While there is, as Toronto GM Brian Burke told NHL.com Wednesday, "no appetite for automatic icing," the movement to change how icing is called in the NHL clearly is gaining momentum. That's where the idea for a hybrid icing rule comes in -- and after seeing it first-hand Wednesday morning, several general managers say they're for it because it will keep the integrity of the game while eliminating the potential for serious injuries during a race to the puck.
Hybrid icing is a mixture of touch and no-touch icing. It gives a linesman the discretion to blow his whistle and stop the play if he believes a defending player will reach the puck first. If the linesman believes the attacking player has a chance to reach the puck first, he keeps his whistle in his pocket and lets the race to the puck play out. The linesman always will side with the defending player and blow his whistle if he feels the race is a tie by the time the players reach the faceoff dots.
"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."
Edmonton defenseman Kurtis Foster probably would have preferred the NHL had the hybrid icing rule in effect on March 20, 2008. That night, in a race to beat San Jose forward Torrey Mitchell to negate an icing, Foster, then with the Minnesota Wild, was hit from behind and crumpled into the boards, shattering his left femur in the process.
Foster didn't return to the NHL until Feb. 9, 2009, but his injury spawned a new rule. Now a penalty is called if there is any unnecessary or dangerous contact between opposing players who together are pursuing the puck on an icing. If they hit each other it must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not for eliminating the opponent from playing the puck.
Hybrid icing could eliminate contact, or at the very least limit it.
"I think they have done a better job of policing it," Florida GM Dale Tallon told NHL.com. "The players are more informed that they can't touch the defending player once they cross the goal line. So guys are more aware of it, and if we keep harping on it less and less injuries will occur. If they put this (hybrid icing) in, as long as there is movement and a chase for it and it's a fair call, I'm all for it.
"I think the hybrid still gives you the element of the chase and the offensive player still has the opportunity to get there, and then it becomes a discretionary call. I like that."
The discretionary element on the part of linesmen is a cause for concern, but not enough to deter the prevailing opinion that hybrid icing could be a good amendment to the game.
"Our linesmen are forced to make difficult calls at high speed anyway, and I think they can handle this one," Burke said.
"He might make one or two in a game that are questionable, but I don't think it's the end of the world," Ken Hitchcock, who is on the bench coaching at the RDO Camp, told NHL.com. "The hybrid icing is a really good idea. I don't see any issue with it at all."
Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman told NHL.com he, too, is a fan of adjusting the icing rule in the NHL. However, no-touch icing, which is used in international play as well as the NCAA and OHL, is not on his agenda.
"I think some type of adjustment to the rule might be good, but to go to the international rule for icing … I like the concept but the reality is we're trying to create all these rules to speed up the game and no-touch icing really slows it down," Yzerman said. "It prevents injury but it really slows the game down. I think some type of hybrid might be good."
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau also might be the only person in the building who feels differently. Boudreau said he would adjust to any rule put into place, even if it were no-touch icing, but he was sour at the hybrid icing upon first glance.
"To me the hybrid icing, and I've seen it for one period, is confusing because there is a whole bunch of different things that can happen," he told NHL.com. "The linesmen have to make a decision and then the players have to think to stop. It seems like it's so far away when you're at the circle, but boy the players are so big and strong and fast now that they get there in an awful hurry. If one guy lets up and another doesn't, who knows? I'm a proponent, when you're talking about icing, of leaving it the way it is. It can sometimes be a really uplifting experience to one of the teams when they beat a guy to get the puck."
"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." -- Maple Leafs GM Brian BurkeBoudreau expressed concern with leaving the call in the hands of the linesmen.
"I know they have to make the decisions on our icings now, but it seems more cut and dried or an easier decision because it's one-on-one than it is with hybrid," he said. "The hybrid is a lot of decision making in a quick second and I think there are going to be a lot of mistakes made if we go with that."
However, he admits his opinion easily can be swayed.
"How many people want to admit when they took the red line out they were all for it," he said. "All those purists were like, 'Oh man, that's awful,' and now its seems pretty natural in our game."
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