The icing rule in the NHL is arguably one of the most discussed rules in the hockey world. Many people don’t like the rule, which involves players racing for the puck at full speed, trying to touch the puck before the other player. Former NHL defenseman Bobby Dollas, a hockey insider on Montreal’s sports radio station TSN 690, has voiced his views with regards to the current icing rule. “It’s crazy to make the players skate as fast as they can for 200 feet to then stop on a dime at the boards. It’s crazy”. When you think about it that way, it’s difficult to disagree. It is a crazy play.
It is all too common to see two players crash into the boards racing for the puck on an icing call, which all too often leads to someone getting hurt. A few years ago, the NHL changed the rule so that the player who touches the puck cannot be checked by another player. This helped get rid of some very brutal, full speed hits we’ve seen in previous years. However, it hasn’t made the race for the puck 100% safe. Just ask Edmonton Oiler’s Taylor Fedun, who broke his femur racing for a puck on an icing against Minnesota’s Eric Nystrom (for an interetsing video on Fedun’s recovery, click HERE). This is a clear example of an unnecessary play leading to an avoidable injury.
On March 13, 2013, it was announced that the NHL general managers agreed to move forward with moving to hybrid icing, starting next season. There are still some steps to the process before the rule change is confirmed, but the wheels are in motion.
For those who are unsure of what hybrid icing, allow me to ATTEMPT to explain it. It’s difficult to write out, especially without video or photo assistance. In a nutshell, current icing is when the defensive team, when in their half of the ice, shoots the puck to the other end of the ice and the OTHER team gets to the puck first. If there are both an offensive and defensive player racing for the puck, the referee waits to see who touches the puck first. If it is the offensive player who get there first, he whistles the play down for icing. If the defensive team touches the puck first, play goes on. Hybrid icing means that if it is clear that the offensive team will get to the first, the referee blows it down as soon as it passes the icing line (which is the goal line, but outside of the net…).
Hybrid icing is not the final answer for the NHL, and the players won’t truly be safe until no-touch icing is implemented. For those of you who don’t know about no-touch icing, it’s basically this: if the puck passes the icing line before either team touches the puck, it’s called for icing. Hybrid icing just doesn’t get rid of the plays that lead to injuries. With hybrid icing, Fedun’s broken leg would still have happened. The NHL owners believe that it will reduce the amount of dangerous collisions on icing plays, but I am having a difficult time seeing how. Hybrid icing only gets rid of the icing plays where a defenseman makes his way back, unopposed, to touch the puck. The dangerous icing plays are still going to happen. So what does hybrid icing really do? It gets people off the NHL’s backs. This makes it look like they’re attempting to make the game safer for their players. However, the NHLPA has stated that the players aren’t a fan of hybrid icing, and they would much rather go right to no-touch icing. Can you really blame them? The players deserve to be safe, even if that means making the game just a little bit less exciting. I find it curious that the NHL won’t go to the no-touch icing, even if it is what the players want. Is the extra little bit of excitement from the race for the puck really worth putting players in potentially dangerous scenarios? Apparently it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that this is a step in the right direction. But it’s not the solution to the problem. It’s like putting a band-aid on a severed finger: sure it may help a little, but it’s not going stop the bleeding. I fear that, like many issues in the NHL (see my post on visors HERE), it takes an injury, like Fedun’s, to get the ball rolling. Good on the NHL owners for doing something to solve the problem, but they are not out of the woods yet. They won’t be out of the woods until no-touch icing is put into effect.