COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS: Hybrid icing has been instituted in the National Hockey League. Frozen Royalty’s take: Long overdue. What’s your take on the issue? Audio of Los Angeles Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter’s thoughts about hybrid icing is also included.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — After experimenting with it in exhibition games this season, the National Hockey League has instituted hybrid icing for all games, effective this season.
For those who may not be aware of how hybrid icing differs from the “touch icing,” where players had to chase down the puck and touch it to get the linesman’s whistle to blow, here’s the text of the new icing rule:
Rule 81.1 – Icing: For the purpose of this rule, the center red line will divide the ice into halves. Should any player of a team, equal or superior in numerical strength (power-play) to the opposing team, shoot, bat or deflect the puck from his own half of the ice beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play shall be stopped. For the purpose of deflected pucks, this only applies when the puck was originally propelled down the ice by the offending team.
For the purpose of this rule, the point of last contact with the puck by the team in possession shall be used to determine whether icing has occurred or not. As such, the team in possession must “gain the line” in order for the icing to be nullified. “Gaining the line” shall mean that the puck, while on the player’s stick (not the player’s skate) must make contact with the center red line in order to nullify a potential icing.
For the purpose of interpretation of the rule, there are two judgments required for “icing the puck.” The Linesman must first determine that the puck will cross the goal line. Once the Linesman determines that the puck will cross the goal line, icing is completed upon the determination as to which player (attacking or defending) would first touch the puck. This decision by the Linesman will be made the instant the first player reaches the end zone face-off dots with the player’s skate being the determining factor. Should the puck be shot down the ice in such a manner that it travels around the boards and/or back towards the end zone face-off dots, the same procedure shall be in effect in that the Linesman shall determine within a similar distance as to who will have touched the puck first.
For clarification, the determining factor is which player would first touch the puck, not which player would first reach the end zone face-off dots.
If the race for the puck is too close to determine by the time the first Player reaches the end zone face-off dots, icing shall be called.
The puck striking or deflecting off an official does not automatically nullify a potential icing.
The thought behind the rule change is to prevent injuries.
“Ultimately the [general] managers believe it’s a safety issue,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on NHL Live. “It makes the game safer for the players, and we think it’s important.”
The NHL tested hybrid icing during pre-season games, prior to the season opening games on Wednesday.
“After testing hybrid icing during the pre-season games, the players participated in a survey, and a majority of teams supported this rule change in an effort to make the game safer,” said Mathieu Schneider, Special Assistant to the Executive Director, National Hockey League Players Association. “We are hopeful that the implementation of the hybrid icing rule, which is a middle ground between the old rule and no-touch icing, will help minimize the incidence of player injuries on icing plays.”
The traditional thought behind touch icing is that having players chase down loose pucks on a potential icing call creates greater excitement with the chance of generating a scoring opportunity if the offensive team gets to the puck first, something that supporters of touch icing are still complaining about, now that the rule has changed.
But the league and the players union believe that the new icing rule will not have the negative impact on the game that touch icing supporters are claiming.
“I think it will be an adjustment,” said Daly. “In the pre-season games I’ve had a chance to see, I’ve seen a progression already, in terms of the linesman’s comfort in making the call, and it’s becoming more consistent, and obviously, consistency is very, very important for the rule to be effective.”
“It may take some time, [but] I’m confident,” added Daly. “Once you have a rule in place, our officials grasp it and apply it, and I think it’ll work.”
Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter shared his thoughts about hybrid icing, and although he indicated that he had “no problem” with it, he also made it clear that he did not support the change.
“We’ve played it for seven [pre-season] games,” said Sutter. “Is it going to change the game at all? No. It’s still a race, and there’s still offensive plays that the linesmen have to make the right call on, because the dot is the line now—the face-off dot.”
“But the top of the circle, [that’s] where there’s a big change in who’s got gold, silver, right? There’s a big change in there,” added Sutter. “Silver can be gold, as long as the linesmen make the call. It’s not a problem, but they’re going to have to blow the whistle sooner. They can’t make the call at the dot and then blow the whistle at the goal line. They’re going to have to make the call at the dot, and that’s the big difference in the game.”
