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Torts: ‘I think the players need to police themselves’

Nov 4, 2013, 12:03 PM EDT

Sestito fights Orr Getty Images

Believe it or not, kids, there used to be a time in the NHL when the first question after a game that featured a dirty hit wasn’t, “How long do you think the suspension will be?”

Instead, it was more likely to be, “When do the teams play next?” Or, “Who do you think he’ll have to fight?” That is, if the offender in question hadn’t already been forced to answer the bell. And we stress the word “forced.” As in, didn’t have a choice; he was fighting, whether he liked it or not.

John Tortorella misses that era.

“I think the instigator rule takes out the honesty in the game,” the Canucks’ head coach said Saturday after his team beat Toronto, 4-0, in a chippy affair.

“I think the players need to police themselves. But when you put that instigator rule in, and you’re using all this supplementary discipline and all this crap that comes after, it needs to be taken care of right on the ice, and I don’t think you’ll have that stuff, the hitting from behind and the cheap stuff.

“We’ve taken too much of the game away from the players. The players are the ones that turn it into an honest type game, and we need to give that back to them. We never will, but we should.”

It is, of course, worth noting that Tortorella coaches in Vancouver, the same place where the infamous Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident took place in 2004. When players try to police themselves, sometimes things go wrong.

Clearly, though, Tortorella doesn’t expect the league to be the sole protectors of his star players.

“We talked about it,” said Tortorella. “If someone goes after the Sedins, other people have to step in. That’s part of the game.”

But what about the instigator rule?

“Guys are ready to step in, and we’d kill the penalty.”

  1. elvispocomo - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    On a team with a good PK, that’s fair enough. If you’re PK sucks then it’s a little harder to accept, but it’s good for the players to hold each other accountable however they do it.

  2. peed1 - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Love Torts.
    Miss him in TB

  3. 7mantel - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    Miss him in NY too !

  4. kicksave1980 - Nov 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    I’m not a fan of Torts, but I agree with him 100% here.

  5. mp1131211 - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    I feel like the way it is now obviously isn’t working. Might as well toss out the instigator rule and see what happens

  6. bmscalise - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Let’s just set aside how caveman-esque this mentality is. Let’s just set aside that horrifying garbage like Bertuzzi and Emery gave us is an inevitable consequence of this mentality. (Good lord, the Flyers are so invested in this mentality that they truly think what they did was commendable. Ditto the Isles during that debacle with the Pens.)

    Does anyone honestly think that having to fight afterwards actually prevents dirty hits? That these players are so scared to fight that they wouldn’t dare? That’s ridiculous. How often during a game do we see a scuffle or a fight after a marginal hit? Instigator or no – fighting does not work as a deterrent AT ALL – for anything.

    It’s well past time for the league to enter the 21st – hell, 20th – century and make clear enforceable rule so the players DON’T have to police themselves. Policing oneself is not a positive environment – it’s anarchy. It’s time that players were given significant suspensions – and fines to the organization and coaches – when this garbage happens. Only that will make it stop. But the league doesn’t have the stomach for it.

    • hockeyflow33 - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      Players holding each other accountable is anarchy?

      Please go watch another sport, people like you are ruining our game.

      • bmscalise - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        Why? I can’t like actually hockey if I’m just annoyed by having to watch men pound each other in the face?

        I’m an idiot for realizing that John Scott didn’t think, “Gosh golly, I shouldn’t take Louis Eriksson’s head off, because I might have to fight somebody.” Cause- you know- he didn’t care.

        I understand that there is NO WAY – no effective way anyway – for players to hold other players accountable. Or is the idea of it’s just being ineffective too nuanced for you to wrap your brain around?

      • hockeyflow33 - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:51 PM

        Sounds like you’d prefer men pounding each other somewhere else.

      • dueman - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:49 PM

        @bmscalise – Man I wish all you Mommy huggers would just shut the puck up already! This is a dead issue for all you whiners. The NHLPA has already tackled this issue and 98% of the players are in favour of keeping fighting in the game. You say that the players policing themselves does nothing to deter dirty stuff, but the players (you know, the guys that actually play the game) believe otherwise. I think the actual players that have to deal with this might have a better grasp of the situation than you sitting on your couch! If you really can’t handle the men’s game, the women would gladly welcome your support.

