NHL officials, general managers, and media members convened in Toronto Aug. 18-19 at the Maple Leafs’ practice facility in a veritable who’s who of league power players. They gathered to observe 33 projected top 2011 draft prospects competing in scrimmages designed to allow NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Operations Brendan Shanahan and his staff to experiment with 28 prospective rule changes and variations.
Nearly all of these proposals are either too bizarre or radically progressive to ever be heard from again (one faceoff circle centered in each zone, draws conducted by whistle rather than puck drop), but a few caught the eye of those in attendance and the Twittersphere was abuzz with speculation. Much of the discussion centered on potential changes to the icing rule in the quest for increased safety.
What caught my eye, however, was what I perceive to be contradictory philosophies employed in the support and/or rationalization of some of these changes.
The debate over touch or no touch icing has been on the radar of this born and bred Minnesotan since Kurtis Foster’s leg was shattered in a March 20, 2008 collision with San Jose’s Torrey Mitchell as the pair chased down an iced puck at the Shark Tank. The event immediately brought the issue to the forefront of league discussion.
The Minneapolis Star/Tribune’s Michael Russo went so far as to call for the NHL to adopt no-touch icing, a rule in which icing is called immediately as the puck crosses the goal line as is done at the high school and college levels. Russo referenced Al MacInnis, Mark Tinordi, Marty Reasoner, Marco Sturm, Mike Wilson, and Pat Peake as those victimized by the rule in its current form.
But the conversation ultimately died down and the issue resumed its role as a never-seriously-considered general manager’s meeting topic. Shanahan, however, has revived the dialogue by offering GM’s a front row seat to study a compromise: hybrid icing.
On NHL.com, hybrid icing is described as:
A "hybrid" of no touch icing and touch icing. During a potential icing, the linesman, by the time the first man reaches the face off dot, will determine which player would reach the puck first. If it is determined to be the attacking player, icing is waved off. If it is the defending player, icing is blown immediately. (Tie goes to the defender) It basically enables on-ice officials to whistle the play dead avoiding a dangerous collision at the end boards.
Although not likely to be adopted this season, the idea has caught the attention—if not gained the support—of such NHL power brokers as Toronto’s Brian Burke, Florida’s Dale Tallon, Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman, and Ottawa’s Bryan Murray as well as the likes of Dave King and Ken Hitchcock.
Burke addressed this subject with NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:
The race for a loose puck is an exciting play for our fans and we have to keep that play in, but we have to figure out a way to eliminate the injuries to the defensemen," Burke said. "This is something I've put on the GMs agenda now for five years, and the injuries these defensemen get on those plays are often catastrophic. I think we have to change that. I like the hybrid rule. They have used it in the USHL for a couple of years with success. I've studied some video of that, and I think that will work.
Indications are strong that the hybrid icing rule has a chance to be adopted as soon as next season and I would welcome a change which makes the game safer while not entirely robbing fans of the excitement of a puck pursuit.
Although I am not a physician, I am fairly comfortable stating that fatigued players are more susceptible to injury than those who are rested or properly recovered. While hybrid icing is geared toward injury prevention I found it peculiar that, by their design, a few of the other ideas under consideration actually would have the unintended effect of increasing injury risk. This is not the first time the league has traveled down this road.
In its continuing post-lockout effort to seek out avenues for increased goal production, the NHL implemented several rule changes prior to the 2005/2006 season. Among them is the rule which states that, in an icing situation, the offending team is not allowed a line change. The thought process being that tired players are more likely to suffer from physical and mental breakdowns thus creating an advantage for the attacking team.
Concepts presented over the two day event which seem aimed at expanding upon that notion include:
No Change after Off Side – Like the icing rule, line matching is also affected but it keeps gassed players on the ice as well. “keep tired players on the ice” listed among rationale.
No Icing Permitted while Short Handed – While not specifically stated, I assume line changes also not permitted in this case which again keeps tired players on ice.
No Change after Off Side & Face off goes back to offending team's end – Similar to above but more punitive. Again listing “keeping tired players on the ice” as a benefit.
Delayed Penalty Rule – In this case the team committing an infraction “needs to not only gain possession of the puck but also get the puck out of their zone before the referee blows his whistle”. Another effort to harvest goals by cultivating fatigue.
I grew up enjoying the game as it was played in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s so I would be more than happy to see a league-wide bump in goal production. However, I find it hard to understand why league and team officials would look so hard at putting their greatest assets at increased risk of injury in order to achieve that objective.
Will we likely see any or all of these suggestions put into practice any time soon? Probably not. Nevertheless, suggesting hybrid icing as a means to cut down on injuries while examining multiple concepts which indirectly conflict with that goal reeks of a league speaking out of both sides of its mouth.