Sutter noted that there will be a difference between hybrid icing in the NHL, compared to other leagues.
“We’re doing it now, but it’s so much faster than any other league,” he stressed. “They did it in Europe, well it’s basically that no one’s forechecking anyway. Defensemen didn’t come back. As soon as it’s shot down, they just go back. They don’t even come to the blue line in Europe.”
“In the American league, it’s obviously a slower league when they tried it last year, and as soon as the lockout started, it was no more, and in junior hockey and any place where they do it, well, it’s a totally different skill set,” he added. “It’s like a horse that’s two furlongs ahead, well, you could call that from the booth.”
It should be noted here that, on the same afternoon that Sutter made his comments, the AHL followed in the NHL’s foot steps, adopting hybrid icing, starting with the 2013-14 season.
“We are pleased to see the National Hockey league and the NHLPA adopt the hybrid icing rule that was successfully implemented in the AHL last season,” said AHL President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews. “We join with the NHL and the NHLPA in believing that this rule will reduce an unnecessary risk of injury, and make our game safer for our players.”
Speaking of the NHLPA, Sutter went on to question the players’ approval of the rule change.
“You ask the players, because, quite honest, it’s the only rule in the history of the game that the players actually decided on the night before the season started, which seems a little odd, and plus, go ask the players how many of them actually had a vote or say in it,” said Sutter, with a raised eyebrow. “If you say ‘players,’ does that mean 700 players, or does that mean twenty players? Go ask. I don’t know. It seems a little strange—not ‘seems.’ ‘Is.’ Hopefully, they can’t make a rule up next week, too.”
Sutter also pish-poshed the player safety justification for the rule change.
“What’s good about [hybrid icing],” he asked. “Can you count in the last ten years how many [icing-related injuries] there were?”
“Quite honest, I’m fine with it,” he added. “But you talk to senior officials in the game who are way ahead of players that are 22 or 23 years old—these guys have done it for thirty years, some of these guys are on the ice—they can’t find much in it.”
Sutter also lamented what could happen when pucks are shot around the boards/glass, or diagonally across and down the ice.
“A rim or a diagonal, is clearly not clear,” Sutter explained. “You guys want to ask the questions, go take twenty of those icings, and see how many of them are rims or diagonals instead of just straight line plays, and they shouldn’t be called because the defenseman—even though he’s ahead of the rim, the forward’s going to beat him all the time. All the time.”
“They’re a judgment call, and at the end of the day, there are a lot of those plays that are going to be from me to the wall, and they’re going to err on the side of caution,” Sutter elaborated. “The player’s got to play it out. He’s still got to go as if he’s in a race. Clearly that’s what he has to do, and if the player lets up, they’re probably going to get scored on, and I’ll guarantee you there will be games this year decided on that—what they’ve seen as a missed call or an unsolved play on the players part. That’ll be more dramatic than any injury that occurred in the history of it.”
Sutter also noted what might happen when a goaltender attempts to play the puck on what would otherwise be an icing call.
“Our goalies are important parts, as most teams’ are, of plays also,” he noted. “The goalie, if he comes out of the crease, they’re going to wave that off. So he’s undecided, too.”
Sutter certainly raises important, valid points regarding hybrid icing. But supporters of maintaining the status quo—touch icing, have failed to consider that the game has, almost literally, outgrown touch icing.
Indeed, today’s players are much bigger, stronger, and faster than they were even just ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty years in the past. Logically, even with advancements in protective equipment, the potential for injury is greater now than it ever was when it comes to chasing down a loose puck on a potential icing call.
As Sutter correctly pointed out, injuries resulting from such plays are rare. Indeed, most people probably can’t remember the last time they saw an injury caused by chasing down a puck on an icing call.
Then again, most people probably can’t remember the last time they saw a quality scoring chance that was the direct and immediate result of an offensive player winning the race to negate an icing call, either.
