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NHL needs to close fighting loophole

Sep 20, 2013, 12:54 PM EDT

Last night’s fight between Brett Gallant of the New York Islanders and Krys Barch of the New Jersey Devils has already been featured on PHT, as well as on Puck Daddy and Deadspin.

And for good reason — it was kind of embarrassing for the NHL.

As you can see, Gallant and Barch removed each other’s helmets before they started throwing punches, deftly sidestepping the new rule that says fighters can’t remove their own helmets before a scrap.

The NHL really needs to address this before the regular season starts. If the officials deem the helmets didn’t come off as a direct result of the actual fight, there should still be a two-minute penalty. Otherwise we’ll get more and more farces like last night.

Like it or not, the rule has good intentions so far as player safety is concerned. From Wikipedia:

The first known death directly related to a hockey fight occurred when Don Sanderson of the Whitby Dunlops, a top-tier senior amateur team in Ontario’s Major League Hockey, died in January 2009, a month after sustaining a head injury during a fight: Sanderson’s helmet came off during the fight, and when he fell to the ice, he hit his head.

Granted, some have wondered if there will be more broken hands as a result of players punching helmets and visors. (Though heads are pretty hard too.)

Anyway, here’s more from TSN’s Darren Dreger:

As it stands now, the penalty reads: (Rule 46.6) “No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player.”

That said, the NHL and the NHLPA are sensitive to the role of the enforcer. Players still see a place for fighting in hockey, so it’s understandable to see why players on the competition committee might oppose anything stronger than a minor penalty.

But this is purely about safety – and league sources say the players must embrace and understand the reasoning behind the push for a more punitive message. Otherwise, change won’t come soon and the ‘mockery’ of the rule – as another source described the Gallant-Barch showdown – can’t be stopped.

For Rule 46.6 to be amended, the joint competition committee – along with NHL GMs and the NHL’s Board of Governors – would have to sign off.

It’s not a quick or easy fix.

But it should be a quick and easy fix considering the wording of the rule wouldn’t have to be changed all that dramatically. Last night, the helmets didn’t “come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation”; they came off before any fighting actually took place.

  1. snipedanglecelly13 - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Why does it matter? During every fight the helmet comes off, the players are just getting it out of the way faster. If its for player safety there’s nothing “safe” about a fight. Lol

  2. goodolejr - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    That was actually pretty funny. You could see their hesitation when attempting to take off their own helmets and the awkwardness of them getting each other’s off. It kind of reminds me of Will Ferrell and Adam Scott hugging in Step Brothers.

  3. killerpgh - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    Next you’re probably going to want a penalty for tucking in another players jersey….

  4. pxland - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    That’s a good bout. Despite the awkwardness.

  5. sunderlanding - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    Let them fight. I don’t understand why there is such a movement to get fighting out of the game. It’s part of hockey history, and really if UFC and boxing are still in existence there is no reason to get fighting out of hockey.

    • joey4id - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:32 PM

      Well. A UFC bout involves fighters, and they are not don’t allowed to wear elbow pads or shin guards. Besides, we wouldn’t want to see a hockey game break out during a UFC fight. Don’t tell me you need to see a fight on skates when attending a game between say Boston and Chicago. If you want to see a fight, then attend the appropriate sport.

      • sunderlanding - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        I do. It’s called hockey. Maybe you should do some research on the game. I hate to break it to you, but fighting is part of hockey tradition, and part of the game, so if you want to see fighting hockey is one of your options. I think you just want to change a game.

      • joey4id - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:50 PM

        No one is questioning the history of the game. I’m very well aware of the history. I also know that once upon a time the game was played outdoor with wooden sticks, and players didn’t wear helmets, and the goalie didn’t have facial protection. Traditionally there was no trapezoid. The d man would not rush the puck until Doug Harvey and then Orr. At one time the forward pass was disallowed. Wanna talk about history?

        Football players didn’t wear helmets either when the sports originated. Not so long ago you could arrive at the airport 30 mins before an international flight was scheduled to depart. Changes are made to keep people safe. Not so long ago gays were afraid to admit they were gay. Now there is more acceptance of their sexual orientation. That’s called evolution. Every sport is in constant evolution.

    • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:13 PM

      I understand its always been part of the game and I read what joey said and I disagree with him about “attend the appropriate sport.” You’re right, hockey has a tradition of fighting and many people are attracted to hockey solely because of the fights.

