin steamrolled that deal for Comrie to the Ducks, what players were they going to send back our way, anyone remember, was there someone else other than Corey Perry? Have to think these two Kevin Lowe efforts (Pronger Comrie) alone have alot to do with where we’re at today.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        What about you QSB, if we were a say, 10th – 12th place team league wide, would you trade the equivalant of 4 first rounders and a second for an early 30’s franchise Dman?

        • Quicksilver ballet

          “If” we were that competitive then yes. We’ve all seen the impact of a player of his stature had in 2006.

          I must’ve missed the ealier part of this conversation you were having, i thought you meant doing this deal now while we’re mired in the basement. That, and the fact that you’re willing to include Gagner had me baffled. This is coming from a guy who would move Hemsky,Penner and Gagner if it landed us another top 5, so i can’t be trusted really.

  • I’m guessing players, their union and agents would take note of Edmonton’s management playing hardball with Comrie, especially when the person who made the pitch is still part of the hockey ops end, as Lowe is.

    You talk to hockey players – do any of them care? To the point that they would snub Edmonton when they think it’s otherwise the best option for them? I seriously doubt it. Of course, the only time the Oilers have tried to attract FA in the past ten years is when they’ve been terrible.

    Friedman wrote that it is or was a pain in the ass to get things like sticks and skates out of the Oilers. I’m as surprised as you are that we learned that from a national guy instead of someone in Edmonton but if it’s true, that strikes me as far more of an irritant than a one off situation that probably couldn’t happen now.

    As far as Comrie goes, I’m not a hockey agent, nor do I talk to many of them, but I’m a lawyer, like a lot of agents and asking Comrie for money to complete a deal, while unusual, doesn’t strike me as outrageous or something to really worry about when dealing with them. At most, it’s something you tell your next client who might deal with them. I suspect most guys would recognize it as an unusual situation and not put a ton of weight it.

    This isn’t winding road, it’s a straight line. No need for a 100-paragraph dissertation on the concept.

    Well that’s easier than arguing the logic of it. If it’s too long winded, you’re under no obligation to respond.

  • I’m guessing players, their union and agents would take note of Edmonton’s management playing hardball with Comrie, especially when the person who made the pitch is still part of the hockey ops end, as Lowe is.

    You talk to hockey players – do any of them care? To the point that they would snub Edmonton when they think it’s otherwise the best option for them? I seriously doubt it. Of course, the only time the Oilers have tried to attract FA in the past ten years is when they’ve been terrible.

    Friedman wrote that it is or was a pain in the ass to get things like sticks and skates out of the Oilers. I’m as surprised as you are that we learned that from a national guy instead of someone in Edmonton but if it’s true, that strikes me as far more of an irritant than a one off situation that probably couldn’t happen now.

    As far as Comrie goes, I’m not a hockey agent, nor do I talk to many of them, but I’m a lawyer, like a lot of agents and asking Comrie for money to complete a deal, while unusual, doesn’t strike me as outrageous or something to really worry about when dealing with them. At most, it’s something you tell your next client who might deal with them. I suspect most guys would recognize it as an unusual situation and not put a ton of weight it.

    This isn’t winding road, it’s a straight line. No need for a 100-paragraph dissertation on the concept.

    Well that’s easier than arguing the logic of it. If it’s too long winded, you’re under no obligation to respond.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      I’d tend to agree that few players consider Comrie when looking at where to play (maybe 6-8 years ago a few did, but not anymore… I mean half the league has probably turned over since then).

      More then one team has “wronged players” and then carried on attracting talent.

  • Dan the Man

    The worst part of the botched Comrie deal with Anaheim was getting Jeff Woywitka, a 1st round selection (Robbie Schremp) in 2004 and a 3rd round selection (Danny Syvret) in 2005 instead of Corey Perry and a first rounder from the Ducks (The Ducks seleceted 9th overall in 2004 and picked Ladislav Smid ironically enough).