Indeed, such plays happen almost as infrequently as injuries from such races to loose pucks, and that is exactly the point—the scoring chances resulting from foot races for loose pucks on a potential icing call occur so infrequently that the risk of an injury simply isn’t worth it.
Further, because of the speed and force involved on such plays, as has been shown time and time again, injuries resulting from chasing down pucks on potential icing calls are often severe, or even career-threatening, if not career-ending.
The most recent incident came on April 2, 2013, when Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen crashed into the end boards, feet first, resulting in a Calcaneus (the large bone forming the heel) that was broken in more than six places.
Pitkanen’s work this past summer to recover from the injury was unsuccessful. He will miss the entire 2013-14 season, and there is a strong possibility that his career may be over.
Edmonton Oilers prospect Taylor Fedun fell awkwardly into the end boards on an icing call during a pre-season game against the Minnesota Wild on September 30, 2011. He suffered a broken femur after being knocked off-balance and into the end boards by Wild forward Eric Nystrom, who was trying to nullify the icing call.
In 2008, Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster suffered a broken left femur on a similar play. He needed surgery to have a metal rod inserted into his leg.
Foster was never the same player after the injury. Since then, he has jumped around between six NHL teams, and has played stints in the AHL, the Finnish Elite League, and the KHL, where he is currently playing for Zagreb Medvescak.
Back in 1996, Washington Capitals right wing Pat Peake went hard into the end boards on an icing call, breaking his heel in twelve places—a catastrophic injury. After more than ten surgeries, and more than one failed comeback attempt, he was forced to retire.
But the incident that stands out in this reporter’s mind came on February 23, 1994, when Dallas Stars defenseman Mark Tinordi was chasing down a puck on a potential icing call with Kings forward John Druce, at what was then the Great Western Forum, the Kings’ home arena from December 30, 1967 to October 28, 1999.
Yours truly was at the Forum that night, and gasped in horror along with the rest of the sell-out crowd—yes, it was one, big collective gasp—when Tinordi, who was at top speed, was bumped by Druce, and went very hard into the end boards.
At that instant, everyone in the building knew that Tinordi was severely injured..
To this day, I have never heard the Forum, or Staples Center, for that matter, that quiet during a Kings game, as we all watched both team’s trainers run onto the ice to care for Tinordi, along with the Kings’ doctors. Hushed whispers of concern dominated the Forum when a stretcher was rolled onto the ice to transport him to the hospital.
Tinordi had suffered a broken femur. It took two hours of surgery to insert a metal rod permanently into the bone.
Despite playing five more seasons in the NHL with Washington, Tinordi was never the same player. In fact, he never played a full season again—aside from the 1995-96 campaign, when he played in 71 regular season games and 26 playoff games, the most games Tinordi played in a season was 47 regular season games and 21 playoff games in 1997-98.
Again, as Sutter noted, injuries caused by chasing down loose pucks on a potential icing call are rare. However, as illustrated in this story, when they do occur, they are often severe and/or career-threatening, and given that today’s players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, the potential for such injuries ending someone’s career is greater now than ever before.
For this reporter, all it took to convince me that something like hybrid icing was the way to go was seeing Tinordi crash into the end boards at full speed, and end up writhing in pain on Forum ice, almost twenty years ago.
To be sure, there will be likely scoring chances that will be negated by hybrid icing. There is no doubt about that. There will also be blown calls—either a play should have been blown down for icing, or it should not have been. But such mistakes should decrease as both players and linesmen alike adjust to the rule change.
But all that is a small price to pay. Indeed, the game will be safer now than it was with touch icing—the benefits certainly outweigh the costs, and it’s not even close.
Despite that, you can bet that players like Pitkanen, Fedun, Foster, and probably even Peake and Tinordi, are all asking league officials:
“What took you so long?”
Quite frankly, that’s a question everyone should be asking.
Raw Audio Interview with LA Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter
(4:41; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
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