BOCA RATON, Fla. -- In its sixth year on the agenda at the annual March meeting of the NHL's 30 general managers, hybrid icing now has support and could be considered for a rule change recommendation this year.
"I think it just takes time," said Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, who was part of the breakout group that discussed hybrid icing Monday. "People change their opinions on things. I think this was one that was fairly close last year. But, it doesn't mean it's getting passed."
At least 20 managers have to vote in favor in order for the GMs to bring a rule change recommendation before the Competition Committee. If passed by the Competition Committee, a potential rule change proposal then goes before the Board of Governors at their next meeting.
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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 at that point, then the play will continue. If the defenseman is leading the race for the puck, or if he is even with the forechecking forward, then the linesman calls icing.
The goal is to keep the race for the puck in play, but cut down on the chances for an injury for the players competing for the puck.
"It was unanimous in our group," Rutherford said. "So, you know that's seven votes right there."
The seven-manager breakout group that discussed hybrid icing Monday will bring their conversation into the general meeting Tuesday. Florida's Dale Tallon, Chicago's Stan Bowman, Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher, Montreal's Pierre Gauthier, Vancouver's Mike Gillis and the Islanders' Garth Snow joined Rutherford in the breakout group.
"To me, it is almost like there is no reason it shouldn't be supported," Bowman said. "We'll see if there is something we are missing when we bring it to the bigger group."
The managers say they're in favor of hybrid icing because it is a good compromise between the current icing procedure which encourages the offensive player to race to reach puck first and negate the icing infraction and the International Ice Hockey Federation's no-touch icing.
Hybrid icing has been tested at the NHL's Research, Development and Orientation Camp for the last two years. It is also used in a number of other North American leagues. Rutherford said the empirical data from both have influenced opinions on hybrid icing.
"It makes sense," Rutherford said. "It makes it safer for the players. You're not going to get as many of those collisions right along the boards. Now, you're still going to get some if the offensive player wins that initial race because they're still going to race to the puck then, it's open."
There is no appetite among the GMs for no-touch icing.
"We don't want automatic icing. They have it in international hockey and it looks awful," Toronto GM Brian Burke said. "The puck gets iced and everyone stands around and it looks terrible. But, the race is too dangerous for the defenseman right now. I think you can keep the race in, but make is safer for the defenseman. The NCAA rule is you race to the faceoff dot. So, if you're the defensemen and I chip it past you, I've only got to beat you to the hash mark and it's play on. If you beat me, it's an icing. To me we keep the chase, we keep the interest for the fans, it's an exciting play for our fans -- but we make it safe for the defensemen."
"It makes it safer for the players. You're not going to get as many of those collisions right along the boards. Now, you're still going to get some if the offensive player wins that initial race because they're still going to race to the puck then, it's open." -- Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford on hybrid icing
Hand passes in 'D' zone a no-no: The same breakout group that discussed hybrid icing is also planning to bring another potential rule change to the general meeting Tuesday. This one involves teammate-to-teammate hand passes by a team in its defensive zone.
These kinds of hand passes are allowed in the defensive zone under current rules, but Gillis brought up a proposal to make them illegal with a minor penalty element. Bowman said Gillis' idea makes sense and has the support of all seven members in the breakout group.
"Mike Gillis' point is that we're trying to get offense, and that's a play that almost exclusively nullifies offensive opportunities," Bowman said. "Usually you're at a deficit. You've lost your stick or you're on your stomach, so you're making a desperate play and if you're not allowed to do that (the hand pass) it's probably going to lead to more offensive opportunities for the attacking team.
"Nobody in our group brought up any big issues on it. Sometimes when you get into the bigger group they say what about this; have you thought about this?"
Hand passes are now illegal in the neutral zone or the offensive zone, but there is no minor penalty element. The play is blown dead and if the infraction occurs in the attacking zone the faceoff is moved beyond the defending team's blue line in the neutral zone.
The managers in the breakout group feel adding the minor penalty element for hand passes in the defensive zone would stop them from happening, which could create turnovers and offensive opportunities. And, if they do happen, the penalty would give the opposing team a power play.
"There are a lot of tactics, too," Bowman said. "For instance, on faceoffs, a lot of guys would tie the other guy up, drop down and swipe the puck back. We're thinking, 'Why are we promoting this?' All that does is help the team that is trying to get the puck out of the zone.
"If you try to put the benefit in the offensive team's end then you might end up with more opportunities to score or a power play opportunity. That's at least something to think about. There is merit to it, I think."