BOCA RATON, FL -- The National Hockey League general managers agreed Tuesday to move forward with a rule change recommendation to shift to hybrid icing starting next season. However, before they put the recommendation in front of the Competition Committee in June, the managers want to draft a definition of the rule that would eliminate gray areas they believe currently exist with the hybrid icing rules used in NCAA hockey and the United States Hockey League.
The rule change would require a two-thirds majority vote from the 10-member Competition Committee before it would move to the Board of Governors for ratification for next season.
"It's easy to have these ideas and try to push them forward, but when it comes time to actually write up the rules and think of all the situations and all the scenarios that could happen on the ice, making it clear enough so that we can give our on-ice officials the proper direction, there is a lot of work to do," Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier said. "It's going to go forward as a recommendation, but there is some cleaning up as to how exactly it is going to work and what directives we're going to give."
With hybrid icing, the linesman is required to make a judgment call at the faceoff dots in the offensive zone. If the forechecker is leading the race for the puck when he reaches the faceoff dots then play is allowed to continue. If the defenseman is leading the race for the puck -- or if he is even with the forechecking forward at the faceoff dots -- then the linesman is to blow his whistle to stop the play and immediately call icing.
Currently, the NHL requires the puck to be touched by a player before icing is determined. Questions about player safety have forced the GMs to look at alternatives for the past few years.
Even with Tuesday's vote of confidence on hybrid icing, the managers are concerned with the technicalities that need to be written into the NHL's version of the rule.
Toronto GM Brian Burke said issues remain with the NCAA's version of hybrid icing, some of which were on display during this past weekend's conference tournament games.
According to Burke, the GMs are concerned about the optics of warp-around icing and if the race to the hash mark occurs to the side of the original icing rather than the current location of the puck.
"If someone really hammers it and it ends up on the opposite side of the net and I beat you to the puck on the other side, we want that to be a play on puck, not just that I beat you to the hash mark," Burke said. "If the goaltender comes out to play the puck, (the officials) are supposed to wave it off. They miss that sometimes because they're focused on the race. Not often, but sometimes.
"So, we have to work through some of the technical issues, but the overall impact of the rule should be positive."
NHL Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell mentioned another technicality that needs to be considered.
"The slow puck that is not going to make it to the goal line," he said. "What happens if it doesn't make it to the goal line and they call it icing? There are a number of issues."
But not enough to dissuade the managers from presenting a rule change recommendation they believe makes sense. They also believe it will help ensure the safety of the players on the ice while allowing the puck race and the game's speed to remain in the game.
There have not been an abundance of serious injuries resulting from a race to the end boards on a potential icing, but the prospect of those types of injuries is scary enough to look at the solutions hybrid icing can provide.
Both Minnesota defenceman Kurtis Foster and Edmonton prospect Taylor Fedun suffered season-ending injuries on races to negate icing calls in the past few seasons.
"The thing is you're so exposed with the race to the puck because everyone is extending to touch the puck," Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini said. "If it's called off at the faceoff dot and you know it's not going to be an icing, you change your positioning. You're not just trying to go touch the puck; you're trying to protect the puck.
"There aren't a lot of those significant injuries, but the potential of them happening, you just don't want to see that. If we can eliminate that, everyone agrees you should do it."
This is the sixth year that hybrid icing has been on the agenda at the managers' annual March meeting, but the first time it has received this much traction. With a heightened awareness of player safety in recent years, the GMs felt it was finally time to act.
"We have to refine exactly how it is called and implemented, but I think it's an important change," Burke said. "I have been pushing for this for some time. I think it is a real positive development."