Speed. The NHL has plenty of it. It’s why we love the game. It’s what separates the NHL from any sport in the world. Speed is also at the root of what makes the game dangerous.
One of the fastest plays in the NHL is the race to beat icing. It happens at least once a game in every game, sometimes many times. Because of the speed, the physicality of the players and the unforgiving boards, icing has become the most dangerous play in hockey.
Similar to the kickoff in the NFL (for which that league has changed the rules), anything can go wrong and there’s very little players can do to stop it. Because of that lack of control, the NHL will have to step in. We often say that the NHL can’t legislate injuries out of the game, but touch icing is a specific instance where severe injury can be avoided.
The reason we’re all talking about the dangers of icing is because of what happened to Edmonton Oilers prospect Taylor Fedun Friday night.
Fedun broke his femur and now has a metal rod in his leg. Needless to say, his season is over and unfortunately his career is in jeopardy. The rehab will be lengthy.
On the play, Fedun and Wild forward Eric Nystrom raced for a puck. In that specific instance, each player had to do whatever possible to get to the puck first. If Fedun gets it, his team has a faceoff in a prime position, meanwhile Nystrom’s responsibility is to prevent that faceoff from happening and keep play alive in the offensive zone for Minnesota. This is not a goal-scoring situation. Sure, it can lead to a scoring chance via faceoff, but there’s still a low percentage.
The race to touch the puck first amounts to gaining or preventing a faceoff. All of that risk for that?
After the Fedun injury, there are very few proponents of touch icing remaining. The unnecessary risk that play creates outweighs the beneft. So the NHL has two possible solutions that we know of.
The first solution is going with what is known as hybrid icing. The United States Hockey League and NCAA currently use the hybrid icing rules to varying degrees of success. Hybrid icing is when there is not a race for the puck, but rather a race to the faceoff dots in the zone in which the puck has been cleared to. If the offending team ices the puck, but one of its forwards beats the opposing team’s defenseman to the dots, icing is waved off and play continues. If the defenseman gets there first, the whistle is blown and the faceoff goes all the way down.
The second solution is no-touch icing or automatic icing as it can also be called. In that instance, regardless of the position of any players, if a team sends the puck from the wrong side of the red line all the way down the whistle immediately blows and the faceoff goes all the way back down to the offending team’s zone.
While hybrid icing sounds like a great solution, the biggest detriment to it is that there is a bit of a grey area. Because there is still a race happening (to the faceoff dots), the play often ends up very close. It’s up to the official to make the distinction who is there first, which is not as easy as seeing who touched the puck first (also not the easiest thing to get right). The first year it was implemented in the USHL, there were multiple occasions where the official got it wrong.
The first time an NHL official gets a hybrid icing call wrong that results in a goal, there’s going to be an uproar. It is an imperfect solution.
No-touch icing, which is used in all levels of international hockey, is by no means perfect. The biggest detriment to that rule is the potential for slowing down the game with whistles. However, I offer another argument.
The National Hockey League includes the best hockey players in the world. The players within it have the best skill set and hockey sense. If no-touch icing was implemented into the NHL, we may end up seeing a decrease in icings. If a player knows that sending the puck down the ice results in an automatic whistle and a faceoff in his own zone, he’s going to think twice about icing it. Icing would only be a last resort.
Right now, there is a potential for icing to be waved off. Send it down the ice and hope your teammate wins that race going at a break-neck pace. With no-touch icing, that’s not possible any longer. You ice it, you give the other team a faceoff in your own zone. That’s as black and white as it gets. Because of that, the player has to make a better play and we get to see what high-skill players can make out of a bad situation.
There would be growing pains and there might be a few games with one too many icings for a fan’s taste, but the end result is a safer game, which is exactly what the NHL needs right now.
Currently, the NHL is in a constant state of grey area. Interpretation of what is and isn’t a head check, what is and isn’t boarding, etc. If the league goes the route of no-touch icing, it’s black and white. There is no grey area, as there could potentially be with hybrid icing. There’s nothing to interpret. It simplifies the game.
As the game has gotten faster, it has gotten more dangerous. If there are simple measures that can be taken to make it even a little bit safer, they have to be taken. The NHL is getting out in front on a lot of these issues. If they don’t change icing this season, hopefully it comes next year. No matter when it happens, it’s time to get rid of the NHL’s most dangerous play.