I got "hooked on hockey" in the fall of 1967, with the "Second Six" expansion of the NHL into my hometown of St. Louis. While my 13-year-old imagination was captured by the fact that the goalie was the most vital member of the team (the Blues had been built around the great Glenn Hall,) I also noticed that players such as the Plager brothers, Noel Picard, Terry Crisp, and Craig Cameron would immediately come to the aid of any teammate being "run" by the opposition.
In those days, the "fighters" also had to be players... if they couldn't skate well enough to play the wing or get back on defense, they weren't of any use to the team. (John Ferguson, Sr., was the "heavyweight champ" of the era; but he also was skilled enough to take a regular turn as a checking winger.) Were there players whose main contributions were as physical intimidators? Of course! Always have been, always will be!
While I don't want to see the NHL return to the days of Philadelphia's "Broad Street Bullies", I also don't want to see one of the League's talented players taken out of action because of a "cheap shot" delivered by a guy who knows he won't face any immediate, on-ice consequences. Suspensions and fines handed down by the NHL haven't had much (if any) effect.
What I do see and don't like in the "new NHL" is more stick fouls than occurred back in the late 60's and early 70's. Perhaps players are less careful with their sticks because they've grown up playing the game protected by full face-shields (including those players who come out of NCAA hockey). But the half-shields used in the NHL simply can't provide the protection of full shields. I also see less respect for the safety of opponents today than I saw when I first fell in love with hockey.
My solution? Eliminate the "instigator" rule! Taking a "run" at -- say, Sidney Crosby -- becomes much less attractive when you know the next face you'll see will be Gary Roberts (or, worse yet, Georges Laraque)! There are already rules in effect that keep players on the bench whenever an on-ice fight occurs, ending the ugly "bench-clearing" brawls of an earlier day. So, "Goons" who can't actually play hockey very well become much less attractive to clubs when there's not an instigator rule... any retaliation to a perceived "cheap shot" has to come from someone on the ice already, anyway!
My opinion isn't colored by my own playing days... I became a goalie "back in the day," and I wouldn't have been a very good fighter in any event. I found anger made me play worse! And I don't expect the rule to be changed... the idea that allowing the potential for more fights would reduce the amount of "dirty" hockey is too counter-intuitive for those running the "new" NHL. As it stands, though, the League remains in danger of losing one of its' star attractions because of the actions of some "hanger-on" who is only risking playing time that can be easily replaced.