      • hockeyflow33 - Nov 4, 2013 at 4:05 PM

        Nah, we should let sports writers dictate the rules that the players should abide by

      • blackhawksdynasty - Nov 4, 2013 at 7:59 PM

        Amen hockeyflow33! Bmscalise… go away and stay away

    • davebabychreturns - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:48 PM

      I agree that the rules and their enforcement is a farce at this point.

      That being said, we are so far gone from the era of the enforcer that it’s not really fair to say that the best that concept has to offer is debacles like those the Flyers and Isles were involved in. Or Todd Bertuzzi for that matter.

      A couple of decades ago if you had a player running around taking cheap shots or engaging in stickwork, someone was going to take their number and get them back – with their fists, or a real serious hit, or whatever it took.

      Of course a lot of other things have changed since then as well – players are running around in body armor, most have played with their faces covered their whole lives and aren’t too shy about getting sticks and elbows up and of course everyone is bigger and faster and the puck moves much more quickly as well.

      I don’t know if you can say that an enforcer on the ice meant you weren’t going to be the victim of dirty play back in the day, I feel pretty confident saying that it doesn’t mean that now (the Bruins have some of the toughest fighters in the game and take their fair share of cheap shots). But I don’t think you can look at a guy trying to be an enforcer now and say that’s what the people who want the players to handle things on the ice are really looking for.

      • bmscalise - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        No – we are past the age of the enforcer, clearly. Most can’t play the game well enough to justify a spot.

        What I’m saying is this nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” when players got to police themselves is a myth. No amount of player accountability stopped cheap hits from ending the careers of Eric Lindros or Paul Kariya or Cam Neely and a whole string of other guys that I could sit here and list.

        Today’s game calls for something better – something different. It calls for the league to step in and actually bring some pain to the guys who act recklessly. No fight will do that. Only a major loss of games and loss of wages. Period. It’s the only actual deterrent.

    • hockey412 - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      Well said.

    • kingcobraman - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:51 PM

      fear is the greatest deterrent weather its on the street or on the ice….

    • sunderlanding - Nov 4, 2013 at 5:15 PM

      The problem is you’re looking at the way it is now. Fighters can’t go after the player who laid the dirty hit unless he’s willing to fight, because of the instigator fight, so what happens is the two fighters go at it, and the dirty player just watches with nothing to fear. He’s saying get rid of the instigator so if some little weasle throws a dirty hit the others teams fighter can go knock him out without getting another penalty.

    • winger58 - Nov 5, 2013 at 6:55 PM

      People who haven’t followed hockey over the decades have no clue what the instigator rule has done to this sport. In the history of hockey, up until the 90’s, star players were mostly left alone to play the game. This was made possible by the tough guys who protected them without fear of being suspended for starting a fight. No one ever touched Gretzky while McSorley was around. If you did, you paid a price. It kept players honest. Now players, who would normally shake in their skates if someone challenged them to a fight, suddenly have no fear of dishing out a cheap shot on a more skilled player. This has led to scrums after every whistle, a drastic increase in crosschecks, slashes and boarding calls. Every player on the ice is a macho man, fearing no retribution.

      Just watch how these false-tough guys wait for a linesman to get between themselves and the other teams real tough guy before they start to taunt and jab.

      Get rid of the instigator rule. Put the fear of God in to these cheap-shot artists and you will see it all disappear. Take fighting completely out of the game and you’ll see more injuries in a week than normally happens in a year. Tough guys in hockey know how to fight. Injuries rarely occur. In fact, more players are injured in MLB and NBA fights than in the NHL!

  7. amityvillefun - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    I completely enjoy Tort’s rants but he’s off on this one. The game has changed and the league needs to change too. How many concussions have we already seen this season? It’s obvious the players don’t respect one another at all.

    The only way to really solve it is to REMOVE the player causing the injury for the amount of time it takes for the injured player to return.

    This is the only way a player is going to “think twice” before lining up another player in a compromised position. It is the only way these injuries are going to be prevented. It has to HURT the player doing the damage in ice time and penalties. If they have to think about their own career before lining up someone with a dangerous hit, perhaps they will be a little safer about it.

    Are their flaws to this idea? Yup. A player could “fake” an injury to get a better player off the ice. But it sure beats seeing a great NHL player’s career ruined to less talented guys like Matt Cooke and John Scott.

