What is it about people and society that makes us reflexively think more rules and regulations and laws are an improvement? Hockey has an opportunity to break from the other major sports by NOT legislating more crap rules. The NFL is a shining example of over-legislation. Its ham-handed attempts at 'protecting' the players have piled rule upon rule upon rule to the point of creating confusion and subsequently frustration over what is and isn't dirty. To paraphrase a Supreme Court justice from years ago 'dirty might be hard to define, but we know it when we see it'. So what's the problem with identifying and weeding out dirty players?
The biggest problem with defining what is a dirty play and, to a larger extent a dirty player, is the incredible amount of excuses that come into play after the fact. A player who commits a dirty play, whether an isolated incident or in the case of Alexander Ovechkin on a continued and consistent basis, isn't identified by geography or uniform color. The team he played for last season may not be the team he's on this time around, but the dirty player underneath is the same. Its the excusing of dirty play that needs to stop.
Over and over its said that today's athletes are 'bigger, stronger, faster' than ever before and yet somehow today's athletes have less bodily control than ever before too. How can this be? Maybe it comes down to some misplaced priorities and lack of respect for the game. As the games are played today more emphasis is put into making a crippling hit and maybe, just maybe, get a quick mention on Sportscenter. Good fundamentals and actually helping the team win be damned. Egos have inflated bigger than the sport that made the ego possible in the first place. Today's games are all about 'Look at me'.
Deflating player egos has to start in the commissioners offices. The marketing gurus and toothless disciplinarians in the league hierarchies honestly don't seem to realize that they're killing the golden goose by turning off the fans who only want to see good clean honest games. So, how does hockey turn itself away from the selfish and egotistical type of athlete that has ruined the other Big Four sports and is slowly infecting the NHL? It won't be easy.
Teaching kids how to play solid fundamental hockey while still having fun wouldn't seem to be terribly complicated, but outside forces continually corrupt the process. Whether its overbearing parents with delusions of grandeur or the cesspool of sports coverage known as ESPiN instilling a sense of sportsmanship and fair play is an upstream swim against a tidal wave. Overcoming a generation of 'me first' athletes, thirty years of mind-numbing Bermanites, and a healthy dose of Baylessness is a heavy challenge but if we truly care about the future of hockey its a challenge worth accepting.
Teaching love and respect for the game and a sense of sportsmanship and fair play will correct many of the problems in the NHL-years down the road. Of course, dropping the instigator rule would be a simple and effective short term fix in the meantime.