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.

Aesthetically pleasing.

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?

Comments (9)

  1. On the one hand, i see the dangers inherent in the race to ice the puck. On the other, the possibility for the same exact accident (Taylor Fedun) seems to exist without icing even being an issue. Conceivably, on a dump in, two guys racing down to get the puck could face the exact same potential for accident. At the last minute, one guy goes to poke the puck and instead catches a guy’s skate or what not, and down he goes.

    Maybe i’m at a wierd age where i’m not old enough to be a purist, but not quite young enough to jump on every change in the name of safety. I’m not against the change to no touch icing, but it won’t rid the game of guys crashing into the boards except on very specific plays.

    It would be interesting to see what percentage of icing plays involve A. a race for the puck, and B. cases where the offensive team was ale to touch up first and alleviate the icing call. I would think that it would be a relatively small percentage of all icing plays, which would seem to favor no touch icing. But thats just my guess.

    • Interesting point. The one issue is that icing specifically is about racing to touch the puck, rather than to gain possession of the puck. That leads to players reaching their sticks out where they can be stepped on or tripped over while going top-speed towards an immovable object: the boards.

      On a race to gain possession of the puck, there’s more of a battle for position so that the puck can be played with possession rather than just reaching out to touch the puck. The players are more aware of getting into a good position to protect the puck than just racing top-speed to touch it without worrying about possession afterwards.

      The other issue with icing that doesn’t pertain to other races towards the puck is that the two players usually have at least half the distance of the ice surface to build up speed and momentum, leading to a more devastating impact.

      You do see the occasional situation where a player gets boarded from behind or tripped into the boards in a non-icing situation, and these can certainly be dangerous and cause serious injuries, which is we’re seeing heftier suspensions on such plays. They’re generally not as career-threatening like a broken femur, spine injury, or serious concussion that you might see on an icing-related injury thanks to the high-speed of the race to the puck.

      • Not to belittle your point because i agree with what you are saying, but there have been times where i’m racing for the puck on a dump in, and ordinarily i’d be fighting for position like you say, but if i’m losing the race to the puck i will certainly make an effort to poke it away from the defender just so he can’t gain clear possession either. I also think there are plenty of guys at the NHL level that can reach full speed rushing in from just the blue line, but that isn’t even required if the team is moving up ice and dump the puck on a planned play. The guy with the orders to retrieve the dump in will certainly be at or near full speed by the time he hits the blue line. If he gets by the defender, but the defender is close enough to at least make some sort of play on the puck, he’s going to shove his stick in there in an effort to poke it away.

        I see what you’re saying though, and i agree that the 2 situations are slightly different. I don’t want guys getting hurt, but i’m not completely sold on no touch icing yet. It’s basically an attempt to get rid of accidents, and accidents will still occur. But if the number of times the offensive team actually recovers the puck is minimal, which i believe it is, then i would be in favor of no touch because, at the end of the day, all you’re getting rid of is the “race” rather than actual possession for the offensive team.

        • Fair enough. Keep in mind, my only ice hockey experience is as a goalie, so I can’t really speak from direct experience on some of these matters, just from observation.

  2. I like the idea of preserving some swedish magic but reducing the risks.

  3. I like it a lot, and it preserves the hard wrap-around attempt from behind the red line as well. Seems like a really good solution.

    I don’t like the race-to-an-area idea, because it takes a rule that is already somewhat confusing to casual fans and makes it even more so. I don’t think touch icing kills the game like the GMs seem to, but this new idea keeps some of those races (and particularly, the ones where the offensive team is more likely to succeed anyway) while taking away most of the danger. What’s not to like?

  4. danielson

    I thought this an excellent analysis of a difficult situation. Your solution to the problem seems prudent and realistic and should be tried on an experimental basis to see if meets with approval from both fans and players. Of course this is unlikely to happen given the politics of the NHL and its owners. Has anything real been down about the stanchions which imperil the livelihood, if not the lives, of the players? I suspect not much if anything. I sense a lack of concern for the players who after all make an inordinate amount of money and know the risks they’re taking to do so. This lack is both bothersome and and contemptible. Anyway, a good posting and I look forward to more of the same in depth discussion of professional hockey.


  5. This is the best potential solution to the icing “problem” I’ve seen posed. Great creative thinking and I like how it keeps some suspense in the pending icing call, instead of the bad aesthetics that come from strict no-touch icing.

  6. Here’s a thought that just popped into my head. No-whistle icing. That is, teams are allowed to ice the puck, but aren’t allowed to change personnel until the puck has crossed back over the center red line (or maybe their own blue line).

    So… my team’s in trouble in our defensive zone. We ice the puck, and the linesman’s hand goes up. The linesman closest to our bench makes sure nobody changes. Once the other team (which has most likely recovered the puck) carries the puck back over the red line (or maybe back into our D zone), we’re free to change when we can get a chance.

    Seems like it would keep the game moving even more continuously. You could argue that there wouldn’t be enough incentive to avoid icing the puck, but really, that’s already the case. A tired team in trouble is going to ice it regardless, only this new way, they don’t get 15 seconds of whistle time to rest.

    Fewer whistles, fresh forwards against tired defenders… anything not to like?

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