Inside the Flyers: Proposed 'Emery Rule' may be first step toward banning fighting

Posted: November 11, 2013

When the Flyers' Ray Emery raced down the ice and assaulted another goalie, Washington's unwilling Braden Holtby, during the Capitals' recent 7-0 victory, he created a firestorm of controversy.

NHL general managers will meet in Toronto on Tuesday and they will discuss adding a rule that gives a goalie a 10-game suspension for leaving his area and instigating a fight.

Based on comments made by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and the league's dean of discipline, Brendan Shanahan, it seems likely that general managers will feel pressure to do something.

Some might think adding the Emery Rule doesn't mean much, simply because goalie fights don't happen that often. Emery is known as one of the league's better goalie fighters, but his mismatch against Holtby was his first bout in six years.

But, from here, it is a big deal because it shows a swing in hockey's culture - at least from league executives. That thinking might eventually lead to a ban on all fighting from the sport. It may take a while, but that's the direction the NHL appears to be moving.

After all, the NHL looks hypocritical by putting in all kinds of rules to reduce concussions while still allowing fights, like the one in which Flyers winger Steve Downie suffered a concussion when punched by Washington's Aaron Volpatti during the same game in which Emery pounded Holtby. The Flyers' Vinny Lecavalier, a guy known more for his scoring prowess, suffered facial injuries in a fight that same night and missed a subsequent game.

"People say to me, 'You don't like fighting?' I'm not saying that," Penguins general manger Ray Shero said. "I'm saying we have to continue to look at it."

"It's a different world today. Things are changing," defenseman Bobby Orr, arguably the greatest player in NHL history, told the Canadian Press last week. "That new fans we're trying to attract, they don't want violence. . . . [But] that fear of getting beat up is a great deterrent."

Most fans like fights, especially those fans who follow the Flyers, a team that has not exactly been entertaining to watch during most of the season's first five weeks. That said, based on e-mails and tweets, an overwhelming number thought Emery embarrassed the Flyers by fighting a goalie who said he didn't want to participate.

Bettman received tons of feedback about the incident, including a letter from Flyers fan Joseph Steinbock, a Marlton resident who wrote that he was "finished" with watching hockey because of what transpired in that Nov. 1 game.

Steinbock was upset that Emery didn't get suspended.

"You had a chance to do something about it and you failed - failed completely and utterly," he said in a lengthy letter to the commissioner. "The Flyer deserves a suspension - ten, twenty games, maybe more; personally, I think he should be permanently banned from the game for his actions, but I saw room for compromise. You didn't even see room for any kind of disciplinary action at all, falling back, in your impotence, on a literal reading of the rule book instead of what you saw with your own two eyes, so I will take my ticket money, my interest, and my enthusiasm for hockey elsewhere."

Steinbock wrote that if he wanted to watch "that kind of mayhem, I can go see professional wrestling or mixed martial arts."

In the last two decades, the NHL has taken steps to curtail fighting, introducing the instigator rule, and giving players a 10-game suspension if they leave the bench to join a melee.

Some NHL higher-ups believe that is enough, that fighting is needed to help police the game.

"Back in the Broad Street Bully days, there was an anticipation that something might happen," said Glenn "Chico" Resch, a former NHL goalie who now is an analyst on New Jersey Devils telecasts.

By "something," he meant a brawl.

"Steps have been taken to eliminate that, and I think [the expected Emery Rule] is another step," Resch said.

Resch believes in the end that the fans will have a big say in whether fighting remains.

"The NHL has to do something," he said, "because there's enough people that don't see it as entertainment."


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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