NHL's hybrid icing rule could have legs

GEORGE POPALIS, SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

TORONTO - The 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp took place on August 18-19 at Toronto's MasterCard Centre, drawing many of hockey's most critical thinkers.

Grouped together at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility, they watched demonstrations and tests of 21 potential new rules aimed at improving the game. While some of the rules were considered too radical, there was one that was greeted with almost unanimous approval; the hybrid icing rule.

Under the hybrid icing rule, which is already being used in the United States Hockey League, the linesman determines whether a play will be called icing based on which player reaches the faceoff dot first. If he believes the attacking player will be the first to the puck, icing is waved off. If he believes the defending player will eventually win the race to the puck, the whistle is blown and the play stops dead at the faceoff dot, instead of inches from the end boards.

"The race for a loose puck is an exciting play for our fans and we have to keep that play in, but we have to figure out a way to eliminate the injuries to the defensemen," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke told NHL.com. "This is something I've put on the GMs agenda now for five years, and the injuries these defensemen get on those plays are often catastrophic. I think we have to change that.

"I like the hybrid rule. They have used it in the USHL for a couple of years with success. I've studied some video of that, and I think that will work."

The NHL's touch icing rule has been a hot button topic for years because of its potentially dangerous nature, just ask Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kurtis Foster. Foster made headlines after breaking his femur in 2008 trying to beat out an icing call, an injury that sidelined him for more than a year.

"Anything we can do with icing to protect our players we should do," said Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray. "If the linesman can make the call earlier, then obviously it will benefit the good players in our league."

The catastrophic nature of Foster's injury didn't go unnoticed by NHL officials as a new rule was implemented in 2009 to reduce nasty collisions. The rule states there should be no unnecessary or dangerous contact between opposing players who together are pursuing the puck on an icing. If they hit each other it must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not eliminating the opponent from playing the puck.

Definitely a step in the right direction, but is it enough? San Jose Sharks forward Jamie McGinn seems to think so.

"I don't really like the new hybrid rule, I think the league has done a good job of protecting players with the new penalty rule on making a check on an icing. I don't think they need to change anything if they keep that rule intact," said McGinn, via text message.

Surely there will be players on both sides of the fence, some supporting a push for hybrid icing and others toeing the line in favor of the status quo. But even with the NHL's existing rule in place, the accidental injuries will continue to happen.

What about the accidental trip or off-balance head-first fall into the boards? With the size and strength of players these days and the speed they can generate on the ice, looking at hybrid icing as a further precaution may be in the best interest of the league and its players.

In the end, if it can be proven that the new rule maintains the excitement of the current touch icing rule while eliminating the dangers, there is no reason why it shouldn't make its way into the game as soon as possible.

08/20 11:24:59 ET


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