In the wake of Taylor Fedun’s catastrophic injury in the pre-season while chasing down a touch icing call, many in the media and around the NHL have called for an immediate change to no-touch icing in the NHL.
Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey says there are “no excuses” and the NHL must immediately implement no-touch icing. Harrison Mooney of Puck Daddy pointed out the reaction from Fedun’s teammates on the Oilers asking for touch icing to be abolished. The great Katie Baker of Grantland perfectly and dispassionately removed any argument against no-touch icing. Even one of the most emblematic symbols of the old guard, Glen Sather, spoke out against touch icing to the New York Post.
The issue is that none, or very few, of the GMs and owners around the league are actually in favour of no-touch icing, like what is seen in the international game. As Don Maloney put it, “It just aesthetically looks poor.” It’s ugly. It doesn’t reward effort or speed. In other words, it’s not what the NHL is all about.
Many GMs, however, spoke in favour of a move to hybrid icing during the summer research and development camp, but no rule change was put in place for this season. Hybrid icing would involve a race to a predetermined area of the ice, with the linesman having the discretion to blow the play dead if it looks like it will be close or allowing the race to continue if it’s clear the forechecking player will get to the puck first.
It’s a relatively neat solution that has been used effectively in other leagues, most notably the NCAA and USHL. But it is not without its flaws: for one, it makes the race for the puck entirely theoretical. In theory, the player that reaches the faceoff dot, for example, would win the race for the puck, but in practice this is not always the case. There are many examples where a speedy forward with a head of steam will beat a defender to the puck, even if the defender is first to the faceoff dot.
The other criticism is that it adds yet another discretionary call for the on-ice officials, one that is not as simple as deciding which player touched the puck first.
A final criticism is that it still does not remove the danger entirely. A linesman could decide that a forward could conceivably reach the puck prior to the defender and allow the race to the puck to continue. So now the forward is in a dangerous position with the defender racing to the puck and attempting to play the puck first. A misplaced stick blade, such as in the Fedun incident, could lead to a forward crashing into the boards and breaking his leg or worse.
The safest option would be no-touch icing, but the GMs and owners are unlikely to vote for such an option. They like the excitement of the race for the puck. They hate seeing a defenceman simply stop skating, knowing that once the puck crosses the goal line, the play will be blown dead. What is needed is an intermediary step that keeps the excitement of the race for the puck, while being safer and less discretionary than hybrid icing.
One of the things that I have noticed while watching videos of injuries occurring on these types of plays is the location of the puck. There was the horrific crash into the boards of Luděk Čajka that led to the adoption of no-touch icing in Europe, Kurtis Foster’s broken leg, Alexei Ponikarovsky being shoved into the boards by Steve Eminger, or the dozens of examples that Don Cherry has shown on Coach’s Corner over the years.
In all but one, the puck is past the goal line, and in most the puck is right along the boards. Now look at this video of a play the Sedin twins in Vancouver used again and again all of last season:
The puck was purposefully banked off the end boards from their own side of centre in order to gain the zone and get a scoring chance. I have seen this particular play used many times by different teams around the league. With no-touch icing, this play would be blown dead immediately, removing an interesting and exciting play and scoring chance. In hybrid icing, the play would still be alive, but some of the dangerous situations shown in the above videos could still occur.
What I propose is a hybrid that removes the discretionary call of the linesman while still allowing races for the puck that are less dangerous. If the puck crosses the goal line and stays past the goal line, the icing call is automatic: the play is blown dead immediately. If the puck crosses the goal line and deflects back out past the goal line, touch icing is in effect and the players must race for the puck.
With the puck further away from the boards, the potential for a devastating injury is dramatically lessened, while the excitement of a race for the puck is preserved. Meanwhile, the most dangerous situation, a race for the puck while it is in close proximity to the boards, is removed entirely. It is not a discretionary call for the linesman: it is black and white, binary. If the puck stays past the goal line, blow it dead. If it comes back out, the play is alive.
The main complaint of the GMs, that players stop skating with no-touch icing, is removed as players cannot afford to stop skating in case the puck bounces back out and touch icing is in effect. And creative plays like the above video shows are kept intact.
Is this a perfect solution that removes all danger and makes icing completely safe? No. No-touch icing is the safest solution, just as abstinence until marriage is the absolute safest sex. But for some people, abstinence just isn’t sexy enough, just like no-touch icing isn’t exciting enough.
Would this form of hybrid icing be more palatable? Can it be improved? Or is this idea, like the hybrid icing proposed at the summer research and development camp, dead in the water?