Tuesday, March 13, 2012
GMs meetings: Change is coming
By Pierre LeBrun
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Hybrid icing was wholeheartedly approved by the NHL’s 30 GMs Tuesday, but it still needs a bit of tweaking before it sees the light of day.
It’s still expected that the NHL will adopt hybrid icing for next season, but before the GMs formally recommend it to the competition committee and the board of governors, how it's going to look in the NHL needs to be further defined. The league wants to craft its own version of hybrid icing, one that will be slightly different from those of the NCAA and USHL.
"Hybrid icing is not a perfect rule,” Leafs GM Brian Burke said Tuesday. "They had a couple of problems with NCAA games this past weekend. So we’ve got to refine exactly how it’s called and implement it. But I think it’s important. You guys know I’ve been pushing for this for a long time. [Touch icing] puts defensemen in our league at unnecessary risk on a play that really isn’t a scoring chance or anything. So this is a real positive development."
"I think it's going to go forward, at least as a recommendation to the governors,’’ added Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier. "But there's some cleaning up to do as to exactly how it's going to work.”
The rule, if accepted by the competition committee and the board of governors, is designed to lessen the number of injuries caused by touch icing.
"Basically, it’s a race to the faceoff dot,” Burke said in explaining hybrid icing. "Instead of having a defenseman and a forward determine that race three feet from the [end] boards, we want them to determine that race 30 feet from the boards. So it would be at the faceoff dot. If I’m a defenseman and you chip the puck past me, I’ve just got to beat you to the faceoff dot and it’s an icing. It should take out a lot of collisions. It’s worked in the USHL. It’s worked in the NCAA. I think it’s long overdue, frankly.’’
Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini knows firsthand the pitfalls of touch icing, having lost prospect Taylor Fedun in the preseason when he broke his right femur in an icing race with Eric Nystrom.
Finally, after years of debating hybrid icing, the GMs have acted.
“I guess it takes a long time for anything to change. I’m just glad it happened now,” Tambellini said. “With the game opening up, the speed, decisions have to be made quicker. The speed of the race, things are just happening at a much higher tempo than they were five, 10 years ago.”
The idea of putting the center red line back in, as expected, didn’t gain enough traction but it did spur on a possible compromise.
"The discussion to put red line back in had no support,” said Burke. "But I think we want to look at the ringette line in the American League, if [AHL president] Dave Andrews is willing to do that.’’
The ringette line would see a line across the top of the faceoff circles in the defensive zone, with the idea that defensemen carrying the puck out would have to reach that line before being able to pass the puck across two zones.
"You have to advance the puck to the ringette line and then the rest of the ice opens up; then you can pass to the far blue [line],’’ explained Burke. "Otherwise, you have to observe the red line. We have too many young defensemen who are just hammering the puck up the wall.’’
Of course, it’s up to the AHL now whether or not it wants to be the NHL’s guinea pig on this next season. It just so happens that Andrews was on hand Tuesday.
“If this group of NHL GMs think this is worth trying, then I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t think there will be a problem trying it,’’ Andrews said.
TRAPEZOID STAYS IN
Support is growing from year to year to remove the trapezoid, where goalies can’t play the puck, but not enough to make a change at this year’s meeting.
"More and more people I think are listening to and leaning towards considering to do something with [the trapezoid],’’ said Sharks GM Doug Wilson, an original proponent of taking it out. "We're not there yet. It was a very open, healthy discussion understanding the ramifications adjusting one part of the rules package that we voted in. It was healthy."
But there was not enough support to have a recommendation.
"Our group was split on it,” said Wilson. "My personal belief is I'm not a fan of the trapezoid. I've always been biased towards defensemen anyways ... there's a lot of different nuances of rules; when you adjust something you can have other impacts. The discussion today gives everyone a good chance to think about."
Burke was more blunt: "Trapezoid stays in. No appetite to remove that.’’
The GMs agreed that long line changes needed to be tightened up. Teams are cheating on changes seemingly more and more this season. So the league’s director of officiating, Terry Gregson, will send out a memo to teams and on-ice officials warning them that line changes will be closely scrutinized for the rest of the season, with the five-foot rule on line changes as per stated in the rulebook observed tightly.
Because of that, expect a number of too-many-men-on-the-ice penalties to be called over the next few weeks in order to drive home the point.
Kay Whitmore, the goalie guru for the NHL head office, spoke to GMs Tuesday about his desire to standardize goalie masks from a safety perspective. Incredibly, in an era when head injuries and concussion awareness have grown to new heights, goalie masks are not standardized like player helmets.
Some goalie masks, quite frankly, are unsafe and putting goalies at risk. Some manufacturers are doing good work in this area, others aren’t. Whitmore just wants a universal standard applied to all masks.
"We want to have the best possible standard for the NHL,’’ Whitmore told ESPN.com.
Whitmore hopes to work with the NHL Players’ Association in the coming months to find a way to standardize goalie masks and make them safer.
As it is, every other piece of goaltender equipment gets vetted by Whitmore in his league office. Now the hope is to add goalie masks to that.