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Hybrid icing has varying degrees of support among players

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Kurtis Foster, broken leg in 2008. Taylor Fedun, broken leg in 2008. Joni Pitkanen, a broken heel in 2012.

These three players - all in their 20s - suffered gruesome injuries as the result of races to the puck for icing calls. Foster, a once-promising young defensemen in the Minnesota Wild organization, has bounced around the past few years and hasn't gotten solid footing in the NHL.

Fedun is on a remarkable road to recovery and is about to start a new season with the Oklahoma City Barons, AHL affiliate of his hometown Edmonton Oilers. Pitkanen, at age 29, has battled injuries throughout his career and the fear is that this latest setback may put his playing future in danger.

The debate over no-touch and hybrid icing has thus been re-energized, and during last season's NHL lockout, the American Hockey League used hybrid icing until a labor deal was reached. The NHL's Competition Committee recommended a trial run for hybrid icing during this year's exhibition games, and at the conclusion of training camps, the NHL and NHLPA will hold membership votes to determine whether the rule change continues.

What exactly is hybrid icing, exactly? It's a slightly-modified version of the NHL's current icing rule, based on a "race to the face-off dot" for an iced puck instead of having to touch up below the goal line. If the attacking player is ahead in the so-called race for the puck once they reach the reach the face-off dot, the icing is washed out.

If the defending player is ahead in the race, it's a no-touch icing call and the play is blown dead. The hope is obviously for fewer injuries, and that's supported by all parties involved. 

But is it too much of a judgement call? That seems to be the primary concern for players not in support of the rule change. 

Some Blue Jackets players would like to see more of it before they can fully support it. But the bottom line is, no one wants to see injuries like those listed above - even if they have been few and far between.

"Sure, those are injuries don't happen every day but they can end a player's career," center Ryan Johansen - who saw hybrid icing in the AHL last season - told "It's a dangerous play when two guys are racing full speed the length of the ice for a puck, and hybrid icing kind of reduces that aspect of it."

Both sides are currently in that process, and the NHLPA began polling its membership late last week and into the weekend. Results are expected to be known by Monday.

Throughout the preseason, enforcement of hybrid icing has been generally consistent, according to most players we spoke with. There have been a few instances of indecision or uncertainty when the puck reaches the face-off dot - including but not limited to assumptions that the attacking player won't catch up - but for the most part, players said they understand what the rule is aiming to accomplish even though some of them may not be prepared to vote it into action.

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said the "judgement call" notion isn't much of a concern, given that rule enforcements by human beings are always made using their own judgement.

"Really, everything in hockey is a judgement call - penalties, icing, offsides," Richards said. "They take what they see and then make their judgement on it. This is no different."

Defenseman Ryan Murray, who played no-touch icing in junior hockey, said he hasn't seen a noticeable difference in game play with hybrid icing. He understands what the NHL is trying to do and said he's on board with whatever is decided.

And though the coaches don't get an official vote on the matter, Richards has seen the positives and some potential draw backs to hybrid icing.

"I still want to see more of it," Richards said. "There's obviously some good because of the safety for players, and that's first and foremost. But it's a big play and (linesmen) have to make the decision by the hash marks or top of the circles as to who's going to win the race for the puck. It comes down their discretion; it could be a 50-50 puck, you never know, and that can determine the outcome of a game."

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