Just a day before the 2013-2014 regular season started, the National Hockey League announced that a new rule would be implemented: hybrid icing. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the idea of making the game safer, but this is NOT a good idea for the future of hockey.
Let me tell you why.
Hybrid icing was passed for one obvious reason: to eliminate injuries caused by the race to the puck on a delayed icing. However, players don’t destroy each other into the boards like they did in the 90s.
Sure there were instances where players (Joni Pitkanen and Kurtis Foster specifically) got injured under the old icing regulations, but these collisions were rare. If the league is trying to prevent dangerous injuries (including concussions) as a whole, then this rule is redundant. There will still be the same brutal hits targeting the head in open ice and along the boards that sideline guys every year.
The linesmen will also have more responsibility in determining icing calls.
While two players race down the ice, the first to cross the hash-marks now decide whether the puck was iced or not. The officials in the NHL have had their share of criticism over the past few years, and adding another “judgment call” that they have to deal with will only spell trouble. I can already picture myself screaming at the TV.
Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter guaranteed games will be decided due to blown calls.
“I’ll guarantee you there will be games this year decided on that (hybrid icing), what they’ve seen as a missed call or an unsolved play on the player’s part that’ll be more dramatic than any injury that occurred in the history of it.”
The rule also eliminates the ability for an offense to take advantage of slow defensemen. Teams like Chicago and St. Louis that utilize their forward’s speed to get behind the opposition will now have to adjust the way they play the game.
St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock recently expressed his frustration about the issue:
“I think teams with fast forwards are at a disadvantage for icing now,” Hitchcock said, “You think about this … you’ve got quick forwards half a step behind a defenseman, you got to the puck every time. Now all it is, it’s a little race to the hash marks. But it’s another 25 feet that you could win the race to … that you don’t win any more.” “I think you’re going to see teams play a weakside defenseman further back now,” he went on, “You’re going to see teams really crunch the red line and you’re going to see a team play a defenseman further back because all he has to do is win a 20-foot race.”
Hitch is right. A defenseman can just hang back around their blue line and wait for the puck to get iced past them so they will reach the hash marks sooner. If I were a coach, that would be my game plan. It is simply taking advantage of the rules.
On the other hand, this rule’s purpose was to protect defensemen, not to limit forwards. Even though I respect Hitchcock as a coach, I have to admit that he is whining here.
But my issue here isn’t with the idea of hybrid icing, but the way it’ll be executed in the NHL. It may work out in Europe and even the American Hockey League, but not here. The difference is that the players are faster, the game is quicker. The referees will have to be swift in their decision-making in order to prevent controversy.
I, for one, can’t trust the inept officials making these contentious decisions that could prove costly for teams. As proven in the past, the refs can make some pretty obscene calls. Just let the players play without having to worry about a linesman making a mistake. That is what makes the NHL so fun to watch. Giving too much responsibility to the guys in stripes will end in disaster.
It’s just a matter of time before a controversial hybrid icing call determines the outcome of a hockey game.
Photo via Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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