      However, that said, if you see “no reason to get fighting out of hockey” than I think you are the one that needs to do some research. It differs from UFC and Boxing in a lot of ways, but mostly in that hockey- both the game itself and as a tradition- attracts families, meaning children. UFC and Boxing are adult entertainment. As such, the NHL has an obligation to heed the warnings and dangers from the medical research that has emerged and continues to emerge about the prolonged life altering affects of head trauma. It simply isn’t ethical to sell that to children as OK because its “tradition.” Make no mistake, there are children hockey players who idolize the goon role. Head trauma will be their future. Fortunately for my kids and yours (if you have and others’ as well) you might not see any reason to make moves toward getting fighting out of hockey, but the people who make decisions at the NHL do.

      Besides, they aren’t stopping them from fighting, so I don’t see any reason for you to be upset about this rule.

      • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:27 PM

        In fact, go down in the comments section and read the quote from Barch that the author posted.

      • sunderlanding - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:35 PM

        Kids watch UFC as well. They also play violent games. It’s part of who we are. Violence, in the right forum, is ok. Furthermore, there is head trauma in boxing and, probably, will be in the UFC. Go ask Muhammad Ali if his brain is doing ok after years of fighting. If fighting, as a sport, is ok in our culture, then it should be ok in hockey as well. And please, don’t kid yourself, this is a step to getting rid of fighting. Visors are now mandatory, if you fight with a visor you get a penalty, if you take your helmet off you get a penalty. How is that not them trying to get fighting out of the game? I understand that fighting is a penalty as well, but they’e clearly sending a message. Now they want to limit how many fights you can have in a season?

      • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:46 PM

        “Its part of who we are”……

        OK, well, never mind. No sense in arguing this with you.

      • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 10:00 PM

        Actually, I do want to add one more thing here. My comment really had nothing to do with violence, per se. No child (hopefully) plays grand theft auto and idolizes the characters. Violent video games do not make for role models. Its not about the violence, its about selling a role to children. The UFC’s market is not children. Children might watch it here and there, but they don’t sell it to kids. They sell it to adults, as they should. NHL sells itself to families including children. And NHL players are role models, unlike video game characters, because the NHL sells them as such. There are kids growing up now that are watching NHL fighters and idolizing them and planning on growing up to be like them. Its not right

      • sabatimus - Sep 21, 2013 at 11:12 PM

        Who decreed (besides you) that UFC and Boxing are “adult”, while hockey isn’t? You’re saying kids don’t watch UFC? I know for a fact that’s false. Or you’re saying that kids SHOULDN’T watch UFC? That’s debatable, but keep in mind that hockey is a sport with violent collisions, beatings, and blood. How that’s appropriate for kids, given your benchmark for what is “adult”, is beyond me.

      • mp1131211 - Sep 22, 2013 at 1:12 AM

        I didn’t decree anything. I said the NHL markets to kids. I know it’s hard for you to think while your panties are in a bunch, but try. That’s way I don’t have to repeat myself.

      • sunderlanding - Sep 22, 2013 at 3:47 PM

        Furthermore, if families don’t like fighting they shouldn’t watch hockey. Like you said it’s part of the tradition to fight in hockey, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when a fight breaks out.

  6. ufostomper - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    I think it’s brilliant

  7. sjsharks66 - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    Lets just have players break their hands on helmets. Stop trying to make the game appealing to those who don’t like fighting. If they don’t like fighting then they will never fully understand the great sport of hockey.

    • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      I like to watch hockey fights AND safety regulations make the game more appealing to me.

  8. andyreidisfat - Sep 20, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    Yes let’s make the hockey fights safer …….. F the football players who sued for getting hurt playing football…… I really am getting quite tired of the American way….

