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Will new penalty for removing helmet further curb fighting in NHL?

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

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The new NHL rules for this season continue to trickle in one by one it seems. That's not really the case as they have all been previously agreed upon over the summer but they didn't all get the same fanfair. So with preseason games under way, we're learning some of them on the fly.

One of those rules changes that popped up on Monday night was the fact that now the removal of one's helmet before or during a fight calls for a minor penalty. That coincides with the five-minute major for fighting. Here's an example from Monday.

Joe Haggerty of CSN New England has a little more.

Players that take off their helmets prior to a fight will be served with a minor penalty along with the five minute fighting major this season. Whispers around the NHL also indicate that linesmen have been instructed to break up hockey fights as soon as either combatant's helmet comes off during the scrap.

Sources indicated to CSNNE.com that the league's general managers also considered introducing a minor penalty to any player that pulls off an opponents' helmet during a hockey fight, but that rule didn't have enough support for adoption.

The reasoning for the rule seems straightforward enough. The NHL is trying to diminish injury potential and the cynic would say the league is trying to protect its rear from future lawsuits like the NFL recently experienced. There was also the case of a player dying as a result of hitting his helmet-less head on the ice at the conclusion of a fight. It's a dangerous endeavor.

At the same time, fighting fans and hockey purists are not digging the new restriction. Combine this with the mandatory visor grandfathering into the game and it's easy to see why people think this is another attempt to take fighting out of the NHL without actually taking fighting out of the NHL. It's just another deterrent because really, who wants to fight somebody wearing a visor?

Really though, is this going to be a major curb to fighting in the NHL? I have my doubts on that. Fighting is already going down more because some teams are beginning to realize it's a waste of space to have a guy who is only good at fighting on the bench. Perhaps this will reduce the amount of fights just a little more but the OHL would suggest otherwise.

The OHL already has this rule in place, assessing minor penalties for removing one's helmet in a fight. The OHL also requires players to wear face protection. Guess what? They still fight in the OHL. A lot. Last season there were 14 players that had at least 10 fights in the OHL, the NHL had only seven. Granted, the NHL played 20 fewer games this past season so that's a major skew but the point is they still fight in the OHL.

The biggest deterrent there was the new sliding scale of punishment for fighting more than anything else.

Still, it most likely will have some impact on fighting going forward, specifically on seeing the number of fights diminishing. However I don't think it's going to be drastic or frankly anything more than the steady decline we've been seeing in fighting for some time.

What will be interesting to see is if the players adjust to this in fighting etiquette. It's not hard to envision either both players removing their helmets together to each incur a penalty or even for players to take off their opponent's helmet for them. That only goes for the more dramatic fights, of course, not the heat-of-the-moment bouts. But you know players will adjust.

S/t to Puck Daddy, HockeyFights.com

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