Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook: Physical Fouls 3 - Fighting

Writing this post gave me a black eye.

2014-15 NHL Official Rules (PDF)

Getting to Know the NHL Rulebook is back for a second season. The new season's rulebook has been out for a while, so it's time to get back to work. The list of rule changes for this season can be found here.

We'll pick up where we left off with the last rulebook post, which covered checking from behind, clipping, and elbowing. Now we move on to fighting.

Rule 46 - Fighting

First thing to understand is that this post isn't intended to talk about fighting's place in hockey. You, dear reader and commenter, are welcome to bring it up in the comments, but for the purposes of this post, we're only going to examine fighting in hockey as it relates to the NHL rulebook.

I will say, however, that fighting's role in NHL history is the reason there is an entire section — spanning 22 subsections — on fighting in the first place, instead of a simple ejection with the first punch thrown.

46.1 Fighting: Fighting occurs when at least one player repeatedly punches or tries to punch an opponent. So a "fight" can be one-sided, and the result would be a major penalty on the player who threw the punches.

Fighting also occurs under this rule when the players end up wrestling with each other such that the Linesmen can't intervene safely to break up the wrestling match. So no punches necessarily have to be thrown for it to be a fight under these rules. Considering the number of hugfests we've seen lately, it makes more sense now why those are still penalized with major penalties for fighting.

46.2 Aggressor: Not an often used rule, but here's an example from recent memory.

The Aggressor rule, as Paul Stewart notes in the link above, is meant to protect players from becoming unwilling combatants in fights. The aggressor in a fight is the player who throws punches on an opponent "who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant."

This situation can occur when a fight starts and one side doesn't want to engage. It can also occur when, in the course of a fight, one side concedes yet the other continues to throw punches despite having already clearly won the fight.

The aggressor in an altercation receives the normal five minute fighting major and an additional game misconduct. If he's both instigator AND aggressor, he'll receive the full compliment of penalties: two-minute minor for fight instigator, five-minute major for fighting, a misconduct for the instigator, and a game misconduct for the aggressor.

46.3 Altercation: This subsection is simply a definition. An altercation is any instance involving two players where at least one of them will receive a penalty. This will be relevant in 46.7.

46.4 Clearing the Area of a Fight: When a fight breaks out, the rules state that all players not involved with the fight must go immediately to their benches. If the fight takes place at or near the benches, then the players must instead go to their respective defensive zones.

If there's a goalie on the ice, he must remain in his crease. The only time this stipulation doesn't apply is if the fight takes place near his crease, in which case, the referee will tell the goalie where to stand and wait for the fight to be over.

46.5 Continuing or Attempting to Continue a Fight: Any attempts to continue a fight or to throw punches after the referees have ordered the players to stop or after the linesmen have jumped in to break up the fight will lead to a misconduct or game misconduct penalty to the offending player. There are no clear guidelines here that say which penalty to assess in which situations, so I guess it's up to the judgment of the referee.

46.6 Helmets: This was a new rule last season. Players that remove their helmets before engaging in a fight are assessed a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The irony is that it's probably more sporting to take the helmet off considering the new visor rule. Also a bit strange is that players something have a "gentleman's agreement" to tangle up and remove each other's helmets to get around the rule because "Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player." In other words, the rulebook lets them get away with it.

This rule was created as a player safety measure, where the league was concerned that players would hurt their heads on the ice if they fell down. I am typing this all with a straight face.

46.7 Fighting After the Original Altercation: Players that start another fight after the original one was broken up are assessed an additional game misconduct penalty on top of the fighting majors. The one exception is that if the referee decides one player clearly instigated the fight, the non-instigator can have his game misconduct waived, and he can stay in the game.

46.8 Fighting Off the Playing Surface: The referee will assess a misconduct or game misconduct penalty on any player involved in a fight off the playing surface. This fight can involve another player or spectator or anyone else, but only the "off the playing surface" condition needs to be fulfilled for a fight to trigger this rule.

This rule also applies to non-player personnel, including coaches. If a non-player member of a team gets into an altercation with another player, coach, or personnel member on or off the ice, that person is suspended from the game. The incident is then reported to the Commissioner for follow-up and further potential disciplinary action.

I'm sure some of you are already wondering if this example applies. It's the infamous brawl between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames from last season where John Tortorella had the bright idea of charging the Flames' dressing room during an intermission. I can't seem to find anywhere if Tortorella was actually suspended for the rest of the game after pulling off that stunt, but he was definitely subject to supplemental discipline.


There's a lot more of this rule to cover, including the fight instigator rule, which will come in the next post.