Instigator rule a hot topic

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

It appears the fight against pests and cheap shot artists in the NHL is about to resume.

And this time the good guys just might win.

When the league's general managers convene for their annual meeting in February, one significant item on the agenda, put there again by the persistent Brian Burke, will be discussion about, at the very least, modifying the instigator rule.

As much as there are folks in the hockey world who would like to see the penalty entirely removed from the books, that would be a public relations disaster for the NHL, so amending the rule is the logical, safer first step.

As it stands now, players who accrue three instigator penalties in a season get suspended for two games. Four penalties means four games, five means six games, and so on. A year ago, the general managers agreed to extend the threshold for suspension from three to six penalties, thus allowing players a little more room to attend to business on the ice without fear of suspension.

But that modification was voted down at the competition committee level, in large part by the players on the committee.

That is interesting, too, because for years there have been players throughout the league keen on making changes. Indeed, one thing the NHLPA has discovered on its tour of the 30 teams, 25 of which have been visited, is that there is an appetite to do something to the rule. If not remove it completely, then at least change it.

That change most likely would be the one that was voted down a year ago.

Now, there are those who will argue that any changes to the rule will only serve to increase fighting and other acts of mayhem in the game. On the opposite side, most hockey people would tell you the changes will lead to a long-overdue return of accountability.

"The way the game is going, we're rewarding the frauds," Burke said. "The cheap shots have increased. There are more dangerous hits."

Burke went on to say that the game polices itself with "accountability through fear." Meaning, of course, that players will misbehave less if they have to answer for their sins.

"It's not always involving the guys you think it would be, either," Burke said. "It's not always the so-called enforcers who are affected by the rule. Sometimes it might be a defenceman grabbing a guy after his goaltender has been run. That happens a lot, too."

Let the debate begin, but there has to be some sort of change.

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