    The NHL NEEDS to come up with a solution quickly to stop all the head injuries. It’s obviously a serious problem, and the longer they wait, the more player’s brains are going to be turned into cabbage.

    • amityvillefun - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:41 PM

      There not “their”

  8. michiganhockey11 - Nov 4, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    I’d like to agree with Torts on this, as I’m a much bigger fan of “old time hockey”, but I don’t think it’s cut and dry either way. I look back when the Wings had a very young/very small Yzerman and while some guys still took a run at him (he did get beat up a bit) you didn’t have guys taking cheapshots like they do today. For fear of #24 and #26 coming to kill you.

    I still think Crawford gave some instructions to Bert, as horrible as that still is.

    • davebabychreturns - Nov 4, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      Crawford was an idiot of unimaginable proportions if he instructed his first liner to go out and suckerpunch a guy on the other team instead of using one of his fourth line nobodies like Brad May (no stranger to cheap shots) or Wade Brookbank (12 fighting majors up to that point in the season, would go on to finish with 17)..

  9. LampyB - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    I agree that punishments need to be much more severe, but the retard above who called policing themselves “anarchy” is way off base. Punishment severity has to increase, and the instigator rule needs to be removed. Players need to be held accountable on the ice by other players, as well as by shanahan. Players cant run around throwing cheap shots without the ability for someone else on their team to face a fight. If i’m making dirty plays, i do so knowing my teammate is going to be punched in the face for what i did. When i see it happen, i know i owe it to the guy on my team to clean up my act. He just took a fist to the face for me, and i dont want him to have to do that again. Problem solved.

  10. mikemaric - Nov 4, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    The instigator rule removes the deterrence effect the goon on the team holds. Policing yourselves doesn’t mean every guy has to answer the bell. It means you would think twice about creaming a star player knowing that you would have a goon in your face the next shift.

    In some ways the instigator rule results in MORE violence as questionable hits now go unpunished on the ice.

    Ask Gretzky what he thinks about having Semenko or McSorely on his teams all those years. It probably added two years to his career.

    • emmahouxbois - Nov 4, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      you don’t even have to ask him, his appearance in court to support mcsorely says all you need to hear.

  11. sunderlanding - Nov 4, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    You’re forgetting that the Bertuzzi incident happened when the inforcer rule was in effect. He’s saying get rid of it and see what happens.

  12. joey4id - Nov 5, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Torts is an old foggy and a hypocrit. He will save dogs, but won’t stick out his neck for the well being of the players. He Cherry and Burke are so out of touch with reality. They still live in the 70s. The whole Bertuzzu/Moore incident should be a lesson to what happens when you let the primary actors pólice themselves. Why do you think there are penalties and suspensions? Sports has proven again and again that a governing body is need so athletes don’t kill themselves, and at the very least seriousy injure each other. Baseball came down hard on beaning. That was baseball’s versión of policing. Formula 1 has a governing body because heads get hot and like in other sports testosterone takes over better judgment. Let the finacial market regulate itself and you get 2008 all over again.

    If fighting was part of the game, then there would be no need for the isntigator rule, or the 5 mins major penalty for fighting. Why send the fighters to the player’s bench to sit out at least one shift and return to the game. If it’s truly part of the game, then there wouldn’t be a need to regualte it as much as it is.

    • winger58 - Nov 5, 2013 at 7:08 PM

      Again, Bertuzzi/Moore occurred AFTER the instigator rule was created. Rendering your point moot. As for baseball, I’m glad they have a “governing body”. Interestingly, they have more bench clearing brawls than ever before. How’s that working out for you?! Then again you live in a utopian world if you think 2008 will never happen again.

      By the way, while you may have something against the 70’s, I didn’t see anywhere near the number of cheap shots and injuries back then. So I’ll stick with Torts, Burke and Cherry.

      When you take the police off the ice, everyone becomes a criminal.

      • joey4id - Nov 6, 2013 at 9:36 AM

        All valid points. However, I believe the indisputable facts about concussions and long term effects of repeated concussions will trump the pro fighting enthusiast. Yzerman Rutherford, and Bowman will eventually win over Torts, Burke and Cherry. After all, fighters are the ice are like boxers with helmets and very much prone to concussions.

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