  9. tackledummy1505 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    Ok let me be straight, this isn’t about player’s health or safety. There have always been forces in the league that would like nothing more than to abolish fighting all together. They have always viewed the Philadelphia Flyers teams that won the cup in 74 & 75 as barbaric. Thing is those Flyer teams are viewed as one of the greatest teams assembled and by far the most entertaining teams ever. Those teams are what set standards and the want to play hockey world wide. Yet free skaters would like nothing more than a ballerina type game cause they feel that’s real hockey. I would agree it’s a part of the game but it’s not what fans every where want to see from the game. They want to see a war and a battle. That happens with fights and big checks. Look up the origin hockey and you will find out that original hockey games lasted days and were only finished by the players that could with stand the 3 day brutality of the game. So stop with the removal of the helmets, it’s not going to matter. If you wrap a kid up in a bubble his entire life so he doesn’t get sick, does that protect him any better when he becomes an adult and comes out of the bubble? No it doesn’t, the same thing could be said here, nothing states if that player who died still had his helmet on would be living today. Even the equipment itself states that it cannot prevent injury or death

    • joey4id - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      They were entertaining but not extremely talents. They lost their throne to a far more talented team, which happened to win the cup 4 years in a row and ended the goon era. Then came the islanders and oilers which were built on talent. BTW, when was the last time a goon team won the cup?

      • thailer35 - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:36 PM


  10. bagjr387 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    I guess if you get Knocked out, your head could hit the ice pretty hard…thats the only reason I see leaving the helmet on during a fight.

  11. sunderlanding - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    What they need to do is come up with some sort of clip on/off visor, so people can take their visors off and fight, but still have the helmet on.

    • hawkeedawg - Sep 20, 2013 at 7:18 PM

      They do have clip on visors. My teenage son is a referee and it is mandatory for them to wear a clip on visor.

      • sunderlanding - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:27 PM

        Cool. Fighters should use those.

  12. jimw81 - Sep 20, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    jason, it sounds like your anti-fighting in hockey.the rule itself is stupid. fighting with helmets on looks like game of punching robots.

    • Jason Brough - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:19 PM

      I’m not anti-fighting. But I’m anti- guys getting their unprotected heads slammed against the ice. Didn’t you see Youngblood? Derek Sutton nearly died, man.
      I’ll take the opinion of Janssen and Barch, who also think fighting without helmets is dangerous. And I’m pretty sure they’re not anti-fighting.
      Here’s Barch:
      “The sad part is somebody’s going to fight with their helmet off and fall and then you get the Nick Kypreos situation where somebody cracks their skull open because 225 pounds comes on somebody’s head and all the sudden there’s a pool of blood,” Barch said. “So, as a fighter or a guy who gets in altercations, you want your helmet on. I’ve got steel in face (to repair broken bones), I’ve been knocked out. This is old hat to me. It doesn’t matter to me.
      “But I’d much rather have to put steel in my face or straighten my nose or things like that than have my helmet taken off. Everything else can be fixed. When you’re laying on the ice knocked out, a pool of blood around your head, I think that’s a lot more of a concern than having a broken nose or a broken jaw or getting an orbital repaired with steel plates.”

      • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:24 PM

        Sounds like that guy really hates tradition. Probably has no idea what hockey is about.

      • sabatimus - Sep 21, 2013 at 11:16 PM

        No, it sounds like Barch is someone who is willing to risk his life to play the game he loves. The same for countless football players, race car drivers, etc.

  13. joey4id - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    If the boys are worried about broken fingers and hands, then they need only keep their gloves on. Period! I’m sorry, but the scientific evidence with respect to the damages to the brain caused by repeated blows to the head is irrefutable. Stop pounding each other’s brain.

    • stakex - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:50 PM

      There is scientific evidence that a lot of things people do is bad. Hell, eating fast food is probably more destructive on the body then having an occasional fight in hockey… and just as likely to kill you early. There are however no laws against fast food. Why is that? Because its your right to eat something that might kill you…. just like it should be a players right to take his helmet off to fight if he wants to. That’s not a choice someone else is making for the player, they are making it for themselves.

      • joey4id - Sep 20, 2013 at 6:00 PM

        Right on! Let’s go back to day when players and goalies didn’t wear head protection. Let’s change the rules. They are men after all. Let them decide. We cavemen want to see adults on skate pounding each other in the head. It’s so exciting. Even better when the guy is cut open, his brain getting slushed around some much he needs his buddies to hélio him stand and get off the ice. Bring back the 74/75 flyers..

  14. kingsforever - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    Now that visors are mandatory….removing the helmet is even more essential. Players have sliced their hands open when they punch a guy in the face who is wearing a visor and the hit underneath it

    • thailer35 - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:37 PM

      Visor’s aren’t mandatory in the NHL…

      • stakex - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:55 PM

        Actually they are now. Players who have played more then 25 NHL games and never wore a visor still don’t have to, but all new players are required to wear one from now on.

