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NHL takes next step in adopting hybrid icing

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - With the NHL's general managers meeting this week in Boca Raton, Florida, a consensus was reached among them to begin the process of implementing a monumental rule change -- one that's been on the spring meeting agenda for the past six years.

Currently used in the NCAA and USHL, hybrid icing is about to make its way to the National Hockey League.

"There weren't too many people that were in a disagreement with [the proposal]," said Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini over the telephone on Tuesday. "We had a chance to act from a safety standpoint without really changing the intensity of the play -- so there's still a race to a predetermined spot by the referee, but it's determined earlier now if it's icing or not; which, ideally, should lead to that non-play where someone is reaching out for a loose puck at an exposed and vulnerable player.

"It was a solid showing by the managers that they wanted this to happen. It was the right thing to do."

There's still some work to be done, as the managers will dot the I's and cross the T's before it can be submitted and presented to the league's competition committee. As Tambellini explains, a hiccup at this stage is unlikely.

"First it (the rule) needs to be drafted properly, where the language fits into how we want the rule to be interpreted. From there, it will go through the steps and eventually to the Board of Governors. Once the wording is composed correctly, it will normally be passed by the BOGs."

While the managers, league and fans are all (seemingly) in full support of the initiative, the players are equally as excited. It's an opportunity to end a longtime string, which has only gotten more dangerous as the game's speed has increased since 2004-05's lockout.

"In my opinion, it's one of the most dangerous plays in hockey," said six-year veteran Ladislav Smid, who recalled Taylor Fedun's collision with the end-boards at the Xcel Energy Center during the pre-season. "It can be an accident or whatever, but we all remember what happened to (Kurtis) Foster and Taylor. It's very dangerous, so I'm all for the hybrid icing rule. I would actually prefer no-touch icing, but this is a good step."

"I think it'll be good," added Nick Schultz, who was in the building as a member of the Wild on Sep. 29, 2011 when Fedun's injury occurred. "I don't know how many times it actually results in a positive play. I think they've kept it in for so long to try and generate more scoring, but a player's well-being is most important.

"With everything that has happened and seems to keep happening, I don't think it brings much to the game."

Schultz didn't see Fedun's tumble as it happened, but he did catch a replay and was sickened because of it. It was an all too real reminder of the Kurtis Foster incident, which No. 15 did witness live and in-person at the Shark Tank in 2008.

As a 10-year veteran, Schultz has seen it all happen. And while he's seen others' fall victim to the sometimes-careless occurrence, he hasn't ever worried about it happening to him.

"You're in trouble when you start to think about it going back for a puck," he explained. "I've done it so many times, it's routine. A lot of the time, it's not necessarily a freak (incident), but it's something that's preventable if you see a stick getting caught up in another player's skate or if he catches an edge. It can happen anywhere on the ice, but that's the most dangerous spot."

Sophomore netminder Devan Dubnyk hasn't ever been in a position where he's had to chase down an icing play, naturally; but, having watched Fedun's injury 10 feet away from his crease in Minnesota, he's happy to see the old rule get a bye into the history books.

"I think it's good," he said. "You see it so many times and it's quite obvious. (Eric) Nystrom wasn't trying to trip him up or do anything there. But when two guys are racing to the puck and the idea is to get your stick in there, you're going to get tied up going full speed and things are going to happen.

"Everyone's thought about it (serious accidents), and we've seen what happened in the past with Foster and Fedun. Those are obviously severe injuries; but you can see things almost happen a lot of the time, too, where you cringe and see it developing in your mind. Unless it's a one-goal game and the goalie's pulled, when is it really worth it?"

Taylor Fedun doesn't believe it ever is. During his last season at Princeton of the ECAC, hybrid icing was the norm. Instead of seeing it in the bigs, the 23-year-old lost an entire season and, at the time, potentially his career because of it.

Fedun has since rehabbed well and is nearly set to return to practice; he's been skating and working out on his own and is in good spirits with Tuesday's news.

"Even before this whole incident happened to me, I still felt like the hybrid style was something that was an alternative worth looking at," he explained. "It has all the positive elements that touch icing gives, yet it takes out the dangerous elements of collisions at high speeds near the boards. It's hard to see where the argument to keep touch icing comes from when you have such a worthy alternative right there.

"It got me pretty excited [to hear about the potential change]."

"The players believe it's important, and they're the ones that we want to provide a safe environment for, especially with the increasing intensity of an NHL game," Tambellini added. "We're happy with this decision."

Other rule changes have been discussed over the past two days in Boca Raton, including the possible reintroduction of the red line in disallowing two-lines passes. An outright reversion to the pre-lockout era was suggested, but so too was a new, radical solution that would include the addition of a new line (often seen in minor hockey rinks and known as the "ringette line"), which would challenge the attacking player to gain the line before making a pass across centre.

It stands as a compromise, as the ringette line would be situated at the top of the faceoff circles in each end, eliminating about 40 feet of what players currently have to operate with in distributing a stretch pass.

"I would keep it the way it is," said Smid, who's developed this area of his game during a breakout 2011-12 campaign. "The game is so much quicker now and the fans seem to like it. There are lots of goals being scored, too, because of that. There's really no need to change it."

Schultz, who's been in the NHL long enough to have experienced the game with both rules, favours the current setup.

"Any rule that gets instituted, teams and players are going to adapt to it pretty quick," he argued, citing his pre-lockout experience. "Teams always seem to have a stretch guy up in the neutral zone trying to get behind the D; but the big thing is the speed, it generates so much speed and, as a result, scoring chances because of it.

"Sometimes you'll see guys start in their own end and burst through the neutral zone trying to catch the stretch pass, so as a defenceman you have to be aware of it. But on the other side, I like looking for the open guy up there, too. It works both ways, so I'm not really sure how it would change things or which way is better. It's been so long since I've played without the red line, but I think if we brought it back, it would clog things up a little bit more, slow the game down and you might lose some scoring."

Fortunately for Schultz and other likeminded rearguards, this particular suggestion doesn't appear to be gaining much ground. The league's managers and players are currently on the same page in keeping the game's speed at a high level, which is integral when you consider what has spawned from the removal of the red line; it's even more vital now that goal-scoring is down across the league.

"I don't believe that the managers want to reintroduce the red line," Tambellini said matter-of-factly. "The players and everyone are now getting a sense for the game's speed and the ability that the NHL players have. With the red line in, there wasn't as much movement -- it was during the dead-puck era and there wasn't any room to move the puck. The speed of the game now is so exciting. It's something that I don't think will be changed in the near future."

For now, the NHL is going to request that the AHL implements the ringette line next season as a litmus test, much like the widened blue- and red-lines during the 2004-05 season. Nothing ever came of that venture, mind you.

The general managers' annual spring meeting wraps up tomorrow.

-- Ryan Dittrick, with files from Nyki Scheuerman - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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