There’s no question that hockey wouldn’t have evolved to the wonderful sport it is today if it wasn’t for change and adaptation, which is the main purpose behind the annual NHL general managers meeting.
In order to make hockey at its highest level become more enjoyable for the fans and safer for the players, the GMs of all 30 teams meet once a year to discuss a number of topics that might improve the game. Potential rule changes are always a hot-button topic at these meetings, and this year was no exception.
Specifically, hybrid icing was the biggest rule change that was discussed by the GMs earlier this week in Boca Raton, Florida, and in the end, it was the only change they were all united on.
As a result, the GMs will now be able to make a recommendation to the competition committee and ultimately seek the Board of Governors' approval in order for this new rule to be implemented next season.
So what exactly is hybrid icing?
Well, as the term "hybrid" suggests, it’s a combination of two different versions of the icing rule. There’s the way icing is currently called in the NHL, which requires a defending player to physically touch the puck after it has been shot past the goal line from the oppositions own side of center without touching anyone on the way.
Then there’s the way icing is called in literally every other hockey league, which simply requires the puck to be shot from behind center and cross the goal line without being touched on the way. There’s no need for a defenseman to hustle back to touch the puck and risk a dangerous neck injury from crashing into the boards during a race with an opposing forward.
This is known as the no-touch icing rule, and while the NHL doesn’t want to eliminate the possibility of long outlet passes off the end boards to an onrushing player, not to mention the excitement of two players racing to touch the puck first, the GMs appear to be finally taking a stand on what they feel are unnecessary injuries caused by these races.
As a result, the hybrid rule that’s being implemented now relies on the judgment of the linesman to decide which player looks as though they are going to win the race for the puck on a pending icing call once they reach the faceoff dot. If the defending player is ahead at the faceoff dot, the whistle is blown on a no-touch icing ruling. However, if the attacking player is ahead of the defender, the linesman goes by the current icing ruling.
This is good news for the safety of NHL players, which was a topic that was also discussed on a much larger scale throughout the three-day series of meetings in Boca Raton.
NHL Senior VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan made a presentation that analyzed hits and concussions and where the league is at with the issue of hits to the head. He provided statistics that broke down how many concussions come from clean hits in comparison to illegal hits and fights.
At the end of it all, it was revealed that the number of head injuries to players has neither increased or decreased from last season, but the fact that Shanahan and the rest of the NHL Department of Player Safety is doing more research than ever on how these head injuries are occurring is a step in the right direction.
Of course, there was also the looming issue of the pending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement. However, that topic was kept under wraps in order to put more of the focus on improving the game, which it appears is exactly what was done.
Follow Adam Graham on Twitter: @adam_graham
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