  15. killerpgh - Sep 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    So last year player’s had to remove their helmets before a fight if they had a visor on or they got penalized an extra two minutes (for a total of 19 penalty minute) if they the instigated the fight. Now visor’s are mandatory in the league and its a penalty to take you helmet off. From one extreme to the other.

  16. 950003cups - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    Stop referencing UFC. They don’t fight in a sheet of ice. It’s padded floors and a flexible cage all around.

    I’m pretty sure the NHL is well aware that taking out fighting will crush ratings. They tried that a long time ago. Didn’t go too well. They just want the impression that they’re trying to take it away.

    • stakex - Sep 20, 2013 at 6:17 PM

      The sheet of ice has almost nothing to do with it. Has an NHL player, in all the years of the sport, ever hit his head off the ice during a fight and suffered a serious injury as a result? Nope. I believe it has happened at least once in a different league… but even still its an incredibly freakish thing. An entire aspect of the sport shouldn’t be ruined by a once in a century freak accident.

      Players could go into the boards funny and break their necks, its even happened before, but I don’t see the NHL going above and beyond to make the boards softer or slow the game down to make it safer because a freak accident like that is possible.

      Also, the comparison between UFC and NHL fights is pretty good. UFC fights no doubt suffer a lot more trauma to the head then NHL fighters do, but there is little debate over how safe UFC is… and every pansy in the world complains about NHL fighting.

      • mp1131211 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:26 PM

        Are you serious? Go back and read the article. dumb.

      • kleslie97 - Sep 23, 2013 at 9:34 PM

        Actually, watch Toronto’s game last night. Can’t recall the player’s name, but at the end of the fight, his head hit the ice and he was out. Also, fighting is a part of an NHL game, in UFC, it is the game – comparing the two is apples to oranges.

  17. Jeff - Sep 20, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    If the NHL can play in the Olympics without fighting, then they should in North America too.

  18. stakex - Sep 20, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    This is all just a backdoor way of getting rid of fighting in the NHL.

    Under the new CBA all players will be required to wear a visor, unless they have played 25 games and didn’t previously wear one. So sooner or later all players will be wearing visors. On top of that, helmets can’t be taken off during a fight, and it sounds likely the NHL will instruct linesmen to simply stop a fight in which a helmet comes off. Thus within a couple years the NHL is going to force guys to fight with helmets AND visors on at all times… something almost no one is going to do.

    Now the league simply can’t ban fighting since the players and fans would freak out and the ratings would tank. It would be a PR disaster to just do it outright. What they appear to be doing however, is slowly creating an environment in which less and less fighting happens until the point where a fight in hockey is a rare occurrence. The hope is probably that as the fighting tapers off, the fans don’t notice/care and it becomes a non issue.

    I don’t much care for conspiracy theories but its hard to argue with the direction the league is heading.

    • sabatimus - Sep 21, 2013 at 11:21 PM

      If Barch’s sentiments are any indication of how the rest of the league’s enforcers feel, they’ll fight anyway–visors or cages be damned. I think it’s going to take an outright codified ban on fighting to stop it. And even that won’t stop the occasional line brawl.

  19. grumpyoleman - Sep 20, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Maybe we can have the ice girls rush out and remove their helmets and skates and have them move over to a ring for the fight

  20. icelovinbrotha215 - Sep 20, 2013 at 9:19 PM

    They should follow the standard that USA Junior Hockey has laid. Well in the sense of the wording. When USA Hockey originally implemented the rule for helmet removal, there was a loophole that allowed for your teammate to take off your helmet and no penalty could be assessed. Something worth checking out.

  21. watermelon1 - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    Look… The NHL just needs to stop allowing these “fights” in the first place.

    The NFL has made MANY changes that the general public does NOT agree with. But the NFL pulls the change like a bandaid. Reveal it quick and fast and then move on.

    90% of these “fights” are just idiots holding shirts and waiting for officials to step in. It’s girlish, and just wastes time.

    It’s really stupid to say fans like it. It’s not even fighting! If it was real fighting, maybe I could understand that argument.

    • sabatimus - Sep 21, 2013 at 11:22 PM

      Wow. To me it sounds like you’re not even a hockey fan, or even realize how hockey fights work. Because ignorance is written all over your post.

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