In today’s world of evolving player safety in all sports, the NHL is doing its part to keep up with the other major professional sports leagues. After years of concern over races for pucks that would result in an icing call ending in violent crashes, the NHL has dabbled with a plan to eliminate that notion altogether: hybrid icing.
The hybrid icing gives referees the ability to call icing once the defending player reaches his own face-off dot ahead of any offensive player trying to negate an icing call. Thus, in a race for the puck, the ref blows the whistle once the defensive player wins the race to the face-off dot.
This allows both players to safely peel off once the ref rules that the defensive player has won the race to the face-off dot. If the offensive player wins the race to the face-off dot, the play will continue on as it would under current icing rules.
The hybrid icing is being tested during the current NHL preseason, as it is being considered for use in the upcoming season that starts in less than a week. The rule was implemented in the AHL in recent years and was deemed as a positive step towards player safety.
The only thing standing in the way of hybrid icing being implemented this season is a vote by the NHLPA. As is the case with any new rule, there is a bit of opposition to the new style of icing. Despite some players opposing the new rule, it is a simple fact that player safety is the focal point for the new rule and the players must adopt this rule change immediately.
For a reason why, look no further than Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Pitkanen broke his heel in an April crash into the boards while racing for an icing call against the Washington Capitals. The 10-year veteran is expected to miss the entire 2013-14 season as a result.
The worry among players is that there is too much discretion on the ref’s part and it is another chance for a ref to blow a call. As dangerous as icing currently is, many players don’t want a change and are used to a rule that has been around throughout hockey history.
However, as much as players may be annoyed by this rule change, they will get used to it. All they need to do is watch what happened to Pitkanen and I’m sure they’d rather deal with a blown call than a broken heel.
To protect their players better, the NFL has moved kickoffs up, all but eliminating the violent collisions that happen during kickoff returns. In the beginning, the rule was met with much opposition, but since player safety was at the root of the change, the arguments against the rule fell on deaf ears and are rarely even discussed despite the rule only being in the league for one-plus season.
In the current age of sports where player safety has become paramount, the NHL is doing its part to keep a league steeped in toughness and physicality as safe as possible. Now it is up to the players to approve a rule that could save someone’s season, or potentially their career.
For a league that is much maligned, credit must be given to the league for trying to keep player safety at the heart of the sport. Hopefully, the players follow suit and make 2013-14 one of the safest, yet most competitive seasons in NHL history.
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